It’s a mystery, and it doesn’t make sense. Let’s dive into the mysteries of success with multiple springs.
Why is Elden Ring so popular?
We’ve been trying to figure out why Elden Ring is so popular for the past two months. This open-world RPG is more than popular, and its sales figures are downright astronomical. This popularity is to be expected: From Software is the originator of big hits. Dark Souls and Bloodborne have rightly attracted millions of players. But the level of success of Elden Ring has propelled the developer into a whole new dimension.
The popular and highly acclaimed Sekiro’s latest title took a year to sell 5 million copies. Bloodborne, a PlayStation 4 exclusive, sold about 3 million copies during its lifetime. Dark Souls 3, From Software’s most popular game, took about four years to reach 10 million copies.
Elden Ring sold 12 million copies in just over two weeks. Two weeks! Elden Ring is literally on par with GTA V, a video game that has sold 160 million copies to date. When you consider what Elden Ring is, a niche RPG that is so cutting edge that it literally hides its tutorial from players, this level of popularity is ridiculous. It’s not a game for a wide audience. It’s not Avengers Endgame; it’s more like an arthouse movie that would have made a billion dollars at the box office.
An unprecedented success that we didn’t see coming
No one could have predicted that Elden Ring would reach these dizzying heights. Our job is to anticipate trends like this, and with this game, we were miles away. Is this an effect of the pandemic? We’ve gotten into the habit of attributing all emerging cultural trends to Covid-19. Let’s face it, video game sales definitely benefited from the periods of confinement and telecommuting. Yet many video games have been released, including major titles, and none, except perhaps Animal Crossing, has been as successful as Elden Ring. Its level of success is unprecedented. And what sets it apart is the element of surprise. We didn’t see it coming.
It feels like a confluence of several factors. Elden Ring was fortunate to have Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin on board, who helped shape the script and universe from the beginning of development. His just wow writing and his name on the poster certainly helped raise the profile of the game.
But the reviews had an even greater impact. Elden Ring was praised from the start, with critical acclaim comparable to legendary games like Breath of the Wild or Skyrim. Almost instantly, Elden Ring was ranked as a must-play. There is also the powerful effect of word-of-mouth. According to a survey by GameIndustry.biz, 40% of people bought the game after a friend recommended it.
Elden Ring, a social marker title?
It also seems to us that Elden Ring acts as a social marker. You play it because you are a “real player” and a “real player” because you play Elden Ring. It says something about you as a human being: you like challenges, you don’t give up, you like learning new skills, and you are good at games.
With Elden Ring, that devotion went viral on a level never seen before. The reviews were so good, the game was so good, that the entire core group of From Software fans spread the word. This is not just another From Software game but the culmination of decades of trust built up by a growing fan base that has made these video games an integral part of its way of being.
Will those introduced to the Elden Ring cult remain loyal to the games that follow? We think so. Partly because, in its own way, Elden Ring is more accessible than previous From Software games. The open-world structure makes its obstacles less taxing. If you get stuck by a boss, you can simply go elsewhere and come back stronger, with better equipment.
Elden Ring is also designed to accommodate many different play styles. If your reflexes aren’t built for constant dodging, simply create a build that focuses on magic and slaying enemies from a distance. Elden Ring actually appeals to a wide range of players. In a way, it has become the most popular video game in the world by making compromises that are almost invisible to its core audience.
And that’s actually a very good thing! Risk management is the trend in almost all forms of big-budget entertainment, whether video games or movies. This usually means endless superhero sagas and rehashes of existing franchises in movies. In video games, we have the “monogame.” Big-budget titles have become almost indistinguishable from each other in terms of the systems that make them work: open-world, crafting, leveling up, battle trees. Button presses produce the same results, and these blockbusters become boring and homogenous.
Elden Ring is popular, but it became so by refining its basic promise, by doing something completely different from its competitors.