There were several factors that contributed to the 12 million copies of “Elden Ring” being sold worldwide in its first three weeks after release, a staggering sales figure that is usually only achieved by industrial titans like Call of Duty or the Pokémon series.
“The Fire Ring” is basically a sequel to From Software’s Dark Souls series, which actually started with the exclusive PlayStation 3 exclusive “Demon’s Souls” from 2009. The New York Times play describes the Dark Souls series as a “modest success “, which is a fair analysis only given its sales history. By comparison, “Fire Ring” had already sold about half the lifespan of the entire Dark Souls trilogy of games in three weeks.
But that mindset ignores the fact that “Demon’s Souls” and the Dark Souls games left an indelible mark on the gaming industry. From Software titles became monuments to a style of game design that focused on overcoming challenges with intense focus, an understanding of the game’s esoteric underlying rules and systems, and sometimes by invoking help from friends through collaborative online games.
“Dark Souls” may have been a modest sales success, but it is without a doubt one of the most influential games of the current century. It crystallized an entire subgenre of games, now dubbed “Soul-like”, and some of the industry’s most popular intellectual properties have followed in its footsteps. Its control schemes were emulated in successful hits like Sony’s “God of War” (2018) and the last three games in the Assassin’s Creed series.
Additionally, last year “Dark Souls” won the Golden Joystick Award for “Ultimate Game of All Time”. The respected European game publisher Edge also once called it the greatest game of all time. All this success, outside of sales figures, can hardly be described as “modest”.
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All of this was accomplished despite the fact that the Dark Souls games – and now “The Fire Ring” – are notoriously challenging. Without compromising on its original vision, From Software has focused on adapting its formula in each subsequent game to find more ways to strengthen the player.
Game design during the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 console generation began to shift towards high-definition graphics, which meant a stronger focus on presentation. This focus on larger budgets and presentation also resulted in games that made the player feel more like an audience for the course and not like a participant. “Demon’s Souls” and the Dark Souls trilogy, on the other hand, kept the player engaged by screwing up the challenges and constructing worlds and stories that often had to be deciphered instead of just being passively consumed.
From Software has maintained a consistent quality over the past decade, throwing the once-launched Japanese studio into the highest-end class of video game developers in the world. When it announced “Elden Ring”, a new intellectual property, in 2019, there was little doubt among fans that it would be an extremely high quality game.
Word of mouth was also a strong factor. The games are designed from scratch to be mysterious; they offer wildly varied experiences for different types of players. From Software’s games include an online feature where players see “ghosts” from other players fighting, increasing the sense that players are suffering together, part of a growing (and moaning) community. As YouTube video essayist Noah Caldwell-Gervais said in his recent five-hour analysis of the Dark Souls trilogy, “he drove his wife up the wall” because he could not stop talking about the game. This is because Dark Souls games are intensely personal experiences that feel exciting and triumphant, and it’s hard not to share that excitement with the people you love.
The advent of video game influencers on YouTube, Twitch and other social media platforms only added more fuel to the series’ fame. As more of these popular players discovered the series, their excitement was palpable.
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This cycle continues with “The Fire Ring.” Comedy and entertainment troupe RDCWorld decided to try the series for the first time since the release of the latest game. Now they can not stop streaming and playing it. “Angry” Joe Vargas, a longtime YouTube game critic, recently scored the game a perfect 10, despite his story of avoiding the Dark Souls trilogy.
“The Fire Ring” repeatedly topped “most anticipated game” lists in 2021 – and after it was delayed, 2022. Since it was announced, it has been a popular meme to announce Geoff Keighley, host of the Game Awards, and ask him about revealing a little bit of information about “The Fire Ring” prior to release. When he finally unveiled the first gameplay trailer at last year’s Summer Games Fest event, he declared, “I’m free!”
So no, the success of “The Fire Ring” did not come out of nowhere, and it certainly had nothing to do with quarantine, lockdown, or the existential malaise inspired by the global pandemic.
The success of “The Fire Ring” instead had everything to do with how its developers have designed and iterated on a successful formula over the past 11 years. And once that formula clicks, its resonance with players is undeniable. “The Fire Ring” is a triumph, a milestone for the video game industry. For that you can thank the people who made the game and the people who play it – not the circumstances.