A single NPC can explain why Elden Ring, a dense and difficult game, has worked so well among casual players.

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Four million copies in one month. There were the sales expectations for Elden Ring, as of November 2021. But Bandai Namco had fallen pretty short: the game ended up selling 12 million in 17 days. And according to the Japanese publisher’s most recent financial report, we now know that Hidetaka Miyazaki’s latest work accumulated 13.4M by the end of March; making it the fastest-selling Japanese release in history (excluding Nintendo releases). Illustratively, the revered and well-established Dark Souls series didn’t manage to hit those numbers until after the third episode, which was released five years later than the original.

FromSoftware has signed a double feat with Elden Ring. The first is to break a sales record like this. The second is having viralized a niche experience. Over the last decade, the studio had earned a certain reputation as a creator of challenges as charismatic as they were difficult; only for veterans, brave or crazy. Surely there is some kind of psychological reasoning to justify that lines like “Prepare to Die” sneak in like nothing happened in some marketing strategies in full 2011, but I do not know it because I am not versed in that matter. What I do see is that somehow, Wolf split se han colado en Tiktok singing a remix nightcore from the song The Fox by Ylvis. And that’s basically like a K-pop fan listening to Infant Annihilator overnight.

How is it possible that in a world in which each level is carefully measured so that no one gets lost, even casual players are enjoying a title that does not hesitate to obliterate you before starting the tutorial and then drops you in the middle of nowhere? ? And what lessons can we learn from it? Well, I think it’s important to be honest and understand that, to begin with, the timing the Elden Ring it’s been fantastic. Not only does it come just after some of the most successful games in recent history (with a special focus on Bloodborne) guaranteeing the quality of the product to those interested, but it has also been released at a time free from competitors. The other key triple A of the semester arrived in stores before him — Horizon: Forbidden West, Dying Light 2 or Pokémon Legends: Arceus among others of that profile — so that even now he has it “easy” to work.

Elden Ring receives new bosses through mods: Guts, from Berserk, is your new enemy and you can already see him on the move

In other words, he had the wind blowing in his favour; but that is not enough to succeed at this level. Especially when you consider that the most enthusiastic frowned upon numerous technical problems, putting off a worried minority of potential buyers. The PC version, which amassed 44% of initial sales in Europe, faced serious stuttering and limitations that still plague global reviews of the game on Steam. It may not seem like it, but that section was enough to discredit other great past releases like New World on the same platform. That Elden Ring hasn’t been so expensive is something that, in my opinion, can be explained by analyzing a very specific event: our first meeting with the NPC Varre at the beginning of the adventure.

Elden Ring

Elden Ring’s technical problems marred its initial reception among Steam users.

I know I just blurted out a pretty weird statement. I explain. The developers of the triple A scene have very internalized that the first contact with a video game it is very important. According to a Gears of War ex, 90% of players who try PvP quit for good if they don’t get any kills in their first playthrough. That also explains why TES V Skyrim has such a cinematic start or why you have a companion NPC in the first dungeon, for example. But Elden Ring doesn’t feel guided at all, does it? You walk out of that initial dump and the first thing you see when you open the door is a huge section of Necrolimbo. The thing is, unbeknownst to you, the game is visually guiding at all times: the world is arranged in such a way that the things you are supposed to do first are closer, and the others are further away; all in such a visual way that it’s easy to reach Stormshroud’s fortress by following any path.

And of all these things, the most immediate is the meeting with Varré. In front, next to the first grace lost. Safety pin. A few lines of dialogue are enough for him to put you in a situation. Who are you, where are you going, how can you orient yourself. Not only that, but it also drops one of the worst taunts never read in a video game: “you, I’m afraid, are maidenless“. Being without a lady is a chore in the Midlands, but on the other side of the screen, it also goes deep with any kid. Let’s see, an NPC just told me that I’m lonely; it hurts, but I have to laugh. And I think that everyone who has come across that line, even if it is because someone has shared it on the internet, will think the same thing, that simple interaction, which surely would not have been considered as a meme between screenwriters (or maybe yes, no dare to bet) inspired a myriad of pieces of fan-art and Megamind memes that quite literally flooded social networks during the first week of the game’s life.

Elden Ring (FromSoftware)

Varré is the first logical visit that Elden Ring proposes, but not the only one.

Varré is an open door to FromSoftware’s weird and obscure characters

With Varré, the talents under Miyazaki were managing to guide the player without taking him by the hand (he guides you, without solving anything for you) but at the same time they were introducing him to the appeal that exists in the quirky characters that FromSoftware makes. Any connoisseur of Dark Souls or Bloodborne will tell you about brutal curiosities in the background of their universes, but new arrivals They are usually very lost. Elden Ring, on the other hand, has been able to bring these rare things to everyone through a mixture of strategy and luck. It’s easy to empathize with Varré’s grace even if you don’t have the game yet, and even if you’re not going to buy it just for that, at least you’re more inclined to find out about the things that happen in that world because it has the validation of many others network users who did like it. The battle against Radahn or the trap chest that takes you to Caelid are other examples of how even occasional users they can empathize with things that are “out of the norm”, which sometimes aren’t even fair, but at least they arouse strong feelings for or against whatever it is and that’s already more than what most games offer ” jack, knight and king”.

Call it an NPC who picks on you or a boss who makes a move no one expected, it doesn’t matter: at the end of the day, the bottom line is that being a part of those discoveries, memes, community efforts, or unexpected happenings is fun for everyone, and that does sell —and what is more important, it develops emotional ties powerful. I doubt that a very high percentage of players have managed to defeat Malenia because she is one of the bosses with the highest level in the entire game, but I am very clear that, at least in the West, it is rare for someone who does not know the legend of Let Me Solo Her at this stage. Now, it’s time to find out if other big publishers in the video game industry are getting the right message: gamers like to be part of discovering things. That implies a bit fewer waypoints, bookmarks and travel journals, in exchange for a little more of Varré. Of funny characters and with whom it is worth talking, even if it is because they mess with us or because they are rare. I don’t think there is a better marketing tool than the one Elden Ring has had: people telling each other that they are having a good time.

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