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‘Elden Ring’ shows ambitious video games still have a market

March 16, 2022, 6:44 PM UTC

Leading up to the launch of its latest video game, Elden Ring, Japanese publisher Bandai Namco told investors that it expected to move about 4 million units in the title’s first month. The estimate was reasonably ambitious given the company’s prior success with similar games created by its development collaborator, FromSoftware.

Four weeks after the release of Elden Ring, you can bet the Bandai Namco brigade is popping some bubbly in Tokyo.

Elden Ring, a sprawling, open-world role-playing game, is the industry’s clear-cut smash hit of 2022, eclipsing 12 million units sold and breaking all sorts of concurrent streaming benchmarks. Industry insiders love it. Critics adore it. Players can’t get enough of it.

“When I’m not playing Elden Ring, I’m thinking about playing Elden Ring,Protocol reporter Nick Statt, speaking for fans everywhere, wrote last week

“I’m reading about the game, poring over wiki entries on secret swords and tucked-away side quests. I’m watching snippets of the game on Instagram and TikTok and discussing it with friends in Discord and Slack. I’m planning my social life around play sessions, to the point of mild concern. I’ve not been enthralled by a video game like this in years.”

Elden Ring’s success owes to several factors. 

Respected video game director Hidetaka Miyazaki and legendary Game of Thrones novelist George R.R. Martin teamed up to map out a captivating, if somewhat convoluted, story, in which players must slay demigods and their ilk to restore order in the splintered Lands Between. 

FromSoftware developers, criticized in the past for crafting excessively difficult games, made the title really freaking hard but not frustratingly impossible. The hearty challenge made Elden Ring ripe for social media, where players swapped tips and tricks for conquering the expanse.

The popularity of Elden Ring comes at a particularly interesting time in the gaming industry, where consolidation and a shift toward cheaper mobile offerings are shaping the sector’s future. In the past few months, several gaming and tech behemoths announced acquisitions of top-selling developers, none larger than Xbox parent Microsoft gobbling up Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. (The deal is expected to close next year, pending regulatory approval.)

The crush of mergers has, understandably, raised the hackles of faithful gamers, who worry that commercialization will overtake creativity. For evidence, look to the film industry, where a handful of major studios are pumping out safe, insanely profitable superhero movies over fresher, higher-risk content. 

“With just a few massive studios controlling a huge chunk of the software pipeline, it could instill a sense of homogeneity among new titles, killing innovation as each developer attempts to conform to the corporate environment around them, actively or subconsciously,” Engadget senior editor Jessica Conditt wrote earlier this year.

An optimist would look to Elden Ring as proof that video game ingenuity is here to stay. Microsoft, Sony, and their peers love pleasing shareholders, and 12 million copies at $60-plus per pop will keep investors fat and sassy. Why not give creatives like Miyazaki the room they need to produce similarly vibrant—and profitable—products?

But Elden Ring feels a bit more like an anomaly than a trend. 

The industry already relies heavily on franchises, with sequels (Horizon II: Forbidden West, Dying Light 2: Stay Human) and recurring titles (Call of Duty: Vanguard, Madden NFL 22) currently ranking among the year’s bestselling games to date. As larger companies collect new intellectual property, it’ll be cheaper for them to mine existing libraries than invest in ambitious projects that could flop. George R.R. Martin, after all, doesn’t come cheap.

If that’s the case, anyone who acquires Bandai Namco will have one heck of a piece of IP to build on.

“Much effort was placed into creating Elden Ring so that we could exceed the expectations of our fans worldwide,” Bandai Namco CEO Yasuo Miyakawa said Wednesday. “In like manner, we will continue our efforts in expanding the brand beyond the game itself, and into everyone’s daily life.”

Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

No big roar. Amazon’s planned acquisition of movie studio MGM cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when the European Commission gave its unconditional approval to the $8.5-billion deal, Bloomberg reported. While the purchase will help Amazon build its Prime Video library to keep up with other streaming giants, European regulators determined that the deal will not harm competition, in part because MGM’s content is not considered “must-have.” The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is still reviewing the acquisition on antitrust grounds. 

Stop the presses. Tesla and Volkswagen shut down their Shanghai factory assembly lines Wednesday under orders from local government officials, who cited an outbreak of COVID-19 in the metropolis. Tesla officials expect their plants to remain closed Thursday, potentially resulting in a two-day production loss of 4,000 vehicles, while VW executives hope to resume operations Thursday. CNBC also reported that Apple supplier Foxconn partially restarted manufacturing Wednesday at its plants in Shenzhen, one of China’s main tech hubs, following a two-day, COVID-induced shutdown.  

NFTs in your Insta feed. Meta plans to integrate non-fungible tokens into its Instagram platform “in the near future,” founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday at the South by Southwest conference. While Zuckerberg said he was not yet ready to make any formal announcements, the statement confirms earlier reporting that Meta was developing NFT-related features for Facebook and Instagram. Zuckerberg added that he hopes Instagram will soon be able to mint NFTs within Instagram.

Upping parental control. Meta unveiled new tools Wednesday that will help parents and guardians better monitor their children’s activities on Instagram and Facebook, TechCrunch reported. The features include a central hub where adults can see how much time kids spend on the app, review accounts followed by their children, and spot new followers on kids’ accounts. The changes, which will begin Wednesday in the U.S. only on Instagram, arrive as lawmakers scrutinize Instagram’s impact on child safety and mental health.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Forging a bond. Apple’s latest in-house–designed chip merely combines two of its most-recent generation semiconductors into one. That melding process, however, spotlights the latest frontier in chip manufacturing, where Intel hopes to steal business away from market leader and leading Apple supplier Taiwan Semiconductor. As The Information reported Tuesday, the process of fusing together chips, known as stitching, could contribute to Intel’s renaissance or continued downfall as it invests heavily in semiconductor production. While both companies possess the technology to bond chips, they’re expected to use diverging processes that will result in different results and price points.

From the article:

Apple is the first customer for TSMC’s new approach, analysts believe, which will likely help TSMC ramp up and refine the production of semiconductors that rely on it and eventually make the technology available to the chipmaker’s other customers, such as Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia (neither has announced plans to use the technology yet). 

Intel has staked its turnaround plans on producing some of the very same cutting-edge technologies.

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BEFORE YOU GO

Put me in camp “no.” Nothing is sacred in sports anymore—including one of the most hallowed grounds in world football (or soccer, for the American crowd). Audio streaming giant Spotify and Spanish football colossus FC Barcelona announced a four-year sponsorship deal Tuesday worth an expected $307 million, ESPN reported Tuesday. As part of the agreement, Barcelona’s iconic stadium will now be called Spotify Camp Nou, a change that makes my face turn as green as the company’s circular logo. The deal marks Spotify’s biggest PR splash since the uproar over star podcaster Joe Rogan’s embrace of some anti-vaccine commentary and his past use of a racial slur.

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