Elden ring is very popular, selling 12M copies in its first 3 weeks. But why? The graphics are poor compared to current gen offerings, there is little recorded dialog, a confused and often contradictory plot, and enemy AI with the intelligence of driveway gravel. Even features like lip sync are missing despite being common among RPGs for years. 

From Software, the creators of Elden Ring, are well know for their Dark Souls series. Even those who have never played a game from the series have likely heard of its notoriously non-adjustable difficulty. So is the difficulty of Elden Ring the reason for its popularity? Are players tired of easily completed games? 

No. Elden Ring’s ‘difficulty’ is the beginning of the reason for its success but it is not the end. 

Git Gud is a lie

Strictly speaking I would not say Elden Ring is difficult. I cleared the game and a fair number of side quests in just under 70hrs. In that time I never felt that game was difficult in the traditional sense. 

Typically when a skill is gained it represents an improvement within a specific domain. If I train to run a 10k I would also expect this training to help me run a 5k since both tasks involve running. Elden Ring is not like this. Its boss battles are won by memorizing the attack patterns of each specific boss. Mastering any given boss does not provide much insight into fighting the next boss. So you don’t really ‘git gud’ at Elden Ring instead you ‘git gud’ at each enemy in Elden Ring. If, however, you consider a game difficult if you die frequently then Elden Ring is a very difficult game. 

This pattern is true of other games as well with the Souls series being a prime example. The player is expected to die many times over as they encounter and learn how to react to each action an enemy can take. In a conventional game difficulty is scaled such that an average player can experience and adapt to new enemies without dying. Elden Ring players will die a lot and those not expecting this type of gameplay can easily become frustrated. And where do frustrated players go for help? What can they do to help short circuit this painstaking learning process?

The Ultimate FAQ

In the dark days before the internet, strategy guides allowed players to engage in optimal play without having to discover it through trial and error. GameFAQs replaced this model and then YouTube and Twitch replaced the FAQs. Now struggling players can turn to videos or even livestreams for advice. 

Easy games are less likely to send players running for help than difficult games. Therefore the most difficult games will generate the greatest demand for assistance. For the top 1% of players who master Elden Ring there is an incredible opportunity for content creation. The thirst for Elden Ring tutorials and guides is immense. Mass consumption of this content is detected by trending algorithms and promoted. The closed network test provided an excellent opportunity to get this cycle started. By the time Elden Ring went on sale it was already engaging its potential player base. 

Elden Ring’s vaguely worded patch notes are practically free money for these creators. Statements such as ‘Increased shield’s effectiveness’ are fertile ground for exploration.  Which shields? By how much? In what circumstances? Each patch spawns a fresh wave of player questions which is followed by content to satisfy them. 

The Shared Pain community

This content consumption cycle creates a community. Players who benefit from a tutorial leave comments. Whether these are gratitude for assistance or stories of how absurdly long a boss took to clear they build a community. This extends even to the game’s lore. Because so little information is given each player can create and share their own interpretation of the game while others cite opposing evidence in their own opinions. This is engagement, the ultimate goal of marketing, and it has been building around From Software for a while. 

And now they are reaping their rewards. 


I can’t tell if From Software planned for this to happen or not. If so then they have a genius working in marketing. If not, it doesn’t change their awesome balance sheet. 

I understand players wanting to build a community around their favorite games. However, I hope it does not become a blindly copied trend. I want to enjoy a game’s exploration and discovery without needing external assistance to complete it before the gameplay becomes dull. 

Unfortunately I don’t think many studios will be able to ignore the revenue Elden Ring has generated. Copycats are likely to soon follow. 


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