Dark Souls is a Word of Mouth Triumph

By  |  Monday, October 10, 2011 at 9:07 am

Something remarkable happened in the United Kingdom last week: Dark Souls, a game with no mass appeal and hardly any marketing, outsold the blockbuster Gears of War 3.

Granted, Dark Souls launched last week, whereas Gears of War 3 was released on September 20. And Dark Souls is available on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, while Gears of War 3 is an Xbox 360 exclusive. Still, I never expected that a nerdy, dark fantasy RPG would so quickly topple a white knuckle shooter with crazy marketing and voice acting from Ice-T.

If you follow enough gamers and game writers on Twitter, it’s easy to understand what’s going on. Dark Souls, like its spiritual predecessor Demon’s Souls, has incredible word of mouth.

Dark Souls isn’t simply a great game. It’s also a brutally difficult game that punishes carelessness and doles out serious consequences for death. To succeed, players must carefully consider every step and every decision.

This kind of play begs to be talked about. I often see players narrating their own experiences–wish me luck, I’m going to the Catacombs; I will slay this Capra Demon if it’s the last thing I do–which in turn triggers lengthy discussions on strategy.¬†Together, Dark Souls players share their misery, suffering but driven by an urge to win. When you hear enough people talking, you want to know what the fuss is about.

Dark Souls’ very existence is thanks to this word of mouth. In early 2009, Sony published the spiritual successor Demon’s Souls in Japan with no plans to sell the game outside of Asia. Sales were poor at first, but eventually the game picked up momentum and became an unexpected hit. Only then did Atlus decide to localize and publish Demon’s Souls in the United States. Namco Bandai brought the game to Europe last year.

“The contrast between how we felt around the time of release and when the game broke the 100,000 sales mark was gigantic,”¬†Hidetaka Miyazaki, game director at development studio From Software told Edge last year. If gamers hadn’t discovered this hidden gem, its sequel probably wouldn’t exist.

Now, that devotion is paying off up-front. In its opening weekend alone, Dark Souls sold more than 250,000 copies in Japan. I expect the game to easily and deservedly crack 1 million sales worldwide.

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