In case you haven’t heard, Baldur’s Gate 3 is shaping up to be one of the most surprising hits of 2023. Over the past weekend, the game achieved a peak concurrent player count of over 800,000 users on Steam. For context, Larian Studio founder Swen Vincke predicted that the game could reach 100,000 peak concurrent users during its debut period, and that was a fairly optimistic prediction. Yet, for as impressive as Baldur’s Gate 3’s initial player count numbers have been, the game’s early sales figures may be even more notable.
Larian previously confirmed that Baldurs’ Gate 3 sold around 2.5 million copies during its prolonged Early Access period. Those impressive initial sales allowed the Baldur’s Gate 3 team to not only improve the game during Early Access but to expand the project and ensure that it eventually grew to become all of the things Larian wanted it to be. Yet, even those notable early sales may pale in comparison to what the game has achieved post-launch.
While we don’t know Baldur’s Gate 3’s exact updated sales figures as of the time of this writing, every conventional sign of success suggests that the game is a massive hit. Shortly after its debut, Baldur’s Gate 3 climbs to the top of Steam’s premium sales chart. It remains in that position at this time. The speed of Baldur’s Gate 3’s ascension up the Steam sales charts is something that we typically only see from the biggest modern releases, but it’s the title’s staying power in that position that suggests it is destined to become one of the biggest PC titles of the year.
It’s not just Steam, though. Over the weekend, Baldur’s Gate 3 shot up the PS5 pre-order charts, where it even surpassed titles like Spider-Man 2 in some regions. While Baldur’s Gate 3 will not debut on PS5 until September 6, that truly impressive word-of-mouth movement suggests a ton of PS5 gamers who will not be able to enjoy Starfield in September will be playing Baldur’s Gate 3 instead.
Those early console pre-order figures may be the most impressive Baldur’s Gate 3 sales metric at the moment. After all, we could have reasonably guessed that Baldur’s Gate 3 was going to be successful among Baldur’s Gate fans, D&D fans, and the type of CRPG fans who typically buy such titles via Steam. Of course, quite a few of those gamers likely purchased Baldur’s Gate 3 during Early Access. The sales we’re seeing now suggest that Baldur’s Gate 3 has not only reached a much wider audience but is currently reaching users on platforms not typically associated with this specific kind of RPG.
Though I am again tempted to use the word “surprising” to describe these sales figures, I know there are quite a few RPG fans out there that aren’t entirely surprised by the game’s early success. After all, while Baldur’s Gate 3 has certainly exceeded sales expectations, its success so far has ultimately proven what genre fans already knew: people crave the kinds of RPG experiences that the modern gaming industry continues to deny them.
When I say that, I’m not just talking about games that are exactly like Baldur’s Gate 3. After all, the early Baldur’s Gate games were closer to critical darlings than mass market successes. Spiritually similar CRPGs that emphasize deep mechanics and D&D rulesets have also often struggled to reach wider audiences. Even Divinity: Original Sin 2 (Larian’s previous major game and one of the best examples of the CRPG genre) didn’t come close to matching Baldur’s Gate 3’s success so far. Truth be told, I also think that some people who buy into the early Baldur’s Gate 3 hype may discover that this game is simply not for them.
None of that really matters at the moment, though. What matters most are the phrases that tens of thousands of people are using to tag their positive reviews of Baldur’s Gate 3. “Story Rich,” “Choices Matter,” “Character Customization,”…those phrases not only speak to the things that people love about Baldur’s Gate 3 but to the things that this game is giving them that they’re struggling to find elsewhere.
Since the fall of BioWare and the decline in Bethesda’s production productivity, even so-called “casual” RPG fans have been starved for titles that emphasize some of the things that Baldur’s Gate 3 does so well. It’s not that we haven’t gotten games like that over the last 15 years or so (The Witcher 3 and the aforementioned Original Sin 2 leap to mind) but rather that they’ve been comparatively rare and frequently made by smaller studios that can’t quite match the production values that certain major RPG studios offered during their golden days.
Instead, many major modern studios have been teasing us with unsatisfying facsimiles of such experiences. More and more major games incorporate elements of RPGs in their games (skill trees, XP systems, parties), but they typically only pay lip service to what proper RPGs are designed to offer. They not only tease us with elements of a true RPG experience, but too many studios use the artificial depth those half-hearted genre elements provide to justify microtransactions and $70 price tags. Well, Baldur’s Gate 3 has no microtransactions, costs $60, and offers the kind of character, choice, and narrative-driven single-player role-playing experience (with optional multiplayer elements) that genre fans often dream of when they’re forced to close their eyes and pretend that loose approximations of such games are good enough.
Mind you, I don’t expect to see a lot of games like Baldur’s Gate 3 in the near future. Baldur’s Gate 3 is an impossibly deep passion project that few studios could justify making an investment in even if they were reasonably confident that they could eventually deliver such an experience. There are actually very good reasons why some in the industry felt the need to warn people that games like Baldur’s Gate 3 should not be treated as the new standard. This is a rare type of masterpiece, and it should be treated as such in order to appreciate the scope of what Larian has accomplished.
Yet, every new market milestone that Baldur’s Gate 3 reaches makes it that much more difficult to deny that there are some things that other studios should take away from this title. For the money that I think you should actually spend on what could very well be the best game of the year, I would bet that the lesson is that millions of gamers are starved for the kinds of RPGs that we somehow used to get a little more often when technological capabilities and production budgets were a fraction of what they are now.