Elden Ring’s record sales have many calling it the most successful IP in years, but some fans and industry figures are debating whether or not calling Elden Ring a new IP sends the wrong message about its success.
This debate kicked off around the time that GamesIndustry.biz and other outlets first reported that Elden Ring was not only the best-selling game of 2022 so far but one of the most successful games in recent years. In fact, many early Elden Ring sales reports noted that the game enjoyed the biggest new IP launch in Europe since 2016’s The Division.
While pretty much everyone agrees that Elden Ring is already a success (at least from a sales standpoint), there is a surprising amount of disagreement over the idea that Elden Ring is really a new IP. To be more accurate, there’s a surprising amount of disagreement over what calling Elden Ring a new IP means for innovation in the industry and how we measure the success of new ideas.
So what is a new IP? Well, the definition of intellectual property is “a work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design, to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc.” In gaming, the phrase “New IP” is typically used to identify a game that doesn’t technically belong to an existing franchise/property.
It’s a relatively simple arrangement that becomes slightly more complicated when you attempt to account for things like spin-offs, spiritual successors, and the long lifespans of popular franchises. For instance, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Bros. are part of the same IP despite being wildly different games in a lot of ways. Dino Crisis and Resident Evil are very similar games, but they’re different IPs.
For our purposes today, though, one of the most important IP distinctions to consider may be the fact that Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are actually different IPs. While Dark Souls is obviously a spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, the fact that Sony controls the Demon’s Souls IP (hence the recent remake) means that Bandai Namco and FromSoftware needed to make it its own property. For that matter, Bloodborne, Sekiro, and, yes, Elden Ring are all considered to be separate IPs from Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls.
If we’re keeping this conversation as technical as possible, then there’s really no doubt that Elden Ring should be considered a new IP. However, some are saying that simply calling Elden Ring a new IP kind of overlooks the fact that it is obviously based on the Souls games in many ways.
Similar comments can be found on Reddit and other social media platforms where fans refer to Elden Ring as an “IP” and question whether or not it really deserves to be considered an entirely new franchise (especially when it comes to sales records). While a handful of those comments are clearly intended to belittle Elden Ring’s success (though many more are simply pointing out similarities), others are actually celebrating the fact that Elden Ring manages to bring classic Souls ideas to a wider audience.
Why does this debate matter? Honestly, there’s a degree to which it doesn’t. The practice of referring to games as IPs in the first place is most common among analysts, industry insiders, and anyone else who relies on traditional trade lingo. For many others, it’s easy to just accept that Elden Ring is technically a new IP and move on.
Yet, there is something very interesting about the idea that referring to Elden Ring as a new IP without bringing up the fact that the game clearly borrows quite a few elements from the Souls series does paint a distorted picture of the game’s success. Is it fair to compare Elden Ring’s sales to a new IP that doesn’t rely so heavily on prior works from its creators? Does celebrating Elden Ring’s success as a new IP diminish the importance of “entirely new” concepts and further incentivize studios to focus on iterations of established franchises? Even George R.R. Martin once referred to Elden Ring as a sequel to Dark Souls (though it seems safe to say that he misspoke).
To be honest, I completely sympathize with those who hesitate to call Elden Ring a new IP without bringing up the Soulsborne games. It’s important to recognize that much of Elden Ring’s success can be attributed to the design of the Souls series as well as the success of FromSoftware’s other recent IPs (Sekiro and Bloodborne). Elden Ring utilizes enough elements of that Soulsborne formula to ensure that it will feel mostly familiar to many first-time players. Maybe Elden Ring’s critical acclaim, open-world, stunning quality, and, yes, its George R.R. Martin connection would have helped the game find success eventually, but Elden Ring wasn’t exactly coming in from the cold as so many other new IPs often do.
However, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that any of that is a bad thing.
It’s true that the video game industry (like so many other forms of entertainment) is in desperate need of new ideas. We live in a franchise-dominated world where people are so afraid of new things that they’d rather watch a CG Mark Hammil use a lightsaber to carve his way through the uncanny valley than accept a new actor in the role. The ever-growing value of familiarity has many rightfully concerned about new voices and new ideas will ultimately find a home. In that sense, I do understand why celebrating Elden Ring as a new IP without bringing up its obvious connections to established concepts and franchises does cause some concern.
Yet, it’s foolish to think that most new video game IPs don’t borrow ideas from established concepts. Horizon Zero Dawn was based on a familiar form of open-world design, Stardew Valley was basically a Harvest Moon sequel, Overwatch was building upon Team Fortress 2’s success, and even The Division was Ubisoft’s answer to Destiny (as well as a game that used the Tom Clancy name). That isn’t to say that there aren’t entirely original ideas, but rather that many of the best recent new IPs (and games, for that matter) find a way to use what came before. If you copy a great game like The Legend of Zelda and find a way to make it slightly better, you’ve probably made a great game. Inspiration isn’t always imitation.
Besides, Elden Ring is a bold game in many of the ways that matter most. It might be a spiritual successor to the Souls series, but let’s not suddenly pretend that those games (or titles like Sekiro and Bloodborne) were always best sellers. There’s a good chance that Elden Ring could end up matching (or beating) the sales of the entire Souls franchise. That just speaks to the ways that the game repackages the core Souls concepts and remarkably manages to make them more appealing to a wider audience without compromising them in any significant ways. For that matter, you could argue that Elden Ring is the definitive realization of everything that FromSoftware has been trying to do with the Souls series up until this point.
Elden Ring’s new IP status may come with a small asterisk, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. The game is ultimately proof that it’s still possible to stick with a bold idea that you truly believe in and find ways to bring it to a wider audience over time.