Tears of the Kingdom’s Sales Should Be a Wake-Up Call For Gaming
Tears of the Kingdom's record sales are less about The Legend of Zelda name and more about some lessons the rest of the industry should be paying attention to.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has only been officially available for about five days. However, early sales reports for the game are slowly coming in, and they tell a story that the rest of the industry should be paying attention to.
At present, Tears of the Kingdom‘s sales are setting a record pace. In France, Tears of the Kingdom sold around 500,000 physical copies during its first weekend. For comparison’s sake, FIFA 23 was the best-selling game in France in 2023, and that game sold 420,000 physical units during its first week. It was also available on significantly more platforms. A representative from retailer Fnac described Tears of the Kingdom‘s early figures as “historic.”
Tears of the Kingdom‘s UK sales may be even more impressive. Yes, it debuted atop the region’s sales charts, but that’s the least of its accomplishments. At present, Tears of the Kingdom is the biggest Zelda launch in UK history. Actually, the game is already the eighth best-selling Legend of Zelda game in UK history. In terms of revenue, it’s also the second-biggest launch for a Nintendo game in UK history (right behind Wii Fit + Balance Board). While Pokémon Sun + Moon and Pokémon Scarlet + Violet moved more units in their first week, the week isn’t over yet. Besides, Tears of the Kingdom has already sold 50% more physical units than Hogwarts Legacy in the UK during each game’s opening week periods, and Hogwarts Legacy is already cruising towards 20 million global sales in just a few months.
And now, we officially know that The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has sold 10 million copies worldwide since its launch. For those wondering, four million of those copies were sold in the US, and 2.24 million were sold in Japan during that time period. It’s not entirely clear if that figure includes all digital sales as well (though that seems to be the case), but Nintendo has confirmed that Tears of the Kingdom is the fastest-selling Zelda game ever.
You might say “Of course it’s selling quickly. It’s a major entry in a major gaming franchise.” While that’s true, don’t assume Tears of the Kingdom was guaranteed to be a sales success. For as popular and influential as The Legend of Zelda is, its sales have historically been relatively modest. Before Breath of the Wild, the best-selling Zelda game was Twilight Princess, and that “only” sold about 9 million units. The best-selling Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, went on to sell a stunning 30+ million units, and Tears of the Kingdom is leaving that game’s early sales figures in the dust.
In some ways, the situation resembles what happened to Elden Ring. FromSoftware’s previous games (most notably, the Dark Souls franchise) were highly acclaimed and sold fairly well, but they had a reputation. For a time, there was a perceived limit to how well such games could perform. However, Elden Ring‘s open-world structure, George R.R. Martin partnership, and almost universal critical acclaim shattered that supposed limit. Elden Ring has now sold 20+ million copies.
That’s the first lesson the industry should learn from Tears of the Kingdom (and, by extension, Elden Ring). Open-world games are still popular, but too many of them play things too safe. They too often follow an open-world formula under the belief that said formula is less likely to fail. That may be true for franchises where the formula is expected (such as Far Cry), but up-and-coming trend chasers (like the recent Saints Row reboot) have shown that there are limits to such familiarity.
Elden Ring and Tears of the Kingdom are challenging, inventive, and pleasantly non-linear open-world games that rarely hold players’ hands. Granted, they do that in wildly different ways (Tears of the Kindom is more experimental and Elden Ring focuses more on combat-based RPG adventuring), but their similarities are more striking. They treat their audiences like the open-world veterans that many of them are at this point. Both games expect their players to experiment, fail, and not become discouraged by the process.
Yes, they both benefited from some pre-release hype and name recognition, but the post-release praise and sales show that there is a market for those kinds of experiences. Neither of those brilliant games is easy to replicate, but more modern studios obsessed with trend-chasing should start chasing the idea that the average gamer isn’t as scared of playing such titles as some studios seem to be of making such titles.
However, the biggest takeaway from Tears of the Kindom‘s success may be the ways it validates Nintendo’s entire Switch strategy. Like so many other Switch titles, Tears of the Kingdom is not a visually impressive game from a purely technological standpoint. Unlike so many Switch titles, it’s a visually dated game that cost $70. Much was made of the game’s price ahead of its release and much has been made of its visuals since then. Obviously, neither controversy has seriously impacted the game’s success.
Nintendo is somewhat unique in terms of its ability to ignore certain technological innovations and trends in favor of doing their own thing. Not every studio can and should follow the Nintendo model to the letter. We need games and studios that push the boundaries of pure technological possibilities.
However, at a time when game costs, production schedules, and download sizes are ballooning at a rate that doesn’t always feel representative of what we actually get, games like Tears of the Kingdom feel like a breath of (the wild) fresh air. You never once question the time and money that went into it, yet it clocks in at a mere 16 GB and (visual shortcomings aside) it runs beautifully. This is a game that feels like it took six-ish years to make and not because of the way the light bounces off of a puddle or what a Digital Foundry analysis reveals (due respect to their work).
The fact of the matter is that the gaming industry doesn’t turn on a dime. What trends developers chase are usually the most obvious and easy to replicate. Even then, trends are still being chased long after those trends have faded. However, Tears of the Kingdom confirms what Breath of the Wild previously taught us about the kinds of gaming experiences that people are starved for and how few of them we actually get. How much longer will it take for other studios to start benefiting from some slightly harder lessons?