Elden Ring won Game of the Year at the 2022 Game Awards Thursday night, but the more interesting thing happened immediately after. No, not the prankster who took the mic at the very end to shout out his rabbi Bill Clinton—FromSoftware lead Hidetaka Miyazaki's acceptance speech. After giving his thanks, Miyazaki said that "As for Elden Ring, we still have several more things we want to do, so getting this GOTY award really really encourages us."
To me, that sounds like three beautiful letters: DLC.
Elden Ring was the biggest game of 2022—but how big is it in the grand scale? It's not GTA or Minecraft big. Yet Dark Souls, the series that people haven't been able to shut up about for the past decade, has sold 33 million copies combined; Elden Ring sold 17 million in just months.
Any other videogame of its scale released in 2022 would've been desperate to hold onto all that player attention with a drip feed of new quests and microtransactions. Assassin's Creed Valhalla, for example, had six "seasons" of DLC after release, with everything from new haircuts to new weapons to new regions and questlines. But outside a few balance patches, Elden Ring has been a black box for nine months, from February 26 to December 6—the surprise announcement of new arenas being added for PvP play.
That free PvP DLC is just an appetizer, though, and not the kind you eat too much of and spoil dinner. It's the kind that makes you realize how hungry you are. Not just hungry—starving. If and when FromSoftware announces a proper expansion for Elden Ring next year, the kind singleplayer adventurers can lose themselves in for another 10 or 20 or 30 hours, 17 million players are going to turn up ravenous for it.
Has the most-played, bestselling game of any given year in PC gaming history actually been an expansion for an existing game? Because that could conceivably happen in 2023. There's really just one game standing in Elden Ring's way: Starfield.
Elden Ring is big, but it might not quite be Fallout big. Bethesda's Fallout 4 shipped 12 million copies in a day and probably passed 25 million a couple years later. Presumably its audience has only grown in the years since. Starfield had the potential to blow Fallout 4 out of the water; players are primed for it to be the next grand, bigger-than-they-can-possibly-imagine RPG. But Microsoft's acquisition of Bethesda means that Starfield won't be on the PS5. That's 25 million potential sales gone right there (ignoring, for the sake of simple math, how many people own a PS5 and an Xbox or gaming PC). Ars Technica has some helpful charts breaking down Elden Ring's early sales against other open world titans.
On the PC alone, I expect Starfield to be the most popular new game of 2023, though it could have a close competitor. Diablo 4 looks like it's going to nail it, and Diablo 3 sold 12 million copies in its first eight months (and that was in 2012, when there were a lot fewer PC gamers). The rest of gaming's best-known names coming in 2023 actually aren't Elden Ring big, despite having longer histories. Assassin's Creed Valhalla hit 20 million players after two years, but that doesn't equal sales. Final Fantasy 16 will be big, sure, but the best-selling game in the entire series, Final Fantasy 7, has taken about 24 years to sell as many copies as Elden Ring did in less than one. That's stunning to me.
If every Elden Ring player bought an expansion in 2023, it'd outsell every new game in the world aside from Starfield and Diablo 4, and maybe even beat them. That's not how DLC sales usually go, but it's hard to make an informed prediction—sales figures for DLC are all over the place, from just 5% of existing players in some cases to the rare absurdly good sales of Euro Truck Simulator. I'd expect Elden Ring to lean towards the absurdly good side, with at least 40% of players snapping up a meaty expansion.
So what is FromSoftware planning, and when should we expect it? The first Dark Souls' expansion, Artorias of the Abyss, came out 13 months later, while the second game's trio of DLC add-ons were announced only three months after release and started landing soon after. For Dark Souls 3, publisher Bandai Namco announced a season pass for two DLC packs before the game even came out, though they took a bit longer to arrive than Dark Souls 2's.
There's no obvious pattern to apply to Elden Ring. Will FromSoftware pepper 2023 with two or three smallish expansions? Will Elden Ring get a single, big expansion like Artorias, released right around the one year anniversary, perhaps adding a full region to the map? I think that's more likely. Those smaller expansions, to me, feel like publisher Bandai Namco pushing for what was trendy at the time, but with Elden Ring I think FromSoftware has been able to call all of its own shots. One big expansion, a 2023 Game of the Year edition, and done—onto the next game.
As for what it'll contain… some of the clues dataminers found in Elden Ring were part of the recent free PvP update, but others pointed to more bosses and legacy dungeons, which is not exactly revelatory. The most likely path seems to be a storyline focusing on Miquella, Malenia's sibling, whose presence is heavily felt in Elden Ring but left unexplored. Iron Pineapple's got a pretty good guess.
Personally I hope FromSoftware has been putting in work on some performance updates to fix Elden Ring's stuttering; DLSS and FSR support would be lovely, too. But mostly I'm just excited to see how much bigger Elden Ring can get—both in terms of its already massive world and its cultural impact. A decade ago game design nerds lost their minds over how Dark Souls flew in the face of the big budget design trends of its time, and from its surprise success came a wave of action-RPGs emulating Dark Souls instead.
Now in one year, 17 million people have seen that same lens applied to open world games. I expect a story next year about the shocking number of players who bought and played Elden Ring's DLC, and a story four years from now about how Elden Ring changed this decade's open world games. That'll be just in time for whatever big new project FromSoftware has coming after Armored Core 6.