Contrary to what the title of this article suggests, this is not a run-down of all the game development companies that took risks and failed, nor is it an explanation of why modern games are so bland because being bland and generic is the only way to make back the millions they spent on developing the game. Instead, this article is about how the Elden Ring game isn’t afraid to put hide its light under a bushel when most games have to put the money on the screen.
Hiding A Light Vs Money On The Screen
“To hide one’s light under a bushel” is an old English proverb born from a story Jesus told during his sermon on the mount. Hiding one’s light is to keep quiet about one’s talents or accomplishments. Oddly, “Bushel” is old English for “Bowl” and not “Bush.”
“Putting the money on the screen” is an industry term for when the people paying the money for a game’s development want to visually see something for their money. A good example of this is “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.”
For the first third of the game, there are big, impressive views, lots of detail, moving parts, and dramatic events. You can really see all the money that went into developing the moment-to-moment gameplay. These are typically the parts that reviewers play up to.
Around one-third into the game, things become less impressive and things become more linear because these are not the parts that the reviewers play, so they don’t matter as much. The impressive parts, the action-packed YouTube-ready set pieces are examples of developers putting money on the screen.
Elden Ring Hides its Light
You can accuse Elden Ring of being a lot of things. You can accuse it of sticking too closely to the Dark Souls 3 formula, you can accuse the open world of being too large, or the bosses not being as difficult, but you can’t accuse it of “Exploitatively” putting its money on the screen.
In other words, Elden Ring has enough confidence in its open world to allow you to miss things. Note the qualifying word “Exploitatively,” Elden Ring does have its big money shots, but they are not added in there to impress reviewers, nor are they little more than cinematic quick-time events (looking at you there Uncharted).
Modern games cost a lot of money to make, and developers and publishers alike want to see a return on their investment. They want the money on the screen. The very idea of spending $100K on a dungeon that is easily missable is enough to get you fired from most studios, and yet FromSoftware (the developers of the Dark Souls series) are happy to let you miss large sections of their game.
As a result, games like Dark Souls 1, Dark Souls 3, and Elden Ring have very rewarding exploration mechanics. Since it is easily possible to miss things, you feel more rewarded when you actually find things. This is a good example of a company being confident enough to fail.
Confident Enough to Fail?
The hype that Elden Ring receives is well deserved, but it has a bit of Black Panther syndrome about it. The 2018 movie Black Panther had reviewers so eager to pour praise onto it (for political points) that nobody dared take a step back and examine it for its flaws.
When a game like Elden Ring wins the “Most Anticipated Game Award” for two years running, then you can tell that most reviewers have already pre-written their reviews before even playing the game.
What is sad is that the most anticipated game award is simply an award for the most successfully promoted game. Elden Ring suffers from Black Panther syndrome where people are so eager to pour praise onto it that any form of genuine criticism is pushed out.
For that reason, you can understand why FromSoftware is so confident. But, most game developers don’t have the benefit of a brilliantly marketing department, a legion of hungry fans, and years of development success. Most developers cannot risk hiding their light under a bowl. They have to put their money on the screen because if people miss the big-money areas, then their game will struggle to make its money back.
Have You Missed Areas in Double AA Games?
There are AAA developers, there are AA game developers, indie developers, and independent developers. The AA developers are the ones with a fairly big budget, but where two or three failures in succession may see them go out of business.
To contradict the previous section, you may claim you missed areas in AA games before.
For example, you may have played all the way through Days Gone and found camps you have missed and several hordes you missed. But, did you really miss them? Did you miss the starting ones? Did you miss the massive YouTube-Reaction-Piece-Ready one at the Sawmill? Or, perhaps did you miss some of the hordes that were a bit cookie-cutter and similar to the others?
You may have missed several camps in Far Cry 6, but again, did you miss anything overly new or original? Could you have identified one camp from another in any meaningful way? Don’t you feel that uncomfortable nagging feeling that you have already played Far Cry 6 before?
And, not to poke and prod at Far Cry 6, but if you were to cut and remove a camp from one of the older games and plonk it into the Far Cry 6 setting with better graphical visuals, would it make that much of a memorable difference?
In short, you may miss things in other games, including in games where the money “Must” be shown on screen. But, you are not missing something you haven’t already seen.
Confident Enough To Fail But Not To Take Risks
If you like Elden Ring, then nobody is going to complain. As games go, it is pretty good, but it is not without its faults. If you love the game, then go ahead and play, buy the DLC, buy Elden Ring runes, and spend hours playing the game (you are going to get your money’s worth).
But, let’s avoid decreeing it as the most perfect game ever (even though Dark Souls 1, another FromSoftware game, has been decreed the “best game ever”).
Elden Ring is confident enough to hide some of its very expensively-made and modeled areas. It is even confident enough to shift its linear storytelling method into an open-world setting. But, you have to admit that a large part of the game is very much Dark Souls 3 with a splash of Sekiro and Bloodborne.
Nobody is going to blame FromSoftware, Inc. for learning from their successes (it certainly beats learning from mistakes in the grand scheme of things), but the fact is that Elden Ring didn’t take any big risks.
Don’t Development Companies Take Risks All The Time?
What some consider to be risks and changes, are no risks at all. They are market research ideas that were added to a game like too much watercress on your salad sandwich.
They are all things we have seen before, from Assassin’s Creed going from an assassin’s game to a single-player MMO game. Sacred 3 decided to add witty sarcastic comments that went out of fashion two minutes after season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired. Even Elden Ring making an open-world game was a big worry because too many games have gone open-world without justification.
Luckily, FromSoftware handled it well, but they were not taking a risk. If they had given the character wings or a wise-cracking sidekick, then that would have been a risk. It would have also been a disaster, but it would have been a risk. FromSoftware is big enough to make it confident, but perhaps after the sour taste left by Dark Souls 2, FromSoftware doesn’t consider itself invulnerable.