How do you sell a 'menace' like Dark Souls II?

Christopher Dring
How do you sell a 'menace' like Dark Souls II?

A game like Dark Souls has no right to be talked about in the same breath as Skyrim.

An incredibly difficult Japanese RPG sounds as niche as it gets, yet Namco Bandai’s series has become a hit.

The spiritual successor to PS3 favourite Demons Souls, Dark Souls launched in 2011 to decent reviews and solid sales numbers. Yet over the course of almost three years, the title has become one of the most talked about games of the last generation. It’s developed a huge following, including leading critics and even celebrities, and has appeared on most ‘Game of the Generation’ lists.

“Dark Souls was applauded by many as not just the hardest video game but one of the greatest video games ever,” says Namco Bandai’s marketing director Lee Kirton. “It is emotionally challenging and rewarding in every sense.”

So enter Dark Souls II, a game that Kirton hopes can eclipse the success of its predecessor, and win over some of the more casual RPG fans – such as the millions that picked up Bethesda’s Skyrim.

Namco Bandai says Dark Souls II will be a more accessible game for newcomers – something that might concern fans who applauded the original’s unforgiving gameplay.

“It's not been made easier at all, it is still tough, it is one of the toughest experiences you're ever likely to play in a video game,” insists Kirton. “But what we want to do is chip away at those fans of Skyrim.

"What we want to do is chip away at those fans of
Skyrim. Dark Souls won’t apply to all of them, but
if they’re after a deep, satisfying RPG experience,
which looks great, then we’d love them to try Dark
Souls II. Our target audience is fans of RPGs, as
well as action games.”

Lee Kirton, Namco Bandai


"Dark Souls won’t apply to all of them, but if they’re after a deep, satisfying RPG experience, which looks great, then we’d love them to try Dark Souls II. Our target audience is fans of RPGs, as well as action games.”

A part of reaching these fans will come via Namco Bandai’s marketing. The firm is spending £1m on advertising – a huge figure for the publisher – with online, print and TV campaigns, celebrity endorsements and PR initiatives.

“We’ve taken inspiration from the likes of Skyrim. That campaign was  fantastic,” says Kirton. “These games are very different beasts, but we think that fans of Skyrim, The Witcher and any RPG would enjoy Dark Souls.”

The game is certainly getting noticed by core gamers. At the Eurogamer Expo, Namco Bandai was somewhat surprised by the level of attention the title received.

“People queued for three hours to play just 20 minutes,” recalls Kirton. “We had a challenge – those that beat the Mirror Knight boss in 20 minutes got a t-shirt. People who didn’t beat it went back in the queue for three hours to try again.”

Yet marketing a game like Dark Souls is a tricky business. The game is renowned for rock hard gameplay and repeated deaths. It sounds like the exact sort of title that mainstream gamers would avoid.

“When people talk about it being hard, what that does is scare off a lot of people,” admits Kirton. “Skyrim can sell to millions of people with its open world, accessible gameplay, but Dark Souls is a menace of a game – it’s deep, challenging and satisfying.”

He adds: “You need to die. That is the hardest point to convey, and that is why our tagline is ‘Go Beyond Death’. In Dark Souls, dying helps you learn how to defeat that boss or beat that trap. This takes a while to convey to consumers, but as they play, they will realise it is very important.”

Indeed, Namco Bandai has softened its marketing rhetoric slightly in an effort not to frighten off potential fans. Although it’s at pains to remain true to the game’s difficult nature.

“We have changed our marketing tactics. With the first Dark Souls the message was ‘You Will Die’ and ‘Prepare to Die’ – which summed up the nature of the game.?With Dark Souls II we have softened that a bit with ‘Go Beyond Death’, because that says: ‘Sure, you’ll die. But that doesn’t mean the game is over’.”

“When people talk about it being hard, what that does is
scare off a lot of people. Skyrim can sell to millions of
people with its open world, accessible gameplay, but
Dark Souls is a menace of a game – it’s deep, challenging
and satisfying. You need to die. That is the hardest point
to convey, and that is why our tagline is ‘Go Beyond Death’.
In Dark Souls, dying helps you learn how to defeat that boss
or beat that trap. This takes a while to convey to consumers,
but as they play, they will realise it is very important.”

Lee Kirton, Namco Bandai


With so many influential fans – such as celebs like Star Wars/Shaun of the Dead actor Peter Serafinowicz (who stars in the game) – Dark Souls does a good job of promoting itself. And with the cult fame afforded to Dark Souls, the prospects for its sequel is that it could break through to that wider audience Kirton hopes to attract.

The one stumbling block? It’s a current-gen release, and there’s currently no version planned for PS4 or Xbox One.

“It’s a big franchise. We are spending over £1m on marketing in the UK, which is fairly substantial for us. We hope to sell over the units of the first Dark Souls,” concludes Kirton.

“Dark Souls II is the reason to keep holding on to your PS3 and 360.”

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Tags: namco bandai , marketing , elder scrolls , Skyrim , Dark Souls II

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