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What the success of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom can teach us about gaming

Games continue to prove themselves to be an immutable part of popular culture. The forty-year-old franchise Zelda recently smashed records with the release of Tears of the Kingdom (TOTK), shifting an eye-watering 10 million copies within the first three days. In the UK, it’s become the highest-selling boxed game of 2023 so far, overtaking the Hogwarts Legacy and FIFA 2023 franchises. 

But in a supercharged and highly competitive market, what’s keeping consumers coming back for more? 

Focus on innovative and fresh gameplay wins over players 

In the case of the new Zelda release, gameplay has been a big factor. “The title has incorporated tried-and-tested gameplay mechanics from games like Minecraft to give players more agency and creativity. Players will return time and time again to experiment and expand upon their own gameplay,” says Arian Bassari, Lead Analyst at Futuresource. 

“It’s a clever strategy as it also allows the brand to tap into the endless engagement funnel of streaming platforms Twitch and YouTube,” Bassari notes. 

As well as prolonging the engagement, stronger gameplay resonates more deeply with gamers. Many sequels simply level up their graphics and call it a day. While Nintendo games are heavily stylised, it never comes at the expense of good gameplay.  

In fact, the company’s hardware and software teams are very much intertwined, with both working in synergy to amplify the other. Graphics often take a backseat: TOTK essentially shares the same visuals as its predecessor, Breath of the Wild. It's a unique strategy, but it does check out. While impressive graphics are desirable, they’re also passive. Thoughtful gameplay allows players to engage with a game in new and exciting ways – ultimately prolonging engagement. 

Marketing strategies that speak to consumers 

“One of the most impressive feats of Tears of the Kingdom is the release strategy. Nintendo pulled off a masterclass here, demonstrating the power of well-timed and emotion-oriented promotional content. Over the course of a few years, they drummed up a huge amount of momentum for the game.”  

TOTK’s advert shows Nintendo’s clear intent to tap into the human desire for escapism. This resonates with a huge sweep of consumers, not just dedicated gamers. Games that connect with and amplify the emotional experience of gaming are ultimately the ones that stick around. If a game incorporates this with timely marketing and fresh gameplay, they start to smash records. 

A legacy that lasts 

Despite the industry’s seismic shift towards digital distribution, Futuresource’s research shows 55% of Nintendo’s software sales come from the physical format. Plus, despite its increasingly outdated hardware, 2022 saw software spend on the Switch match the £13.9 billion achieved in 2021. 

In the world of gaming, Nintendo swims upstream. In the company’s eyes, the Switch is actually at the mid-point of its life cycle, rather than the end. This may go against the grain, but in 2027, Futuresource expects total software revenue for the Switch to still reach an impressive $7.5 billion. Nintendo understands the value of its games, placing longevity at its core. The console’s hardware sales since launch and existing install base suggest that Nintendo will continue to back the console – possibly in conjunction with a new model – until profitability becomes impossible to maintain. 

By focusing on creativity, emotions, action, and simple design principles, Nintendo creates games that last. Tears of the Kingdom is demonstrative of the effectiveness of this strategy, with IGN awarding it a rare 10/10, making it another single-player game receiving well-deserved critical acclaim. 

To discover more about Futuresource’s cutting-edge research across the gaming landscape, please get in touch with 

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Olivia Lowden

About the author

Olivia Lowden

Olivia Lowden is responsible for the long-form content, press, and partnerships at Futuresource. Prior to her career at Futuresource, she completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, demonstrative of her lifelong love of words.

Arian Bassari

About the author

Arian Bassari

Arian joined the Gaming team at Futuresource in 2021 as an analyst, where he conducts research to understand market dynamics and provide data-driven insights.

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