Apex Legends – why so successful?

All the hype around the game motivated me to get out of my slumber and write a small piece analyzing its launch, and why it succeeded.

Before diving in, a disclaimer:

  • This analysis is based on public information.
  • This is my point of view on things.
  • I don’t pretend to know it all.

Please enjoy.


When we heard the first rumours about a new Battle Royale game by EA, and that it would include lootboxes, my first reaction was kind of lukewarm. Why? EA was in turmoil in the past few months:

  • Anthem BETA full of issues
  • Battlefront 1 MTX issues
  • Battlefront 2 MTX issues
  • Growing discontent from Madden/FIFA players due to the cards/packs in their respective games
  • Rather lackluster E3
  • Slower financial results than expected

I told my friends that it was a bit dangerous from EA’s side to let the rumours flow in, knowing the perception gamers had of them, and I was dead wrong.

Numbers hardly lie; here are some showing the massive success ReSpawn is seeing with Apex Legends:

To add to that, here is a more visual approach:

While  good ol’ Nibel made a meme out of it, Apex Legends also had a massive impact on the stock price of EA which was tanking, like most gaming companies:

Last but not least, the streaming aspect of things. Incolas from GamoLoco had this to say:

Note: obviously, we have the eternal debate of “yeah 25 million players, but how many are spending money!“. Only Respawn knows that exactly., but I’m fairly sure it’s massive too. (Fortnite revenue: Recode; IGN)

Lastly, another set of data that no one has tackled so far: PR numbers (of course, this is just a part of the numbers used in PR!). I have asked Thomas Bidaux of ICO Partners to get me some data for comparison, and oh boy…:

  • Overwatch Launch month: ~10000 Articles.
  • Fortnite: ~7000 Articles per month regularly (but not at launch).
  • PUBG: never reached 7000 articles.
  • Apex Legends: already more than 7000 articles in one week.

For the record, some middle-sized publishers can average approx 6000 – 7000 articles per month across their whole portfolio.

Now, onto the reasons for this massive success :

  1. Apex Legends is built by Respawn, the team behind the excellent FPS series Titanfall. While Titanfall wasn’t a massive commercial success (due in no small part to a poorly-timed launch), it definitely is a high quality series. Apex Legends isn’t using Titans from the series, but uses some other elements. The game has a AAA feel, despite being free-to-play.
  2. Fortnite arrived at the perfect moment, the Battle Royale genre needed some fresh blood and a little renewal since PUBG was stagnating. Fortnite became the new PUBG, and started to stagnate. While it’s incredible to see how much of an impact Fortnite had on the industry, and how many novelties they brought to the table – their numbers were starting to slow down (but are still inarguably huge as of this writing).  Apex Legends launched with excellent timing.
  3.  Outstanding game design :
    1. Unlike traditional BR games, Apex Legends pits 20 teams of 3 players against each other, they have ditched the solo aspect of things.
    2. Heroes to control, with their specialties. Usually in BR games you control a rather generic character, only weapons/cosmetics change. This mix of traditional BR games with Overwatch seems to resonate very well with the audience
    3. Fast & furious, while still accessible to newcomers. The learning curve is good.
    4. A well-thought progression system. KDA (Kills, Deaths, Assists = a metric used in games to determine individual performance) ratio or win rate aren’t the most important thing here : whether you win or you lose, you still gain XP. This philosophy was implemented in Overwatch from the get-go and, I believe, had done wonders to limit the frustration of players (Well, some are still toxic though…).
    5. Built for esports and spectacle. This is the flavour of the month, whether you like it or not. In fact Newzoo announced today that esports might generate as much as 1,1 billion $ this year. Twitch is already on the case.
    6. EDIT: as mentioned by Alexandre Bonnet on LinkedIn They are going to add solo and duo queue as well. They didn’t ditch it yet. They also bring s the dynamism of titanfall into the game. They add many additions to the codes of the existing BR, such as respawning team members, the jump leader, dynamic traversal etc.”
  4. Monetization doesn’t seem to be aggressive at all. You can definitely play for free. Lootboxes contain only cosmetic items. Just like in Overwatch, everytime you get a player level : you get a lootbox. Moreover, Respawn have thought about their long term plans from now on : battle passes, but free content for players as well.
  5. Last, but not least : marketing and communication.

While traditional games are counting on a plethora of channels such as : Out of Home ads, online media-buying, PR, Celebrities, Influencers, Consumer events etc. We are seeing a (more and more obvious) shift towards gaming influencers and streaming. In fact, the Battle Royale genre is deeply rooted in streaming ; DayZ, PUBG or Fortnite all grew partly (or mostly?) thanks to that. EA/Respawn strategy was brilliant :

  •       They invited a bunch of press & influencers to a private event.
  •       Allowed them to tease/create discussions on the weekend
  •       Shadow dropped the game (ie. not a long campaign, hence massive and staggered costs)
  •       Paid some of the biggest Fortnite/PUBG streamers to play it on day one. Among them:
    • Ninja (13m followers)
    • DrDisrespect (3m followers)
    • Shroud (5,4m followers)
    • LIRIK (2,3m followers)
    • Multiple others with 1m+ followers (Gotaga, Rubius, xQc, forsen etc.)

This resulted in Apex Legends overtaking LoL/Fortnite as the most watched game on Twitch. Despite most of the top streams having an « #ad » tag, people were watching : their favourite influencers was streaming an extremely cool and nervous looking game, get on the hype train !

One of the myths I’d like to debunk, because I read plenty of tweets/comments saying that the budget was minimal… Working with famous gaming influencers costs a lot of money. We’re talking tens and hundreds of thousand dollars. While it’s less expensive than having a booth at E3, or paying Kylie Jenner for an instagram post – gaming influencers still charge hefty amounts. Despite this, it is among the best marketing dollars you can spend in gaming nowadays, seeing the prominence of YouTube/Twitch. Here is an excerpt from the Gamer Media Trust report from ESA (2017)

Gamers trust YouTube more than user reviews, professional reviews, podcasts, and Twitch. Younger gamers are especially trusting of YouTube: 38% of male and female gamers under 35 say YouTube is a “very trustworthy” platform.

While discussing this topic with my friend Daniel Ahmad, he made a really good point when pointing out to what he said in this article:

“The game came out on the day of the Super Bowl and EA instead relied on Twitch and YouTube to make it the biggest launch ever for a battle royale game,” says Daniel Ahmad, an analyst at Niko Partners, who says EA’s move was unusual. “If you go back five, 10 or 15 years ago, this wouldn’t [have been] possible.”

 

To conclude this streaming/influencers topic, please find some data pertaining to:

Today :

 

One of the other positive aspects of this success, is a rather unexpected one : Titanfall 2 is facing a resurgence upon Apex Legends’ release.

 

With that being said, let’s make one thing extremely clear: Apex Legends mostly succeeded because it’s a good game. The rest was just them aligning all the stars. I am very much looking forward to seeing how the game will behave in the future, and how Respawn is going to handle all the pressure.

 

To conclude this article, here is the launch trailer for the game.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on the game. If you want to read more of my content don’t hesitate to bookmark this blog  or follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/beIrhiti

 

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