Apex Legends is indeed legendary. The game had been a secret until its surprise launch in 2019. The experiment paid off and the result amazed even the developers at Respawn Entertainment as the playerbase exceeded 25 million in just the first week. To put this in perspective, Fortnite Battle Royale gathered 10 million players in the first fortnight (wink) since release. Now, 2 years later, Apex Legends set another record in terms of player count, reaching 196,799 concurrent players on Steam – an all-time high for the game – at the end of February 2021. In this article, we are taking a closer look at what contributed to Apex Legends’ success story.
Drew McCoy, the Executive Producer of Apex Legends, was openly expressing his astonishment at the game’s popularity:
“To say that the launch of Apex Legends exceeded our expectations would be an understatement. 50 million players in the first month (and more since) is staggering for any game, let alone a new IP from a relatively small team who were taking their first swing at a free-to-play game”
Perhaps Drew was too modest with his statement. After all, Respawn Entertainment is responsible for the Titanfall games, both of which are highly praised by critics and the gaming community alike despite not achieving a spectacular commercial success. Titanfall 2 got a new life after EA decided to publish the series on Steam back in 2020. Since both Titanfall and Apex are set in the same universe, it is safe to say that they help increase each other’s popularity.
A huge success
So what was Respawn’s formula for the stunning success? There were a number of important factors. First, let’s discuss influencer marketing. The publisher of Apex Legends, Electronic Arts, spends well over 600 million USD on traditional marketing every year, so a stealthy release with no prior hype build-up could be seen as a big risk. Recognizing the importance of Twitch in reaching their target audience, EA talked with a number of influencers before the premiere and reportedly paid Tyler “Ninja” Blevins 1 million USD to stream Apex Legends on the day it was released. An excellent move, as Ninja alone was responsible for 14% of the total viewing hours on the platform, and built his career playing Fortnite – the dominating battle royale game that Apex Legends was aiming to challenge. The result was almost half a billion viewers on Twitch and 1 million unique players within the first 8 hours, a milestone that took Fortnite several days to achieve.
Using streamers to increase reach is one thing, but streaming itself can work against a title if it is bad or unpolished. We have seen this recently with Cyberpunk 2077, a game with so many bugs on release it was removed from PlayStation Store entirely. First Twitch, then YouTube were flooded with player content showing the scale of the disaster, eventually resulting in CD Projekt RED’s stock taking a nosedive. Fortunately, Apex Legends managed to appear without major hiccups. Sure, there were some bugs, but nothing really game-breaking. It was already a decent game on release.
Another thing that helped Apex achieve success was the breath of fresh air it brought. In 2019, both Fortnite and PUBG, the two battle royale titans, had been on the market for two years. The hype for battle royale was still peaking when the new player entered the game. Contrary to PUBG, Apex came out free-to-play, and there was no reason not to try it out, especially if someone felt a bit burned out by constantly playing the other games.
The design of Apex Legends also offers a few novelties compared to the other titles. It is focused on 3 player teams, completely resigning from the solo aspect. Unlike in Fortnite and PUBG, players take control of heroes with special abilities, which brings the game a bit closer to titles such as Overwatch and Unreal Championship 2.
The popularity of Apex Legends continues to climb, and the game is among the top ten in terms of viewership on Twitch. Apex Legends is a great success story, the proof that a polished product combined with clever marketing can go a long way.