EA’s Apex Legends is unique in several ways and off to a truly sensational early start. 25m total players and 2m peak players are incredible numbers. It took Apex Legends 3 days to reach 10m players vs. Fortnite at 14 days and it took Apex Legends 7 days to reach 25m players while it took Fortnite 41 days to get to 20m players. Even more impressively, Apex Legends has already had 2m peak concurrent players which is 1/4 of Fortnite’s peak concurrent players per their November 2017 update. And Apex Legends has consistently had more viewers than Fortnite on Twitch despite the fact they stopped paying streamers to play the game two days into the launch. Also important to emphasize “early” — long way to go before EA and Respawn can declare victory in terms of having created a durable new franchise.
Why is Apex Legends unique and off to such a great start?
1) Any game launched by Vince Zampella will get attention. It is the gaming equivalent of a Steven Spielberg movie. He made some of the most iconic CoD games and Titanfall was a cult hit that never broke out. There are only a few other studios/game developers like this: Blizzard, Bungie, Bethesda, DICE, Treyarch, Bioware in RPGs, the Houser brothers. PUBG/Fortnite benefitted from being the first BR games to get to scale and Epic has done a great job keeping Fortnite fresh.
2) More importantly, Apex Legends is a fantastic game. It’s not easy to make a shooter that “feels” great like Apex Legends. Aim assist, time to kill, hit boxes, recoil, variation between guns; there are so many dynamics just with gunplay, let alone movement. The revive, ping and character mechanics are innovative and additive especially given the squad based gameplay. The map design is superb. And the graphics slot nicely in between Fortnite and PUBG — higher rez than Fortnite but still family friendly. Really does seem like they hit a nice seam with this game. All of this also makes Apex Legends well suited to eSports and I suspect it may emerge as the best eSports Battle Royaled.
3) Any shooter, especially a Battle Royale, has to get to scale quickly — high quality matchmaking (whether done based on connection, skill or a mix of the two) is central to any PvP experience and this requires a large player base. I think Battle Royale games may need significantly north of 10m MAUs for good matchmaking. Ever wondered why you consistently win a match after losing several in a row — generally it is because of skill based matchmaking — the game matches you with lower skilled players to give you the satisfaction of a win or a positive K/D.
So I think success from here for a new Battle Royale entrant likely requires a great, innovative game (tough to do) from a relatively established studio/developer that quickly gets to scale. Apex Legends fits nicely between Fortnite and PUBG. We will see how other studios respond. There will be more competition, but I suspect Battle Royale games will end up being relatively consolidated with 5ish big games just like traditional shooters (CoD, R6, BF, CS:GO, Overwatch, maybe Destiny). The importance of scale for matchmaking and the player experience is wildly underestimated. In my humble opinion, these Battle Royale games will be mostly incremental and act as gateway drugs to more traditional shooters over the next few yrs.
Success from here will be driven by how responsive Respawn is to the community and Respawn’s ability to keep it fresh and interesting, which has been a strength of Fortnite. Operating a game as a service is difficult and requires a new mentality where the developers almost co-create the game with the players. Very different from the way games have traditionally been developed and requires game developers to check their artistic egos at the door, which isn’t always easy. A successful launch is only the first step. We will see if EA and Respawn can execute from here. It is unlikely the game was staffed for this level of success, but I am sure that is changing rapidly.
It is way too early to worry about monetization for Apex Legends. Large internet companies don’t worry about monetization until a service has over 500m or 1b users ( Facebook and Google respectively). I would put that number at over 20m MAU’s for free to play console/PC games from an established studio. However, if one insists on worrying about monetization for Apex Legends: there are lots of irons in the fire with loot boxes and characters. Concerns around skins given the first person perspective (rather than third person like Fortnite) are well founded but if the engagement is there in a durable way, monetization will follow.
Every AAA game developer has to be embarrassed at their marketing relative to Apex Legends. It was a complete surprise, spent at most $5m to pay streamers and it was by far the best launch of the last 12 months. Would be funny to compare to the Battlefield 5 marketing budget. Another thought is that betas might be overrated as there are often technical issues that generate negative buzz.
It is way too early to declare Apex Legends a success. However, the early Twitch numbers, 25m total players and 2m peak concurrent players are impressive and they do mean *something.* Apex Legends has a chance to be something special if they execute from here.
Finally, all of this commentary has been focused solely on gaming. The emerging Oasis/Metaverse characteristics within Fortnite might be the most important development in technology right now and are entirely separate from the game itself.