Electronics Arts’ decision to launch Apex Legends, a free-to-play battle royale game, could be seen as a Hail Mary pass from the gaming giant. The game was released without any warning from EA, it literally came out of left field, during a downturn in EA’s finances. EA received huge amounts of criticism and gamer backlash in 2018, owing to loot box microtransactions in Battlefront 2. Battlefield V’s overall sales were disappointing, and FIFA 19 had disappointing digital sales.
So for a company coming out of a difficult year with a strong final quarter slump, releasing a free-to-play battle royale game (with loot boxes) into a sea of battle royale games dominated by PubG and Fortnite, with absolutely no prior marketing, could seem almost positively ludicrous. So ludicrous, in fact, it worked.
It seems that the developers of Apex Legends, Respawn Entertainment, were highly aware that the words “EA”, “free-to-play”, and “loot boxes” would send red flags through the gaming industry, and intentionally released the game without any marketing. Lead producer Drew McCoy had the following to say about the strategy:
It certainly worked better than anyone could have dreamed of. Within 3 days of launching, Apex Legends had a total of 10 million players (1 million concurrent), and rose to 25 million players in the first week.
Not only did it far exceed expectations for amount of players, but it absolutely dominated livestreaming throughout February, on popular streaming portals Twitch and YouTube.
Within a few days of release, Apex Legends claimed 11.8% of Twitch’s entire audience, averaging 156,183 viewers in a 1-week timeframe. Apex Legends beat out long-time Twitch favorites League of Legends and Fortnite, which hold 10.2% and 9.8% of Twitch’s viewer audience respectively (1).
Apex Legends highest average views mark came on February 10th, with 278,004 viewers. Its peak came on February 12th, with 674,070 viewers. These numbers could be expected for the amount of hype that surrounded Apex Legends’ release, but despite a gradual decline in average views between February 13 – February 28, Apex Legends still ended the month with an average 222,005 viewers. This edged it out over long-time Twitch favorite League of Legends, which had an average of 142,591 viewers for February.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t simply gamers briefly watching Apex Legends to gauge its hype. In the final week of February, Apex Legends amassed 26,655,239 total hours viewed (combined total of all viewers in 7 days, obviously the game has not been streaming for 3042.83 years).
In an increasingly common form of guerrilla advertising, EA paid several prominent Twitch streamers to play Apex Legends. Of course, the streamers must disclose that they are being sponsored by EA while streaming, and many of them carried an #ApexPartner hashtag on their Twitch profiles. (2)
The interesting part about that, however, is that a number of streamers who were paid to stream Apex Legends, ended up praising the game, and continued streaming it when EA was no longer paying them. Some of the top Twitch streamers that have praised Apex Legends include Ninja, Dr. Disrespect, Tim the Tatman, and Shroud.
1 Month In, Will Apex Stand The Test of Time?
Clearly, with all the hype surrounding the game, it was always going to surge ahead of its peers during the first weeks of launch as something new and fresh.
Now into March 2019, we wanted to check how it was comparing against key rivals now that the dust has settled.
Here’s our findings on the daily average Twitch viewers, Feb 2019 vs. March 2019:
Interesting points of note:
- League of Legends remains very consistent and unaffected by the introduction of Apex Legends. We can reasonably guess this is because LoL isn’t a competing battle royale game, and attracts a very different kind of gamer.
- Fortnite engagement was severely disrupted by the introduction of Apex Legends, since it’s a competing Battle Royale game and because many key Fortnite streamers switched over to Apex. However, Fortnite has recovered nicely in March and overtaken again.
- PUBG, the 3rd most popular game in the Battle Royale genre right now (going off Twitch viewer count) took quite a significant hit in February 2019, and hasn’t yet managed to recover in March. This could be an indication that a good chunk of its player base has permanently migrated over to Apex.
EA’s Share Price Before and After Apex Legends
Apex Legends has also appeared to mark a turnaround in EA’s finances. After steadily climbing for several years, reaching an all-time high of $147.48 USD per share in July 2018, EA’s stock prices saw a sharp decline throughout the rest of 2018. Its lowest point came in late December, finishing the year at $79.30 USD per share – an overall 25% down.
Part of this was due to a delayed release for Battlefield V, and disappointing FIFA 19 digital revenue. Since the release of Apex Legends, EA’s stock climbed up to $106.84 USD per share on February 15th, though has declined down to (average) $95 USD per share in the last half of February, remaining there. (3)