The past few years I have said “I have never seen anything like this” quite a bit with the release of megahits like Pokémon GO and Fortnite, and yet here we are again, where the same phrase applies to Apex Legends, a game that didn’t even exist and that no one had heard of eight days ago, but has just hit an absolutely mind-boggling marker of 25 million players in its first week.
The metric was announced by Respawn’s Vince Zampella yesterday, who also relayed that the game has “well over” 2 million concurrent players in addition to its 25 million total. The game is a literal virus, taking over the industry at a more rapid pace than anything I’ve ever seen.
To this point, I have been advising caution on two fronts. One about the notion that Apex is a definitely a “Fortnite killer,” as it’s too early to tell that at this point. The second about its potential revenue prospects for EAas a F2P game with only not-great microtransactions to bring in cash.
As to that first point, while yes, I still think it’s too early to declare the 200 million player, 10 million concurrent Fortnite “dead,” it is worth looking at some data at just how rapidly Apex Legends is outpacing the initial launch of Fortnite, which was itself its own kind of stratospheric success story. Here are some stats from industry analyst Daniel Ahmad:
Number of Apex Legends players after:
- 8 hours – 1M
- 1 day – 2.5M
- 3 days – 10M
- 1 week – 25M
Number of Fortnite BR players after:
- 2 weeks – 10M
- 6 weeks – 20M
- 11 weeks – 30M
- 16 weeks – 40M
So, Apex is acquiring players at a pace roughly 7-10x faster than Fortnite BR did. It’s not clear where the upper limit is here, but Fortnite has a huge playerbase that, if they want, can easily download Apex Legends for free on console or PC and see what the hype is about for themselves. And many of them are doing exactly that, with nearly all of Fortnite’s biggest influencers spending the past week in Apex. First because EA was paying them to, but then because the game is just…fun and attracts just as big of an audience as if they were playing Fortnite, if not more so.
As for my second point, we are starting to reach a critical mass where even if yes, Apex Legends is free, and yes, its microtransaction system isn’t great and its skins and cosmetics are well below the quality of rivals like Fortnite and Overwatch, it doesn’t really matter. Just look at Pokémon GO, a game which has been “poorly” monetized from the start with an item shop that often barely feels necessary for more than an item or two, yet the sheer size of that game made it a money-printing megahit for Niantic, Nintendo and The Pokémon Company.
Apex Legends, with 25 million players and more to come, is hitting a point where it’s so big, even if average player spend is what, $1? That’s $25 million in revenue right now. Yes, it is easy enough to play the game spending nothing, but I’m guessing many players couldn’t resist shelling out for Caustic and Mirage, two characters that are locked until you earn them through a lot of leveling, or if you just pay ~$15 or so for the pair of them. Add in a few more characters, a few must-have legendary hero and weapon skins, figure out what you’re doing with the battle pass, make the store rotation more frequent, and voila, you are starting to bring in some serious money. And I can easily see that happening now.
But that still doesn’t really answer the question why? Why is this happening? Why this game?
It’s kind of the perfect storm of factors. I could go way, way deeper into this, and I have and I will, but in short:
- The game is just fun. That sounds simple, but it’s easy to pick up and play, and Respawn’s combat is silky smooth, a modified spin on their Titanfall gameplay which has already been great for years, even if those game didn’t become the megahits they should have.
- It’s an accessible BR, as even those who don’t love the genre are finding something to like it. It doesn’t have the building complications of Fortnite, and it doesn’t have the up-front cost of being married to Black Ops 4 like Blackout.
- The game has done wonders for usability in big and small ways. An elaborate ping system that lets you easily work with a team of strangers. A simplified loot system which makes gearing up and organizing your inventory and loadout breezy on the fly. An array of memorable but easy to use characters with relatively simple signature moves that are different than anything the genre has seen before, but the concept fundamentally works.
- EA’s influencer campaign worked and 90% of the most influential gamers in the industry are all playing, creating massive exposure without so much as a single TV, YouTube or banner ad required.
To sum ALL of this up, it’s fun, it’s free, it’s easy to play and enjoyable even if you’re losing. Every influencer and gamer you know is probably now playing it, so we are now riding a snowball effect which is creating these absolutely massive numbers with no end in sight.
It is more than a little gratifying to see that after struggling to make Titanfall into the hit it should have been across two games, that the industry’s biggest success story is now coming from Respawn with Apex Legends. This is a win that everyone can celebrate, even if the cash is heading to the pockets of common industry villain EA. But they let Respawn run wild with this idea and it paid off, so here we are. This madness is not going to end any time soon.