When Apex Legends, the battle royale game developed by Respawn Entertainment (developers of Titanfall 1 and 2) and published by Electronic Arts, was released in February 2019, it took the world by surprise. It was literally released with no prior marketing or hype. This was done intentionally, as Electronic Arts had been receiving a lot of criticism for disappointing titles throughout 2018 and the use of loot boxes in nearly all of them.
Apex Legends quickly took the gaming world by storm because of influencer marketing. In other words, EA paid popular streamers on Twitch and YouTube to stream Apex Legends gameplay.
Game companies using influencer marketing isn’t exactly new, though the strategy itself is still in trial and error phases. You can’t just throw money at websites like Reddit, Twitch, YouTube and other social media websites and expect to go viral. Apex Legends had an advantage in that the gameplay was actually really good.
Browser games are notorious for going viral, seemingly out of nowhere in many cases – and usually completely by accident. 2048, for example, was created in a single weekend, because the developer wanted to see if he could create a quick little game from scratch. It suddenly garnered over 4 million visitors in a week.
There’s something to be said for games that go viral naturally, on their own merit. IO games are a hot browser game trend in recent times. The popularity of games like Slither.io, Shell Shockers, Krunker.io, and others are based on very simple gameplay, but they can be hard to master. Most .IO games like survive.io are also multiplayer, which makes them competitive. You can try Krunker.io on Crazy Games, along with those others mentioned.
While publishers with a lot of money to spend are able to target the social media platforms that help games go viral, it’s not a guaranteed strategy. It’s like trying to create a meme and spamming it to make it seem more popular. Back in the early days of imageboards, we called these “forced memes”. In a way, we can say things are trending towards “forced viral” status, but the millennial generation is a bit wise to it.
However, it definitely worked for Apex Legends – though not simply because of influencer marketing. That helped, but there were other factors which we’ll look at below.
Apex Legends Secret Development
A free-to-play battle royale with loot boxes, microtransactions and the EA logo on it was sure to garner criticism before it was even launched. Hence why Respawn Entertainment said “let the gameplay speak for itself” and released it with no prior promotional material. The entire development of the game was in fact a complete secret.
It was a gamble that paid off, as Apex Legends took the gaming community by storm. Within 8 hours of being released, Apex Legends surpassed a million unique players. It more than doubled that within 24 hours and by the end of the week, the game reached over 25 million players. By the end of the month of February, Apex Legends had more than 50 million global players.
Apex Legends was such an overnight success, it became the top streamed game on Twitch for most of February and Electronic Arts saw its largest stock growth since 2014. This was almost a miracle, as EA had been posting disappointing quarterly reports all throughout 2018.
How did Apex Legends grow so quickly?
For starters, Apex Legends may have been developed in secret, but EA heavily relied on influencer marketing once the game was released. In other words, they paid popular livestreamer personalities to play Apex Legends, a sort of guerrilla marketing that has become increasingly popular as today’s youth are increasingly ambivalent towards traditional marketing methods.
The battle royale market was dominated by two titles: Epic Games’ Fortnite and PUBG Corporation’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Thus, any new contender in the market, especially a contender from an AAA developer, was bound to make gaming media headlines. When you consider that people have been waiting for development news on Titanfall 3 and Respawn Legends instead developed a battle royale game completely out of the blue, the stage was set for some massive media curiosity.
The interesting thing is that even though EA was sponsoring Twitch streamers, several of the most notable streamers said they enjoyed the game and would continue playing it after their sponsorship with EA had ended. Apex Legends was praised for its polished gameplay and several of its gameplay features. These features included the first-person gameplay (a first for a free-to-play battle royale), balanced character abilities and being focused on team-based gameplay and communication.