February has played host to the launch of two major titles from games industry powerhouse, EA. Apex Legends was released on 2nd February by EA-owned studio Respawn. Today (22nd February), is the public release of Anthem by another EA studio, Bioware.
I have been obsessively watching the launch proceedings for both of these titles which offers some fascinating aspects to compare, contrast and speculate on. To be clear, neither myself or Etch Play have any involvement with either of these titles, this post is simply spectator/enthusiast speculation based on no insider knowledge whatsoever (that said, if anyone from Respawn, Bioware or EA would like to chat, hi there! 👋 Find me on Twitter or LinkedIn).
Whilst very different games overall, there are some similarities between these titles that makes for a worthwhile comparison:
- Both titles are from EA-owned studios.
- Both games are set in a futuristic, science fiction universe.
- Both lean heavily into multiplayer functionality.
- Both games are from North American studios with a strong pedigree.
- Both studios have an existing large and passionate community following.
- Both titles have been released within 3 weeks of each other.
Despite the vague similarities, what makes things really interesting is how the titles and in particular their launch campaigns have differed.
- Apex is purely Battle Royale (Fortnite/PUBG competitor), Anthem is a collaborative PVE (player vs environment) experience with more of a narrative focus.
- Anthem was announced in June 2017 at E3, 20 months before release. Apex Legends was announced and released on the same day.
Web search comparison since June 2017 of ”Anthem“ (blue) and ”Apex Legends“ (red)
- Anthem is a premium product (£54.99 launch RRP). Apex is free to play with in-game microtransactions (items/currency that can optionally be bought for real money in game).
- Anthem ran a beta with a suite of purchase levels that offered various rewards, Apex launched as a single SKU (per platform).
- Apex launched with no notice other than a few hours teaser live-stream leading to the announce. This was immediately followed by a raft of high-visibility streamers simultaneously playing the game on launch. Anthem has had a multi-year, transmedia and traditional marketing campaign.
- Apex launched and hit 25 million players in one week (which was justifiably shared wide and loud by Respawn).
- Anthem launches today and we'll have to wait and see what sales/player numbers get shared.
Both Apex Legends and Anthem launches are super-interesting to follow. It's great to see what's doable with big-publisher budgets in the marketing arena and initiatives like Anthem's live action short by Neil Blomkamp, EA and Bioware have not disappointed.
With Apex Legends, it's fascinating to see a AAA studio, backed by a corporate behemoth doing something so outrageous. Equally, it's satisfying to seemingly see it pay dividend for Respawn. Anthem ticks a lot of the "best practice" boxes but recent years have certainly challenged "best practice" at all corners of the industry, from AAA to indie so it's exciting to see a change of tack.
To say Apex launched with “no marketing” would be disingenuous. Clearly it was a very considered and intentional approach. But it is fair to say the overall launch campaign was much leaner and far more focused, seemingly (and from a totally ignorant perspective) executing with much less of an overhead in terms of human resource and marketing spend. My impression is that Apex has benefited greatly from this strategy and it's hard to suggest how it could have launched much more effectively.
Respawn's previous release, Titanfall 2, had a similar scheduling conflict. Titanfall 2 was released in October 2016, one week after EA poster child, Battlefield 1 by DICE (another EA-owned studio). The week after, competing publisher Activision’s then-latest title, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was also released. Whilst Titanfall 2 launched with very positive reviews, attention was certainly eclipsed by the Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty fanfare.
Apex Legends launching with next to no marketing build-up was certainly a risky move as it’s a fairly unprecedented strategy. After following the more traditional launch route with Titanfall 2, I wouldn't be surprised if Respawn felt they had nothing to lose, so a fresh approach seemed appealing. Respawn themselves have also acknowledged other benefits to the tactic related to the make-up and monetisation strategy of the game they’ve developed:
"We're doing a free to play game, with essentially loot boxes, after we were bought by EA, and it's not Titanfall 3. It's the perfect recipe for a marketing plan to go awry, so why have that - let's just ship the game and let players play." - Drew McCoy (Lead Producer, Respawn)
The end of launch campaigns?
I don’t think it’s realistic to say the success of Apex Legends spells the end of traditional marketing campaigns for video game launches. It does hopefully however, set a precedent that there is still much room for experimentation and doing things differently. I love how successful Apex has been and I’ve no doubt Anthem will also attract a huge player base. Only a few privileged folk at EA will have the luxury of comparing the return on marketing investment for each, but I hope we see more experimentation and bold moves like this for future releases.
What do you think?
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