The Battle Royale genre has evolved into a weird meta Battle Royale in itself. Ever since PUBG opened the floodgates, succeeded where H1Z1 failed, and defined it as the new cool thing to do (as MOBAs and MMOs were before it), developers have rushed to present their own “unique” take on the genre.
As the Battle Royale canon dictates, most fell dead on arrival and straight into oblivion. On average, fewer than 2,000 people play H1Z1 these days and there are games like Battlerite Royale which have fewer players than the original Japanese novel had characters. Eventually, even the prototypic success of PUBG waned and a new Battle Royale winner emerged: Fortnite.
Fornite started slow but already within a year it was making waves. It had become the new obsession for the teenage gaming community and birthed new generation of Twitch stars. On a regular basis, Fortnite peaks above 500,000 viewers on Twitch and the average interest on the platform has more than doubled since January 2018. Even though the game has plateaued viewership-wise, it’s still doing way better than its AAA competitors, which creates a lucrative narrative: which will be the game to finally “beat” it.
Apex Legends arrives
Apex Legends, a Battle Royale from the creators of the Titanfall series, launched on Feb. 5 to much fanfare. Developers Respawn had done the smart thing and appealed to the modern spokespeople of gaming that are the Twitch streamers. Ninja, Shroud, DrDisrespect and others marched the hordes of fans to Apex grounds and the game boomed. Respawn CEO Vince Zampella boasted 1M unique players under 8 hours. A day later, the number had surpassed 2.5M.
And there it was. The narrative manifested. The Fortnite killer has arrived.
You won’t have to look hard to find headlines on gaming and esports outlets that spoke as if the battle was already won. Ironically, their body of text went on to defy the narrative set by their own title, because the truth — as of Feb. 6 — is really only one.
Apex Legends has won no war.
That isn’t to say Apex Legends’ day 1 numbers should not be pointed out or praised, as they make for an interesting case study on the growth of the market, the power of good marketing, and the pure novelty of the game. We can’t ignore the asterisks surrounding them, however.
Many games are popular on their first day, especially when attention is driven by Twitch personalities. The latter, however, speaks more to the following of said people rather than the quality or appeal of a game. The majority of the 495,000 peak viewers didn’t watch Apex Legends because of the game itself. They watched it because Ninja was streaming that, instead of Fortnite, on that particular day. The moment the big streamers decide Apex is not their game and circle back to their original titles, the viewership outflow will likely follow.
Apex Legends has won no war.
This is why day 1 numbers are never a true measurement of anything, least of all long-term success. Many games have launched to cloud-high interest only to wane over time. In the Battle Royale genre, for example, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has lost more than 80% of its Twitch viewership since its launch in October and it debuted to much the same interest as Apex Legends.
Success is not a sprint, but a marathon. We can only speak of Apex winning any battle and any war at least a few months from now if there’s any consistent growth to show. Until then, this craze is nothing more than a temporary aftereffect of Barney Stinson’s “new is always better” rule.
There is no spoon war
Even more bizarre than the narrative of Apex beating Fortnite is the insistence that there is a war to be waged in the first place. The question whether Game X will beat genre leader Game Y appears every time a new title drops on the market. Over the years, we’ve all waited for the killers of World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Dota, Hearthstone and now Fortnite.
The simple reality is that modern gaming isn’t like the old western cowboy towns. The scene is big enough for more than one game to exist and thrive. The war setting writers manufacture is perhaps a cool way to illustrate how different products develop in parallel and drive traffic but there’s no actual Battle Royale happening.
The truth is, you should never ask this question seriously and it only works on social media to drive a conversation…
— Radoslav Kolev (@GGNydrA) February 5, 2019
Discussing whether a game is a killer of some bigger fish is a fruitless exercise. What we should do instead is look at whether a game is good in a vacuum, whether it has redeemable qualities, and if it has what it needs to grow on its own.
Success should not be exclusively measured by being an absolute superior entity. A game can prosper even in the shadow of more popular titles. If Artifact, which launched to 60,000 players, then grew to 1M by the end January, we would be talking about an outstanding game, even if it would still be miles behind the 100M of Hearthstone. Instead, the game is neither.
Apex Legend doesn’t have to “beat” Fornite to be successful. It doesn’t have to “win the war” either. Not because it can’t, but because the “war” is merely an anecdote, a plot point we’ve invented to make sense of things. Why pursue something that’s not real?