Electronic Arts (EA) hailed the popularity of battle royale title Apex Legends when it unveiled its latest quarterly financial report this month.
EA revealed that Apex Legends was the most downloaded free-to-play PS4 game of 2019, meaning it beat stiff competition from Fortnite to seize the crown. The announcement caused a stir, but is Apex Legends actually more popular than Fortnite?
A Cultural Phenomenon
Fortnite became a resounding success when it was released in 2017. It attracted more than 125 million players in its first year, and digital revenue reached an unprecedented $2.4 billion in 2018. SuperData revealed that the game enjoyed higher annual revenue than any other title in history, leaving it comfortably ahead of Dungeon Fighter, League of Legends and Pokemon GO.
By early 2019 it was firmly established as a cultural phenomenon, beloved by rappers, celebrities and casual gamers alike. Then along came Apex Legends to provide gamers with a compelling alternative. Critics enjoyed its fast-paced squad play, progression of elements and compelling character base.
Apex Legends racked up more than 25 million downloads in its first week, and suddenly obituaries for Fortnite began to appear. When the player count reached 50 million within a month, many commentators predicted it would soon usurp Fortnite as the world’s pre-eminent battle royale title.
However, it did not quite pan out like that. Fortnite producer Epic Games was determined to see off this challenger to its throne, and it quickly announced a $100 million investment in a series of professional Fortnite tournaments that would run throughout 2019, culminating with the $30 million Fortnite World Cup.
Gamers realized they could become millionaires by playing Fortnite, and many switched back to the game. The novelty of Apex Legends wore off a little, and Fortnite was back in the driving seat. It received an immense publicity boost after several teenagers did indeed win millions of dollars at the World Cup, and it finished 2019 on a high.
Earlier this month, Epic announced that Fortnite now has more than 350 million registered players. That is roughly the population of the United States.
There are no fears of its popularity waning, as it has provided entertainment to its legions of fans during the coronavirus lockdown. In April 2020, players spent more than 3.2 billion hours in the game.
One Game to Rule Them All
Apex Legends simply cannot compete with that. The most recent landmark announced from EA came in October 2019, when it revealed that 70 million people had downloaded Apex. It only managed to secure more PS4 downloads than Fortnite in 2019 because so many people had already downloaded Fortnite before 2019.
It appears that Apex peaked within a couple of months of its launch. It earned 50 million players in a month, and then took a further six months to add another 20 million to that tally. EA would arguably have revealed details of its player count in its recent financial update if it was anywhere close to delivering upon its initial promise and usurping Fortnite.
Apex Legends remains a popular battle royale title, and there is no denying its success last year. It receives a spike in player numbers whenever an LTM or event takes place. However, Fortnite is more popular than Apex Legends in every available metric.
Could that change in future? Right now, Fortnite has a commanding lead over its rivals in the popularity stakes, and its two closest challengers – PUBG and Apex Legends – have a lot of work to do if they are to close the gap. However, Apex is a much newer title than PUBG and Fortnite, and it still has a lot of potential for future growth.
It has not yet cracked the lucrative mobile market. EA and Respawn have plans to launch the game for mobile devices, and that represents a great opportunity. EA chief executive Andrew Wilson said that it would not launch until fiscal 2021, which begins on October 1, 2020, for the firm, so we will have to wait and see how successful it proves.
Fortnite and PUBG have both enjoyed tremendous success on mobile, so Apex Legends should enjoy a significant boost once it is available on those devices. It also needs to make a concerted effort to crack the Chinese market, where PUBG currently reigns supreme. It is also yet to launch on the Nintendo Switch – another area of success for Fortnite – so there are plenty of new horizons for Apex Legends to explore.
The Long Battle Ahead
Wilson confirmed that EA will invest considerable time and resources in ensuring Apex Legends enjoys a healthy future. “Apex Legends is a major long-term franchise for us, and since launch, we’ve significantly expanded the team working on the game and it continues to grow,” he said. “With the Apex Legends community now growing pass 70 million players, we’re focused on expanding to mobile new platforms and new geographies, as well as launching an Apex competitive gaming program that we’ll share details on soon.”
There is also a danger that Epic Games could become complacent. It already shocked fans by scrapping plans for a 2020 Fortnite World Cup as a result of the coronavirus crisis, plunging the professional scene into chaos.
Games like League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2 have remained popular as a direct consequence of their success within the competitive gaming arena, and it is interesting to see Fortnite blow hot and cold when it comes to esports. If you check here for Fortnite betting, you will not see many big tournaments on the horizon. Apex Legends has a burgeoning esports scene, and it has actually been more lucrative for players than Fortnite in 2020.
New rivals are assembling, and the onus will be on both Epic Games and EA to invest in securing the long-term future of their titles. Both firms are in strong financial positions, and both Fortnite and Apex Legends have recently released patches to almost universal acclaim. This battle looks set to rage on for many years, and Apex Legends should have an opportunity to surge ahead in future.