I, along with many others, can’t stop playing Apex Legends. If anyone wants to play a big shooter right now, it’s the natural choice. The battle royale formula has always been a healthy mix of satisfying and frustrating, and that’s no different in Apex Legends. Yet I can’t pull myself away and even BioWare’s latest big game, Anthem, barely got more than a few hours of my attention. So much so that the question must be asked: is EA cannibalizing Anthem‘s hype on purpose?
It sounds absurd that EA would deliberately take away from the attention of it’s latest AAA multiplayer game, but it’s entirely possible and has precedent. In late 2016, EA released Titanfall 2 with minimal marketing to compete against first-person shooter juggernauts: Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. By all accounts, Titanfall 2 was fantastic, perhaps better than the competition, but it doesn’t have their brand power, and sales sadly faltered.
So why would EA saturate its own market like this, confusing its audience and seemingly leaving one of its big-budget shooters to suffer? In the case of Titanfall 2, it was likely to try and drown Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. This was already at the point where many players were growing tired of Call of Duty‘s yearly formula, so two other big, exciting first-person shooters being released could have drawn attention away from Activision’s stagnating franchise and to one of EA’s offerings. It’s a decent plan in theory, though ultimately it seems as though Titanfall 2 was the game that suffered the most at the time, with the lowest launch sales when compared with its peers.
And now we see a similar cycle returning but under less positive circumstances. Anthem has been slowly — and somewhat confusingly — rolled out on multiple platforms and subscriptions services over its launch. And while reception is mixed, EA no doubt has high hopes for the franchise. But then there’s Apex Legends, a game that has captured the press and general gaming public alike.
But what could be the impetus this time? There are no significant shooters releasing this season from the competition, save for maybe Ubisoft’s Far Cry New Dawn. Instead of trying overwrite the competition, it looks as though EA knew Anthem would stumble and wanted to also fill the air with something more positive at the same time. While people are talking about Anthem‘s many issues, players are also speaking about Apex Legend‘s successes. The bad press for Anthem is, well, bad, but it isn’t as dire when it is coupled with gushing statements over Respawn’s battle royale.
Taking a knee
Anthem‘s launch has had other problems, though: bugs, glitches, server issues, loading times, and a myriad of other hiccups, from invisible enemies to quest objectives not spawning at all, to falling through the world when the map hasn’t loaded. Though some enjoy the core gameplay loop, its problems are impossible to ignore. It’s a sad state of affairs, one that sees much of the online media and discussion surrounding Anthem talking about the problems it has, instead of it being a fun game. Even though Anthem has garnered plenty of hate, there’s still an EA game at the center of it.
This situation opens up another possible explanation for these two titles launching in such close proximity and might explain why EA might have tried to overshadow Anthem‘s problematic launch. When Star Wars Battlefront 2 came out, controversy surrounding the game and its microtransactions caused EA’s share price to drop by 2.5 percent. It had server issues and bugs too, and the compounding frustration from players over all of these issues, and the attached media attention outraged EA’s shareholders and put the company in an awkward position. This is what negative media attention can do to a big publisher, and EA would be wise to avoid having such a problem again.
That just might be exactly why we see Anthem and Apex Legends in the position they are currently in. Anthem‘s launch has been a mild disaster, and the negative media is swirling. Publishers hold mock reviews, which means they usually know when a game won’t be a critical juggernaut. And that was likely going to be an issue for EA. But EA, as a whole, is not suffering as badly for Anthem‘s mishaps. In fact, EA is doing better than expected right now, thanks to the unmitigated success that is Apex Legends. Some may think that letting Apex Legends overshadow some of Anthem’s negative press is a conspiracy theory but, given the history, it seems more like targeted counterprogramming.
EA likely saw the writing on the wall concerning Anthem. But instead of delaying it, EA simply released Apex Legends, a game which ensures that no matter how the tides turn, an EA game would be the center of the gaming media’s attention. It’s a devious plan and one that, despite my disdain for Anthem, I’ve fallen right into.