Star Wars video game creator tests new formats to rival Fortnite
Electronic Arts Inc., creator of a Star Wars line of video games, showed off two of its newest titles, illustrating how the industry is wrestling to compete with the runaway success of Fortnite.
Apex Legends is a free, multiplayer game released in February, replicating the model used by its rival, Fortnite. In the latest installment, due next month, Electronics Arts is introducing a new weapon, character and ways to speed up the game. Another hotly-anticipated title, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, is a throwback to more traditional games, with a single-player format following an elaborate story line.
The two releases show how the video-game industry has changed, experimenting with different business and revenue models after closely-held Epic Games’ Fortnite attracted more than 250 million players worldwide.
Vince Zampella, chief executive officer of Electronic Arts’ Respawn Entertainment, the studio that created both games, said the changes to Apex, including a feature that lets contestants quickly play against the best opponents, were made in response to feedback from fans.
“People loved the game, they love playing it, but there wasn’t enough content,” Zampella said in an interview. “We didn’t expect the game to blow up as big as it did.”
The games were two of many that Electronic Arts showed off at a fan event it’s hosting in Los Angeles in advance of the industry’s annual E3 trade show, which begins June 11.
Apex Legends was a hit out of the gate, garnering some 50 million players, but consumers quickly cooled on it. Nielsen’s SuperData Research estimated that the game generated $24 million in sales in April, only a quarter of the business it drew in its first month. While Apex Legends is free to play, new outfits or slogans can be bought to compete in a so-called Battle Royale with 59 other combatants, a format that was also used by Fortnite.
Zampella said they were “investigating” a mobile version of the game. Apex Legends could add as much as $500 million to fiscal 2020 revenue, according to Colin Sebastian, an analyst at R.W. Baird, or almost a 10th of Electronic Arts’ estimated annual sales.
“We view the improvements made for Season 2 as a strong sign that Respawn is taking player feedback seriously, and believe these changes should drive a significant uptick in player activity,” he wrote in a May 30 note.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will be released Nov. 15. The title is part of the ongoing licensing relationship between Electronic Arts and the Walt Disney Co.-owned franchise. It tells the saga of a Jedi warrior in training, battling to survive against the evil empire. The scenes showed to fans scored cheers at the event and praise online.
Zampella is trying to avoid mistakes made when Electronic Arts released the last game in that series. Star Wars Battlefront II, which was out two years ago, was criticized for allowing players to buy items that gave them better performance in the game. Fallen Order will not include any micro-transactions. Zampella’s studio did not design the previous game.
Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, estimates that the new Star Wars title could sell as many as 8 million copies, up from the 7 million by Battlefront II, but still lower than 2015’s hit Star Wars: Battlefront, which sold 14 million copies.