When battle royale juggernaut Apex Legends was released back in February, no one saw it coming. Apparently, that was by design, according to Respawn Entertainment’s director of brand management Arturo Castro. In a new interview with gamesindustry.biz, Castro revealed that the game’s surprise launch, which happened the same day it was announced, was modeled after Beyonce and Kanye West’s recent record releases. “In entertainment and other forms of these kind of products, the idea of long-form campaigns was being challenged. Beyoncé famously drops her album, and day one it becomes a massive hit. Kanye West did the same thing... Why couldn't it work for games,” he told the website.
Beyond simply being a fan of the aforementioned recording superstars and their exceptional marketing schemes, Castro had worries that drove his innovative marketing strategy. In late 2017, EA was on the verge of acquiring Respawn Entertainment, the studio behind Apex Legends. The Respawn team worried that it would appear as though their new corporate overlord was pressuring them to release a battle royale game simply to participate in the latest gaming trend. Indeed, Fortnite and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds were already leaders in what many perceived to be a saturated battle royale marketplace. To try and counter this perception, Castro decided that a traditional six month marketing push could actually be detrimental, and only provide fans of the studio with time to criticize and dismiss the effort out of hand.
Instead, the team decided on a surprise launch with a very short teaser window fueled by gaming influencers. Three days before the launch, Respawn flew 100 of the top videogame influencers to Los Angeles for a mysterious press conference. Not even the nature of the game was revealed until the influencers sat down and experienced a private demonstration. Said influencers would then send out teasers via their social channels during the Super Bowl halftime show, which would happen a day before the scheduled launch.
Not everyone at Respawn was on board with the unique marketing ploy however. Respawn head Vince Zampella was particularly skeptical, even going so far as to call the social-media derived buzz “gross” before comparing it to that surrounding the doomed Fyre Festival.
While Castro understood his boss’s concerns, he also disagreed: “what I actually thought was that's why I knew it could work, because we actually had the product to pay it off. Fyre Festival had no product. We actually had the product and the hype to build it up.”
The morning after the Super Bowl, Apex Legends was unveiled via an explanatory stream. Within 20 minutes the brand new property became the top game on Twitch and YouTube. Things only snowballed from there, with the game boasting 50 million players after the first month. In comparison, it took competitor Fortnite over 16 weeks to reach 45 million players according to Roundhill Investments.