Apex Legends Mobile: Fighting the Competition
Having been acquired by Electronic Arts in December 2017, the new subsidiary, Respawn Entertainment, probably pitched Apex Legends to management shortly after, which must have sounded something like "Battle Royale featuring Overwatch-esque heroes." Apparently after some convincing, they agreed to go forward with the development of the game for PC and console.
Years later, all respectable Battle Royale games have been ported to or developed for mobile, and EA is among the last to join the party by releasing Apex Legends Mobile (ALM). It's not a port featuring cross-play with PC and console like Fortnite but a dedicated experience for smartphones, similar to its direct competitors.
First, let's set some things straight. Throughout this article we'll be comparing Apex Legends Mobile (ALM) with some or all of these competitors: Call of Duty Mobile (CoDM), PUBG Mobile (PUBGM) and Garena Free Fire (GFF), depending on the relevance of the comparison.
Here's a quick overview on who's behind each of these games:
ALM was developed by Tencent's Lightspeed & Quantum Studios, which also developed PUBGM in 4 months back in 2018. Therefore, any link or comparison to PUBGM's gameplay is logical and will therefore be less of a focus throughout this piece. The difference is that PUBGM was published by Tencent as well, while ALM has been published by Electronic Arts and was co-developed "under supervision" of Respawn Entertainment.
Additionally - and this is a messy story - CoDM was also developed by a Tencent Subsidiary, TiMi (one of the biggest mobile development studios in the world, with over $10B reported revenue in 2020), which in early 2018 also released a (very different) version of PUBG as well. Tencent is very much prone to having its subsidiaries compete hard for the same audience, and ALM and CoDM are no exception.
For a more thorough deep dive on what motivates players when it comes to Battle Royale gameplay, read all about Garena Free Fire in Naavik's deconstruction from March.
Back to ALM. The fact that the game is made by a highly experienced team like LS&Q has kept ALM free from UX issues that other competitors like Final Fantasy: The First Soldier suffer from. The resulting smooth experience has allowed ALM to compete with the biggest hits of the present day.
So How Is That Going?Well, as mentioned in June, the game had a pretty good launch, grossing $4.8M in its first week. Fueled by its golden cohort of 5.5M players that installed the week after launch, the Revenue Per Download floats around $1. When comparing this with Call of Duty: Mobile, it actually floats at the same level in terms of monetization potential right after launch. The other two (older) competitors had a different launch strategy (and target markets) and only reached this mark more than a year after their launches.
In terms of revenue, there's no reason to be alarmed yet. Compared with CoDM, the game seems to be able to monetize just fine for a game its age. The issue is that Activision's prodigy didn't have its monetization even close to finalized at launch, but it managed to improve over time. Presuming ALM can follow a similar improvement curve is a bold statement, as the game's feature set and live-ops calendar look quite complete already.
More alarming trends can be seen in terms of downloads, where ALM is simply in a lower league than its competitors. First of all, Call of Duty has been one of the biggest IPs in gaming for years now. This became clear in September 2019 when it smashed all records by having 1.3% of Earth's population download its mobile version within a week after its launch. The U.S. market has been accounting for about 45% of its revenue ever since.
Next, PUBG is huge in China, where it alone rakes in about $90M per month. This feat makes PUBG the most lucrative mobile shooter worldwide, with a 4-5x margin from the others. Garena Free Fire is a strange yet fierce competitor as it has been serving the world's less privileged smartphone owners. This is also not something Apex Legends is aiming to compete with when looking at its download size, device requirements, and the amount of player reviews that litter its store page at the moment complaining about bad performance on lower-end devices.
When looking at regional opportunities, ALM's biggest market in terms of downloads is the US, but this is where CoDM reigns as well. Interestingly, the US is not ALM's most lucrative region. 42% of ALM's lifetime revenue comes from Japan, and it has managed to do this with less than a third of the downloads compared to the US. While the (all-time) RPD over there is a meager $0.75, in Japan it has hit a very comfortable $3.70!
Thematically, one wouldn't be crazy to predict that the Japanese audience most likely has more affinity with the more fantastically themed world of ALM than the more realistic army setting CoDM provides, and since the Japanese are notorious for their royal spending (CoDM's all-time RPD has recently reached $10), EA would be smart to not let this market go unnoticed.
Additionally, the game hasn't seen the light in China yet either, which must be quite high on EA's agenda, even though it took CoDM 15 months to get its game green-lit there. It's difficult to say if or when this would happen for ALM, as foreign games are mostly being ignored in terms of approval. At this point, even Tencent and NetEase have not been seeing any approvals for quite some time.
And then there's India, Asia's fastest growing market. A renamed version of PUBG was released in India after it was banned from the stores for a year, and GFF is currently locked in the same situation. While ALM is downloadable as usual in India right now, it's not performing much at all. EA's new shooter gained better traction in other countries like Taiwan and Thailand, albeit only a minor fraction compared to the US and Japan revenue.
Generally speaking, ALM's downloads are rapidly decreasing and have even dipped under GFF over the last two weeks. Safe to say, this is not a good sign when your game is only two months old. Which is why we currently foresee Apex Legends facing trouble holding its own in the already crowded mobile shooter market. But maybe things can go differently?
In this piece, we'll:
- Deconstruct its game modes, systems, cosmetic options, and experience
- Compare how the game relates to Apex Legends on PC and console
- Compare how ALM differentiates itself from its competitors
- Suggest ways how EA can try and increase ALM's success
The full article was written for Naavik's Premium subscription service, and will become available for free in the near future. When this happens, the link will be posted here!
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