Cary-based Epic Games has dominated the video-game world with its popular battle royale-style game “Fortnite” since it was released in 2017.
The game’s success, with hundreds of millions of users, has propelled the privately held Epic Games to a $15 billion valuation and caused media companies such as HBO to look over their shoulders and call “Fortnite” more of a threat than Netflix.
But, in the past month, a new competitor in the battle-royale space has gained significant momentum, growing at a rate even faster than “Fortnite” did when it first came out.
“Apex Legends,” a new game from Electronic Arts, reached 50 million registered players in its first 28 days online, the company said this week. It took “Fortnite” 16 weeks to match that same number, according to data from Roundhill Investments, a firm that follows the e-sports industry.
“Apex Legends” also broke a record for most single-day hours of viewership on Twitch, an online platform that allows people to watch others play video games, besting a record that was previously set by “Fortnite,” according to The Esports Observer. And while “Fortnite” is still the most watched game on Twitch, “Apex Legends” is right behind it at No. 3, according to the website TwitchTracker.
In some ways, the success of Epic Games has allowed “Apex Legends” to burst onto the scene. The two games are similar in the fact that they are free to download and involve a fight-for-survival format, where players fight each other to the death. Traditional video game makers are having to play catch-up to the Epic Games model — which makes revenue off “Fortnite” from in-game purchases of things such as customized weapons and costumes for characters — and create their own free-to-play games.
“They are copying them every step of the way, and it’s brilliant,” Michael Pachter, an analyst of video games at Wedbush, told The Washington Post last month. “Emulation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
So far, the formula is working for Electronic Arts, but it still remains to be seen whether “Apex Legends” will have the legs to surpass “Fortnite” or have the longevity to convince players to buy upgrades within the game.
Some people are doubtful it will be able to put a huge dent into “Fortnite” because of the social impact the game has had on youth culture.
“No, I don’t think ‘Apex’ will have a significant impact for ‘Fortnite,” Andrew Uerkwitz, an analyst who covers video games for Oppenheimer & Co., said in an email. “’Apex Legends’ will have longevity as a great shooter but it likely won’t morph into the social fabric of younger players like ‘Fortnite’ did.
“‘Apex Legends’ is a hardcore shooter by design, ‘Fortnite’ is further on the casual spectrum and more of a hangout.”
The casual, hang-out feel of “Fortnite” has made it almost as much of a social experience as it is a game. That atmosphere around the game was epitomized by a virtual concert the musician Marshmello held earlier this year within the game itself — attracting more than 10 million gamers to tune in at once, said Will Hershey, CEO of Roundhill Investments.
“I think both can coexist, and I think that is because of the audiences they are targeting,” Hershey said in a phone interview. “’Fortnite’ and Epic were so smart in the way they designed it, in that it is so cartoony that parents are OK with their 6-year-olds playing it.”
“Fortnite” also still has an advantage in the fact that it has a mobile version of its game — something that aids its popularity in developing countries — and “Apex Legends” so far does not, Hershey added.
Another, more practical, difference between the two games is that “Fortnite” is a third-person shooter — where the entire body of a character is viewable — while “Apex Legends is in the first-person perspective, with only a player’s hand and guns in view. For a genre of game that relies on getting revenue from players paying for customized appearances, a partial view of the characters might prove a hindrance for “Apex Legends.”
Hershey said it will be more clear what sort of staying power and success “Apex Legends” has had after this summer, when kids have more time for video games because school is out.