Apex Legends’ smooth release highlights what a long-con pre-orders like Anthem are

By Matt Martin
5 February 2019 15:43 GMT

The initial surprise of Apex Legends may have been shat on by blabber-mouthed influencers, but the fact Respawn’s battle royale went live, picked up one million players in eight hours and continues to run smoothly is the real triumph here.

It’s a good game, maybe even great in time, offering quick thrills, snappy gunplay, and some neat additions to a stagnating genre. With barely any hype it’s been well-received, apart from those crying that it’s not Titanfall 3, but you’re never going to please a crowd that doesn’t know what it wants. Times have moved on, and Apex Legends is a confident and ballsy shot at battle royale and hero shooters in the face of giants such as Fortnite and Overwatch.

And this smooth launch embarrasses an equally experienced games development studio like BioWare – owned by the same publisher – which launched its VIP demo for Anthem two weeks ago with all the grace of a circle of clowns.

“EA is quite happy to snatch that pre-order money and hope it can knock together a competent experience in time for a demo months later. It’s a fast-talking grift with no guarantees”

BioWare’s VIP demo was for those elite pre-order customers who paid out £70 for something that didn’t exist at the time. Respawn’s full-game is free to anyone with a console or PC and 22GB of space. One worked straight out the gate, the other tripped on its own shoelaces and was blinded under the glare of its own spotlights. It’s not a beta, it’s a demo, it said. Nope, that was definitely a beta. Those who paid for the privilege of something exclusive got stiffed.

Anthem’s developer threw out a familiar excuse as the game stumbled during its VIP weekend – the game was just too popular, with a spike in player numbers when it went live. Please, this is the company that knows exactly, down to the decimal point, how many people have pre-ordered the game. It has your money in the bank to prove it. Of course you want in when the exclusive club opens its doors. Who could have predicted that? We could. And so as soon as the Anthem doors opened the roof caught fire, and not in a good way.

I’m not going to claim to understand the technical issues behind launching a game for millions of players, because that’s not the issue. The issue is EA is quite happy to snatch that pre-order money first and just hope it can knock together a competent experience in time for a demo months later. It’s a fast-talking grift with no guarantees. It’s the work of a chancer.

EA isn’t the only publisher to do this, of course. Bethesda’s Fallout 76 pulled a similar stunt but with a physical item, replacing a promised canvas bag with a cheap nylon substitute that your nan would be embarrassed to get out at Home Bargains. Again, it’s a case of take the money and worry about the promise later. The less said about those Capcom infinity stones that looked like your grandad’s half-sucked sugar almonds, the better.

And yet gamers still keep falling for it. The promise. The tease. When the reality is disappointment. Pre-ordering, paying up front, usually at a higher price than the standard release – it’s a mugs game. You’re being ripped off. From million dollar companies that don’t need your cash in the first place. Identifying as a gamer is fine, but why be in such a rush to throw money at something that’s unproven? Something that doesn’t actually exist.

“Apex Legends proves that pre-orders are completely unnecessary. They only serve the marketing and finance departments. The guys with the corner office and the nice shoes”

Apex Legends proves that pre-orders are completely unnecessary for us. At best we pay through the nose for some plastic tat, or a rare skin. At worse we think we’re getting an early release thrill but it’s nothing more than a frustration. Pre-orders only serve the marketing and finance departments. The guys with the corner office, the nice shoes, and the view over the city.

Only weeks away from the release of Anthem, an online multiplayer shooter, EA has released Apex Legends, another online multiplayer shooter. The one that used to have the cool metal suits hasn’t got them anymore because they’re in the other game. One of them costs money and you can spend more money in-game. The other doesn’t cost any money but it would like you to spend some, especially when the battle pass and seasons kick off. I know which one I’m more comfortable with, which one is less cynical and which one has a corporate grin etched across its face.

Respawn has been in a similar position before, when Titanfall 2 went head-to-head with Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty. The difference this time is it’s Anthem that seems outdated. They both talk about a 10-year plan, but it’s Anthem that even before release has been shackled by a poor demo experience, a convoluted release schedule and a full-price ticket to entry. Apex Legends is more forward-thinking. Like Fortnite, Apex Legends has designs on being a true next-gen game, one that appeals to the next-generation of games players with weekly updates, seasonal content and daft cosmetics. Without the weight of an iron suit, it could just fly.

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