Given that most major video games feature massive press campaigns, multiple trailers, and game conference presentations in the lead up to release day, Apex Legends was a complete anomaly. Not only did the game skip any kind of marketing before its launch — developer Respawn Entertainment didn’t even tell people they were making the game until the day it released on February 4.
“It felt kind of like playing [the party game] Werewolf, pretending you’re the wolf, and hoping that everyone will be pleased and amused when you reveal your true nature,” 2015 DigiPen Bachelor of Arts in Game Design graduate and Respawn game designer Davis Standley says of his years developing Apex Legends in secret. Luckily for Standley and the nine other DigiPen alumni who worked on the game, people were, in fact, record-breakingly pleased with the surprise release.
The free-to-play battle royale game reached 25 million players within a week of its launch and 50 million within its first month, surpassing battle royale standard bearer Fortnite’s initial numbers in those same post-release periods. It has quickly become the most viewed game on Twitch as well, even breaking the streaming site’s single-day viewership record with 8.28 million hours of it being watched on February 12. “It’s very surreal. I’m still coming to grips with it,” Standley says of the game’s wildly successful first month.
Beyond the numbers, Standley and his nine fellow DigiPen alumni on the Apex Legends team (Joel Conger, Griffin Dean, Joe Lubertazzi, Chin Xiang Chong, Andi Baker, Kurihi Chargualaf, Trevor Naselow, Justin Cook, and Der Hui Tai) have a lot to be proud of. Not only is the game a hit with players, critics also have hailed it a groundbreaking title in the burgeoning battle royale genre. One of its most frequently praised features is its “ping” system, which allows players to communicate with their teammates using visual, context-specific tags, no talking or headset required.
“I think what I’m most excited about for the team is the people and the process,” Standley says of the glowing reception the game’s design has received. “[Respawn’s] internal practices that let us prototype these systems and build this content in a healthy, organic way is the golden egg to me.”
An added bonus to the success of Apex Legends? Many players who missed Respawn’s previous title, Titanfall 2, have been discovering the 2016 shooter through Apex Legends and falling in love with it as well, more than doubling its average online multiplayer count this February. While Apex Legends noticeably does not feature Titanfall’s signature giant mechs, the two games are indeed set in the same universe and share much of the same attention to detail with player movement and responsiveness that have made both into critically-acclaimed titles. “From my perspective,” Standley says of that unique Respawn touch, “we are blessed with lots of fantastically stubborn people who aren’t willing to compromise on what they think makes things feel good.”
Standley, who spent time scripting both in-game loot and hover tanks, as well as doing level design on the Airbase and Wetlands locations of the Kings Canyon map, says it’s team work that truly made the dream work when it comes to Apex Legends. “I cannot emphasize enough that the design work I did was just another stage of a process involving a whole bunch of talented people,” Standley says.
In many ways, he says, it feels quite similar to what he experienced as a student at DigiPen, working with fellow classmates on year-long collaborative game projects. “All the time I spent working on a team was invaluable,” he says. “Team dynamics, successes, morale, failures, asking for help, building chemistry, adjusting to different people’s expectations and workflows — those are some of my biggest takeaways.”
Now that Apex Legends is a bona fide blockbuster, Standley says he’s been enjoying the countless memes that fans have been pumping out about the game on its very active Reddit page. “It’s tied into the ‘surreality’ for me,” Standley says. “It’s been very fun to watch it roll.”