The internet is talking more about Titanfall 2 now than it has since the game launched. Twitter riots for a sequel to what many call one of the best shooter campaigns of the past decade are taking place. GamesRadar even reported that the current player base for Titanfall 2 has doubled on all fronts, but why? The one thing that brought Titanfall 2 back from commercial failure with little issue was not a sudden PlayStation Plus release or Games Pass inclusion. No—the one thing resuscitating the Titanfall franchise from obscurity is a free-to-play, multiplayer shooter called Apex Legends.
Three weeks ago, Apex Legends did not exist. Rumors of Respawn Entertainment’s next game were there, sure, but, for many, the EA-owned developer had been out of mind since 2016. Even Respawn’s Star Wars contribution, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, is so early in development that little discussion can be had about it.
Now, Legends has more than 25 million players in total and has remained in the top five viewed Twitch games since its launch. Respawn made waves overnight after its first big public down period.
That is not to say Respawn has been releasing subpar content, of course. Respawn made its debut in 2014 with the “Call of Duty-killer,” Titanfall. This first entry in the Titanfall saga never got a proper story mode, but still received critical acclaim across the board. Despite this and initially solid player numbers, the game’s player base fell off fairly quickly after launch. EA has never officially given sales for the first Titanfall though, pointing to what may have been disappointing numbers for the publisher.
Only two years later, Respawn would launch Titanfall 2. Critical acclaim does not do this second entry justice, though. As stated earlier, plenty of fans will rush to defend Titanfall 2 as one of the greatest single-player shooter campaigns ever. Great platforming sections, colorful characters, and the tightest shooting in a long time were some of the highlights of the unorthodox entry.
Even so, Titanfall 2 marked a trend toward unsatisfactory commercial success. Respawn CEO Vince Zampella interviewed with GameSpot in 2017 and said “[Titanfall 2] was successful, but didn’t quite sell as well as it should have.” The game’s launch was sandwiched between Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1, giving Titanfall 2 some of the fiercest competition in the industry. Sales numbers were never officially released for the sequel either.
Titanfall 2 sales estimates point toward PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC sales not touching the numbers the original game made with only Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC releases. Poor release scheduling certainly aided in a lack of interest across all platforms, but the trend is still present regardless. Most of the general gaming population will sooner recognize Titanfall 2 as “that game from the bargain bin” before thinking of its groundbreaking single-player component. Respawn had proven itself as a capable developer but even with units moving enough to make money, the downward trend was concerning. At this point, who knows what EA could have been thinking in terms of the Titanfall franchise.
Three weeks ago, Respawn was famous for being underappreciated, which is a look that publishers such as EA do not like. With the 2017 shutdown of Visceral Games and mistreatment of the Star Wars license, EA has proven that it has no intention of sparing anyone incapable of printing money. In more ways than one, Respawn’s future depended on its next project.
If Respawn had carried on, Titanfall would have almost surely met its demise. If the market is showing signs of growing less interested in a franchise (especially after relentless praise) then the next logical step is to drop said franchise.
Whether Titanfall would have failed if another title was released is impossible to determine. That said, a few examples that will stand as a warning for developers in the future. As mentioned earlier, Visceral had a tumultuous decade before its closure, but its history is still remembered fondly.
Visceral’s Dead Space and Dead Space 2 are still looked back on as highlights in the gaming space, with the original marking a strong beginning for the seventh generation of consoles. Like Titanfall though, the series never saw much commercial success. Instead of taking a more creative route, Visceral eventually pushed out Dead Space 3. As well as missing the mark in more than a few areas in terms of content, microtransactions helped play a crucial role in this third installment’s lack of sales. Ever since Dead Space 3’s release, the Dead Space series has been on hiatus. EA is even the same company that oversaw the Visceral decline and eventual death. The resemblance between what Visceral and Respawn went through is uncanny, and if Titanfall 3 released to a market that was not asking for more then who knows where Respawn could be now.
What the market is begging for, however, is multiplayer that is either free, battle royale, or both. Fortnite is the undisputed champion of the entertainment space and has been for about a year. Epic’s builder royale took the world by storm, thus transcending the medium. Piggy-backing off the hype surrounding the success of battle royale games is not necessarily just a cheap or easy move, but it can be a smart one. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 ditched single-player entirely so that its battle royale mode—Blackout—could take the spotlight. The now-closed Boss Key Productions, like many other studios, chose to release its own spin on the genre with Radical Heights.
However, Respawn opted to avoid the beaten path in favor of a spin-off in the Titanfall universe that no one saw coming. In the same GameSpot interview mentioned earlier, Zampella alluded to Respawn’s plans going forward.
“We have our franchise creative director, who’s in charge of safeguarding the (Titanfall) franchise in multiple formats and making sure it continues to grow. There’s some other things we’re doing that haven’t been announced just yet, but we’re heavily invested in the Titanfall universe.”
Zampella did not lie, as about two years later, Respawn would combine a battle-royale-hungry market, a commercially waning franchise, free to play, and its top-notch gameplay to create Apex Legends.
Apex Legends was, both literally and metaphorically, created from the remains of Titanfall. Like a phoenix from the ashes, Apex Legends was made from what was left over from Titanfall 3 and created a special experience on every front. Not only does Respawn uphold its standard of games with character in Apex Legends, but now everyone who is anyone is in on the fun too. Just as Zampella mentioned year ago, this new title is part of the Titanfall universe. while also remaining as far away from that franchise as possible. The game is missing a story, yet still feels contextualized in the world of Titanfall. The overdone battle royale formula is the game’s primary mode, practically cementing the battle royale shooter as Titanfall 2’s polar opposite. Add in nothing but rumors to serve as the game’s prelaunch marketing strategy and Apex Legends suddenly becomes the underdog Respawn needed to rise from obscurity.
Though Apex Legends stands as an opposite to the primary reason players are fighting for Titanfall to return, the game is a shining example of why developers should do whatever it takes to promote their names and abilities. Dead Space in its truest form may never return, but Respawn’s efforts are what have ensured Titanfall’s bright future. Surely promotions will read “from the team that brought you Apex Legends” on every Titanfall 3 poster and trailer when the game is inevitably revealed. Yes, a multiplayer-centric gaming world can muster a sour taste in the mouth, but both single player and multiplayer can coexist in the same ecosystem. Without Apex Legends there would be no Titanfall and vice versa. Single-player games are not dying, and Respawn’s battle royale, Apex Legends, is making sure of that.