EA just released a new game without any warning, and there's a simple reason why: loot boxes

EA/Respawn EntertainmentThe loot boxes in ‘Apex Legends’ are called ‘Apex Packs.’ Make no mistake: This is definitely a loot box.
  • EA, the game publisher behind blockbusters like “Madden,” “FIFA,” and “Star Wars Battlefront,” just released an unannounced, brand-new game.
  • The game, “Apex Legends,” is a free-to-play, Battle Royale-style game, like “Fortnite.”
  • The reason for the surprise launch: loot boxes.

In 2019, the term “loot box” is a trigger.

When a major game publisher like EA – known for publishing massive franchises like “Madden,” “FIFA,” “Mass Effect,” and “Battlefield,” among others – announces a game with loot boxes in 2019, it’s likely to send up red flags for potential players.

It’s with that logic in mind that, this past Monday, “Apex Legends” suddenly arrived on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

The game skipped the usual announcement/marketing cycle that most entertainment goes through, with years of manufactured hype leading up to a splashy launch day. Instead, it was announced and launched on Monday, February 4 with no prior warning – an especially rare occurrence in the video game industry.

Apex Legends‘Apex Legends’/Electronic ArtsEA held an event for influencers ahead of the February 4 announcement, and word of the game’s impending release leaked ahead of launch.

The logic is simple: “We’re doing a free-to-play game, with essentially loot boxes, after we were bought by EA, and it’s not ‘Titanfall 3.’ It’s the perfect recipe for a marketing plan to go awry,” lead producer Drew McCoy told Eurogamer in an interview this week.

“So why have that?” he said. “Let’s just ship the game and let players play.”

It’s hard logic to argue with.

Though the game is published by EA, “Apex Legends” was created by Respawn Entertainment – the brilliant game studio behind the “Titanfall” series that was founded by the people who created “Call of Duty.” There’s pedigree behind “Apex Legends” that should give the game a leg-up.

Instead, Respawn had a pretty reasonable concern that large swaths of players would see bullet points like “EA,” “free-to-play,” and “loot boxes,” and that would be enough to discourage them. In the wake of 2017’s “Star Wars Battlefront 2” loot box controversy – and the subsequent apologies from EA – many are wary of any new EA game with loot boxes.

It’s that wariness that Respawn was trying to circumvent with a sudden launch.

“We understand this game is gonna have a sceptical audience,”McCoy told Eurogamer. “To try and convince a sceptical audience for months with trailers and hands-on articles, we’re just like ‘let the game speak for itself.'”

Twitch most-viewed games (2/6/19)Twitch

The strategy appears to be working: as of Wednesday morning, “Apex Legends” was the most-streamed game on Twitch. And EA says more then 1 million people already downloaded the game.

Not too shabby!

The same formula as ‘Fortnite’

It certainly doesn’t hurt that “Apex Legends” is a genuinely fun game, a fresh take on the still-nascent Battle Royale genre.

It’s a completely free first-person shooter that’s focused on a Battle Royale mode, but instead of 100 players, there are only 60. There’s no solo or duos play – instead, all 60 players are funneled into three-person teams. As is standard with Battle Royale games, everyone is dropped onto an island full of weapons. The last person alive is the winner.

Apex LegendsEA/Respawn EntertainmentYes, I did already win a game of ‘Apex Legends.’ Stop wondering.

It’s the same formula that “Fortnite” employs, albeit with a very different vibe.

Each character has their own special abilities, and much of the game’s mechanics are built around communicating detail. The game feels sort of like “Titanfall 2,” the excellent shooter that Respawn launched in 2016, just without the massive robot “titans.”

Also like “Fortnite,” loot boxes in “Apex Legends” are strictly for cosmetic items – stuff that doesn’t impact how the game plays.

“Apex Legends” is free on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC right now. Check it out in action right here:

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