Respawn’s Apex Legends is a huge hit. The free-to-play battle royale shooter is closing out its second week since release, and it’s still retaining its top spot on the Twitch leaderboards following its successful first e-sports event. Top streamers like Ninja and Shroud continue to play the game on a daily basis, and it’s looking like it could have a healthy life as a top-tier competitive game if Respawn puts the resources into building out a proper tournament structure.
But one element of the game that may affect its long-term popularity is its business model, with many players worried that Apex’s in-game prices are too expensive.
As a free-to-play title, Apex Legends has to generate revenue somehow, and the best way to do that in an online multiplayer game is to borrow concepts from popular titles like Fortnite and Overwatch. That means letting players spend real money for character costumes, weapon skins, and various other collectibles that don’t affect gameplay, but make you look cool or unique while you play.
Apex Legends, however, has a particularly aggressive pricing model and an overly complex economy. Now, players are starting to voice concern about how that model could eventually harm its longevity, as more revenue from microtransactions likely translates to a more robust development team, faster updates, and more support from EA.
As it stands, Apex Legends charges as much as $18 for singular weapon and legend skins. That’s more than Epic has charged for all but the rarest Fortnite items, and it’s particularly egregious when you consider that there’s no easy way to play Apex enough to earn any of them in a realistic fashion, at least until Respawn launches its battle pass subscription service next month. For its Valentine’s Days event, Respawn released a character banner — one that only displays at the beginning of a game and in select moments while you’re playing — and a weapon skin that cost $11 each. It’s a particularly frustrating price point, as it requires players buy at least $20 of in-game currency because the next-lowest tier is a $10 bundle.
Part of the reason behind the focused anger — around a game that is otherwise awash in well-earned praise — is that EA and Respawn have instituted a complicated, multi-currency economy that doesn’t seem to reward you fairly for time spent. You can buy some of those absurdly pricey, $18 items outright by buying Apex Coins, but if you want a chance at earning them on your own, you have a few options and none of them are particularly well designed. You can buy lootbox-style Apex Packs at $1 apiece and hope you get a rare item among the hundreds of throwaway ones like voice lines and profile trackers. Or you can level up to earn an additional separate currency, Legend Tokens, that only let you buy certain items.
Additionally, you can save up enough “scrap” (an entirely separate third currency) that lets you craft some of these items. But the only way to earn scrap is to open Apex Packs, which, again, can only be bought or earned by leveling up. Yet Respawn reduces the frequency you get awarded packs by leveling up the more you play the game, encouraging players to buy them as they become more invested. (Granted, the element here that does affect gameplay, new characters like Mirage and Caustic, can be purchased relatively easily using Legend Tokens.)
The end result of this complex web of currencies and reward mechanisms is a microtransaction system that players are starting to outright reject just two weeks after release. On the dedicated Apex Legends subreddit, which has ballooned to nearly half a million users, a number of multi-thousand-comment threads have popped up this past week addressing the issue. “Respawn, I would not hesitate to impulse purchase $3-5 for cosmetic items. $11-18 though? Will not even consider it,” reads one. “So far, the store seems to be predatory,” reads another.
And as one player put in a top comment on the former of the two threads: “I’m actually glad the cosmetics are so expensive. Makes it really simple to control myself and not buy a shit ton of them.” That may be the center issue at play: Apex Legends’ success depends not just on people finding the game fun and playing it. It also depends on people finding it so enjoyable, and its cosmetic items so worthwhile, that they’ll be willing to spend a healthy chunk of money on it.
Ask a hardcore Fortnite player with disposable income, like yours truly, how much they’ve spent on the game, and it’s likely much more than a standard $60 price tag you’d see on a boxed video game product. But the reason Fortnite generates hundreds of millions of dollars a month is its entirely fair and straightforward economy and its excellent cosmetic designs.
There’s only one currency in the game. Fortnite offers just v-bucks, and those can be earned by buying the $10-per-season battle pass subscription and leveling up. Epic also has clear-cut method for pricing: skins can cost anywhere from $5 to $15, while emotes will never cost more than $8 and often cost either $3 or $5. Even better is Epic’s constant giveaways. The developer runs constant special events where you can play the game, complete challenges, and earn free stuff. Its best deal is a multi-step challenge list released just yesterday that will let players even earn a season 8 battle pass subscription without paying a cent.
Right now, we have no idea how much money Apex Legends is generating, so it’s hard to say that players’ vocal complaints about price tags will have an effect on the game’s earning potential. But it’s safe to say that EA wouldn’t be footing the bill for a free-to-play game of this scale if it didn’t have high hopes it could be a money-generator like Fortnite. That has a slim chance of happening unless some of these pricing schemes change, or in the unlikely event its battle pass is so successful it floats the entire the game.
But it would be a real shame to see Apex Legends stumble because it’s too busy testing the limits on what maximum it can charge per item, when it could be thinking up creative ways to make fans want to spend time and money and support it.