Written by Anthony Reynolds, Interactive Designer at Decode Digital
Out of nowhere, on February 4, 2019, Respawn Entertainment released a new battle royale video game across PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox 1. There was no announcement, teaser trailer, or press release. Prior to that day, there was no advertising whatsoever for this game. So how did this game—Apex Legends—amass 2.5 million unique users within 24 hours? The answer is simple: influencer marketing.
As social media has grown in the past ten years, we’ve seen the rise of social media influencers. Usually racking up a following of anywhere from 10,000 to 50 million people, many of these accounts are approached for influencer marketing. This is where an account or user is identified as having influence over specific demographics, and brands orient their marketing around the influencers. This is especially useful for identifying niche audiences, such as the gaming subculture.
Influencer marketing is most common on some of the largest social media platforms—Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. But Respawn Entertainment chose the platform that best catered to their demographic: Twitch. If you are unfamiliar, Twitch.tv is a streaming platform that includes a live chat for commentary. While it mostly caters to gamers, there is a plethora of additional content such as live music, art, and even people streaming their everyday lives.
The top streamer on Twitch, Ninja, was one of the streamers Respawn tapped to showcase the game upon release. Other influencers used include shroud and Dr. Disrespect. On average, these users have 10,000 viewers at any given time. Think about it: you tap ten streamers on Twitch with an average of 10,000 viewers, and your product is getting at least 100,000 impressions—and this is just an estimate based on their averages.
While one could easily attribute Apex Legends’ success to Twitch alone, this game also came at the right time. Whether or not you game, you probably know what Fortnite is. The game is the most popular game in recent history, with millions of viewers on Twitch daily. The influencers who helped popularize Apex Legends grew their popularity from streaming Fortnite. While the premise is essentially the same for both games (last man or team standing wins), Apex Legends brought fast-paced, first-person shooter gameplay coupled with a new communication system and a few special powers—which is drastically different from Fortnite, which is still last man/team standing, but you utilize fort-building (get it?) to create cover while under fire.
Apex Legends was not the first first-person shooter battle royale game to try and take on Fortnite. Call of Duty Blackout and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds were the last two to make an attempt at a first-person shooter battle royale. While neither failed, they did not overtake Fortnite.
In addition to using creative and effective influencer tactics on Twitch, maintaining a free game model with purchasable credit for exclusive items helped Apex Legends amass its 2.5 million unique user base within 24 hours. One week after launch, Apex Legends not only increased that number to 25 million; it also kept a lead of viewers on Twitch over Fornite for 17 days in a row. While the two are constantly dancing around the #1 spot, it's safe to say Apex Legends is the only game to conquer Fortnite since its stronghold as #1. And as a marketing tactic, influencer marketing has clearly established itself as a big player in yet another industry.
Using Apex Legends as a case study, it’s clear influencer marketing is an effective way to leverage an existing, captive audience. Both small and large businesses are using this tactic, but it can take several different forms. Many small businesses focus on local micro-influencers, sifting through social media profiles by hand, while those with big budgets can use influencer marketing tools like Tapinfluence and Upfluence to find the right influencers for their product and also manage workflow. Whether your goal is to capture a wide audience using influencer with 10 million followers or to target a niche group in a local or specialized area, many brands can find success with this digital tactic.
The overall goal—and how Apex Legends achieved such success—is to build hype by leveraging an influencer’s reputation and respected opinion. The gamers who streamed Apex Legends already had the audience. Respawn Entertainment just got them talking on a focused product at the right time. Many industries have seen results from this tactic—notably, the health and fitness, beauty, travel, and lifestyle industries use the most influencer campaigns. And now, the gaming world has a clear model of how to use influencer marketing the right way.
Why not add your industry to the list?