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Respawn: Apex Legends will stick to seasonal updates to improve quality, avoid crunch

CEO Vince Zampella and producer Drew McCoy address Apex Legends’ update cadence

Apex Legends - Octane and his squad jumping from a launch pad Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Developer Respawn Entertainment says it wants to “reset our commitment” to fans of its free-to-play shooter, Apex Legends, in the wake of criticism about the game’s update cadence. But executive producer Drew McCoy stressed in an update on the game on Thursday that our goal isn’t, and never has been, to patch or update content on a weekly basis.”

Fans and critics alike point to the absence of regular new content as part of the reason that Apex Legends has seemingly lost its momentum. Both its player base and its ranking on Twitch have dropped precipitously over the past few weeks. According to TwitchMetrics, viewership is hovering somewhere around 20,000 on average, down from a high of more than 357,000 in February. The game currently sits ranked at No. 14 on the streaming platform, well behind its direct competitor, Fortnite, which is a lock in the top slot.

McCoy’s comments about the speed at which Respawn is adding new content echo statements from Respawn co-founder Vince Zampella, who recently said that the studio is focusing on seasonal updates, improving the game, and avoiding crunch at Respawn.

Earlier this week, Vince Zampella appeared onstage for a live interview at the annual GamesBeat Summit. Asking the questions was Ted Price, the CEO of Insomniac Games. The entire exchange is available as part of a lengthy clip on YouTube, starting around the four-hour-and-32-minute mark.

During the interview, Zampella said that his team was caught by surprise when Apex Legends topped 50 million players in its first month of release. Since then, he said, the focus has been on improving the stability of the game. Then he turned to the topic of additional content.

“We’re still figuring out internally what the cadence of content has to be and how we support it,” he said. Going forward, his plan is to “put the focus back on those quality-of-life issues before we start to build more content.”

“I think that’s important,” Zampella stressed. “If the game’s not working for everybody, then it’s not fun for everybody.”

Thursday’s blog post by McCoy reiterated Zampella’s position. He wrote that the team is focusing on topics like server performance, audio issues, hit registration, and cheating. He also emphasized that a major internal concern is preventing burnout for the game’s small development team.

“We know that, in addition to addressing issues with the game, everyone is hungry for us to add new content,” McCoy wrote. “The studio culture that we’ve worked hard to cultivate, and the health of our team are very important. We take those things into account when we discuss our content roadmap, the production schedule, and the frequency in which we can update the game. Our long-term goal is to ensure Apex Legends always feels alive and thriving, with a focus on quality of content over novelty or speed of release. At the same time, we want to maintain our culture as a development team and avoid crunch that can quickly lead to burnout or worse.”

The topic of burnout also came up during Zampella’s interview at GamesBeat Summit.

“The thought was, ‘Hey, we kinda have something that’s blowing up here, do we want to start trying to drop more content?’” Zampella said. “But you look at quality of life for the team. We don’t want to overwork the team and drop the quality of the assets that we’re putting out. We want to try to raise that.”

Respawn’s unified stance against crunch stands in contrast to reports from inside Fortnite developer Epic Games. Employees there told Polygon that a culture of overwork has taken hold, and that burnout is on the rise.

Of course, Respawn has quite a few irons in the fire at the moment. Earlier this month, it unveiled Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a third-person melee-action game set during the fall of the Old Republic. McCoy stressed that the team working on Apex Legends would not be retasked for other projects, and vice versa.

“Regarding other games in development at Respawn, it is important to understand that there are entirely separate development teams working on Apex Legends and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order,” said McCoy. “Additionally, in order to fully support Apex Legends, we are pushing out plans for future Titanfall games. No resources from the Apex Legends team are being shifted to other titles in development here at the studio, nor are we pulling resources from the team working on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

“We know we have a lot of work ahead of us,” McCoy concluded, “but we’re up to the challenge and are looking forward to building Apex Legends to its full potential together with our players.”

McCoy said that more information on Apex Legends, including details on its second season, would be revealed at this year’s E3 in Los Angeles.

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