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How Respawn Entertainment won this generation

After the momentous impact of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Infinity ward could do no wrong. Though due to some behind the scenes problems with Activision, the heads of Infinity Ward found themselves leaving to create their own studio with Respawn Entertainment. Near the beginning of the generation, some were unsure whether they could succeed. Yet, four full game releases later we now think of Respawn as a household name in the games industry. While their commercial success was worrying for a time, no one could argue the quality of games they were creating. This culminated at the Game Awards this year, where they were finally acknowledged for their efforts by winning the award for best multiplayer game with Apex Legends. Now that Respawn has the spotlight, it’s a good time to look back at what they’ve achieved in their first console generation.



Troubled beginnings…

It wasn’t long after their creation that we got a glimpse of their first new game, Titanfall. Released as a console exclusive for Xbox One, Titanfall was an early hit for Respawn. It was critically praised as a first-person shooter with refined gameplay and innovative ideas. However, it still underperformed in sales and didn’t reach gamers in the same way that games like Call of Duty were doing.

This is possibly due to the low install base (players) that owned an Xbox One at the time. After all, this was not long after the beginning of the Xbox One generation. Meaning that many gamers had yet to purchase the new hardware. Knowing this, they had also released an Xbox 360 version of the game. However, the end result was not that different. In retrospect, the sales performance of Titanfall could have also come down to it being a console exclusive. The Xbox One’s infamous reveal turned many gamers away from the brand for some years. It was a moment of poor luck for a studio releasing their first game.

Fast forward to 2016 and it was time for a second chance. Titanfall 2 released to critical acclaim from the gaming industry. Widely agreed upon to be one of the best first-person shooters and general games of the year. Once again though, the commercial success had not materialized for Respawn. Albeit for a very different reason this time. Titanfall 2 launched in-between the releases of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1. By releasing in the middle of two of the biggest shooter franchises, Titanfall 2 was understandably overlooked and suffered as a result. Titanfall 2 was another commercial underperformance for Respawn.



From Strength to Strength . . . 

In terms of critical reception, Respawn has been stellar from their first performance. The well-received Titanfall sits at 86% on Metacritic and has a fan following that still swears by its multiplayer. Titanfall 2 was considered a substantial improvement over its predecessor in almost every way by critics. Most importantly, it added a fantastic single-player campaign that was praised as being one of the best among any shooter campaign in many years. In terms of quality, Respawn was not lacking with their first two titles. However, they still had to overcome the obstacle that was obtaining financial success with their games. With the surprise release of Apex Legends earlier this year, we can now say they’ve finally achieved this too.

In the first of many decisions that worked in their favor, Respawn decided to announce Apex Legends and release it the next day. By doing this, the free-to-play battle royale gained an element of surprise. Prompting many gamers to try out the new game from curiosity, word of mouth and general internet excitement. Because of this, they also avoided the potential pitfalls of gamers questioning every aspect of the game in the lead up to release.  

Even better, was hiring professional Fortnite streamers such as Ninja, to stream gameplay of Apex Legends. Combining these decisions with being a fresh competitor to Fortnite, let Respawn ensure that the eyes of potentially millions of Twitch viewers would be on their game. As we can tell from critical reception, the quality of Respawn’s games has never been in doubt. But what created their comeback was a slew of smarter decisions like these. Creating enough buzz and excitement among gamers for their titles to succeed.



A new hope…

Finally, we come to their most recent release with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. A perfect title to demonstrate the range of talent Respawn has cultivated. In an almost perfect storm of events, this release was poised to do well. Star Wars fans have been clamoring for a high-quality game after being disappointed by Star Wars: Battlefront and its sequel. After the success of Apex Legends, there were a lot more eyes on this game. Plus, releasing it close to both The Mandalorian and Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, as well as having the backing of EA’s marketing, was a sure-fire way to succeed.



And indeed, this seems to be the case. Its glowing critical reception led many in the industry to believe it would’ve been nominated for game of the year at the Game Awards (if it hadn’t missed the cut-off date). Sales wise, it was the 2nd best selling game in November in the USA. Releasing four fantastic games in their first-generation as a studio has solidified Respawn as the best developer under EA’s wing right now.

So what’s next for Respawn? In all likelihood, a sequel to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order will be on the cards after its tremendous success. Their continued support of Apex Legends will let them compete in the lucrative space of ‘games as a service’ battle royales. If this wasn’t enough we now know that they are working on a Medal of Honor VR title. Going off the consistency of their quality games so far, there’s a great chance this could be the reboot that Medal of Honor needs. Respawn Entertainment won this generation, and if the anticipated Titanfall 3 comes to fruition, they have a shot at the next one too.

Chirag Pattni
Psychologist and long time gamer. Has a love-hate relationship with technology and loves all things Japanese.

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