Respawn screwed up. Apex Legends has a new event called Iron Crown that introduces a number of exciting cosmetics. But one problem: The business model to acquire many of those items has, once again, outraged fans. Now Respawn is admitting its mistake, and it’s promising to improve how you can acquire Iron Crown items.
The core problem that many Apex players have with Iron Crown is the sheer intimidation of the math. As part of the event, you could get 24 unlockable packs with set items — in other words, these are not randomized lootboxes. But you only get two of those packs for free. You can then unlock the rest in order, but you need to spend 700 Apex Coins ($7) to unlock each successive box. If an item you want is in box 24, too bad. You need to spend $154 to get it. Of course, you could try to get the items from lootboxes instead, but the odds suggest you will likely have to spend a significant amount of money to get anything in particular.
“We’ve heard you and have spent a lot of time this week discussing the feedback and how we structure events in the future, as well as changes that we will make to Iron Crown,” game director Drew McCoy wrote in a blog post. “We need to be better at letting our players know what to expect from the various event structures in Apex Legends. Over the last six months we’ve been learning a lot about operating a live service free-to-play game, and one of the takeaways from this week is that our messaging for expectations needs to be clearer.”
The fix for Iron Crown is simple. Respawn plans to begin selling the items in its direct-purchase store soon. So if you want a particular item, you can go into the game’s strore and buy it for a set price.
But how does this happen? Hasn’t publisher Electronic Arts learned its lesson when it comes to lootboxes and aggressive monetization? Well, the truth is that Respawn really is autonomous, and it doesn’t have to listen to EA.
Respawn screwed up Apex Legends without EA’s help
Since the launch of Apex Legends, Respawn has repeated the narrative that Electronic Arts hasn’t really had much input. Game director Drew McCoy said as much in multiple interviews from around the game’s launch in February.
We don’t know for sure that EA hasn’t begun meddling, but as recently as June, Respawn reconfirmed that EA still isn’t involved with the design and development of Apex Legends. During EA’s July conference call, it explained that it has resources at Respawn’s disposal, but the studio has to request that help. The publisher is actually giving more control to Respawn boss Vince Zampella, who is now also in charge of DICE L.A.
So, I think that we should believe Respawn when it says EA isn’t involved with its decision making. After all, as Kotaku’s Anthem exposé revealed, EA has a similar relationship with BioWare.
So operating under the assumption that Respawn is telling the truth about its independence, it’s easy to see how it ended up having to walk back Iron Crown.
Respawn has never made a live-service game before. The studio’s roots go back to Call of Duty at Infinity Ward. And then Respawn released Titanfall and Titanfall 2 as product games with an upfront price and some downloadable content packs.
If you are reading this and thinking: “How could any EA studio mess this up again?” I get it. But that’s the point. Respawn is effectively independent from the rest of EA. And while EA has learned some very important lessons about lootboxes and monetization, Respawn has not.
Respawn needed to get this out of the way
The good thing here is that this is a reminder that Respawn isn’t perfect. It’s certainly a highly talented studio. Titanfall 2 is one of the best games ever made. And the company deserves some of the myth it has built up about independently prototyping gameplay to make the best games possible.
But that doesn’t mean it is always going to make the smartest decision. Up until this point, it’s possible that the studio’s leaders were feeling invincible. So if Respawn was telling EA about its plans for Iron Crown, and EA was like, “uh, this is a bad idea.” It’s easy to imagine that Respawn believed that it knew better or — at the very least — that getting its first-hand experience was more important than just trusting EA.
And now this should sober Respawn up a bit. Iron Crown didn’t work. People at EA likely knew it wasn’t going to work. And maybe it’s OK to ring up EA’s FIFA team and say, “hey, do you have any experience with building live-service business models?” I think that it might.