Bioware’s long awaited online shooter Anthem has finally been released in its entirety… to a select group of gamers.
Much has been made of the game’s staggered release, the different chunks of content available to different groups of people on different dates. It's left some players confused as to where they stand. And yet, there are many good reasons to release an always-online cooperative game like Anthem slowly; it allows the team that runs the title’s back-end to deal with the inevitable hiccups that come with managing such a complex product in a more controlled manner, hopefully before the bulk of their player-base has even touched the product. Even their demo, which first launched near the end of January, saw significant downtime as server issues were resolved, but, as streamers waited endlessly to join the game, overall viewership just went up and up, because MMO audiences understand that stress testing and scaling is a part of launching a title in this space.
And that’s why Anthem isn’t the only game in its genre currently working its way through a slow, bit-by-bit release. The world got its first real look at The Division II on the weekend of February 7th as Ubisoft held a private beta event, which saw a peak of nearly 2500 channels reaching over 100,000 viewers. A second open beta will launch at the beginning of March, two weeks before the game’s proper release.
While not perfectly analogous, the release schedule of these two games are worth comparing for one simple reason: they’re direct competitors. Anthem and The Division II are both loot shooters, online cooperative action games built around combat, collecting and improving gear, and an ongoing long-term schedule of content updates. And, in an interesting note, to this point they haven’t been available to stream at the same time. The latter title’s closed beta fell in the dead space between Anthem’s limited-time public demo and the beginning of its staggered full launch on the 15th. When Ubisoft’s latest was pulling in such outstanding viewership numbers, it didn’t have to compete with Anthem. That won’t be the case next time.
That’s just one reason to keep an eye on Anthem over the next few weeks. Another is to answer this question: will early viewers remain as audience members once they can get their hands on the game themselves? The audience for the title’s closed demo was dramatically higher than that of its public counterpart one week later, and this drop in total viewers didn’t correspond to a higher number of total channels playing. Will the same be true of the release of the complete title this Friday?
And how do these numbers correspond to actual sales? A healthy audience on Twitch is typically a good indicator of your game’s popularity, but just how does that natural drop off between limited early-access and release date translate to actual players? At this point, we can only speculate, but seeing how this plays out for Anthem, and then The Division II, will provide interesting case studies for publishers considering these release strategies moving forward. The lessons learned here can help future titles find success.
Which, of course, begs another question: What does success even mean for these titles? As we sit here fawning over enormous Twitch audiences, we should also keep in mind the game that each of these new contenders would like to supplant: Destiny 2. Activision and Bungie’s loot-filled jaunts across the solar system have dominated the loot-shooter genre for years. The games have never been perfect, but their frequent updates and strong, stable community are a model for any other title looking to carve out a niche for itself in the space. So how many viewers are typically watching Destiny 2 on any given day?
As you can see above, the answer is generally around 5000, give or take, spread out across an average of between 400-600 channels. If either Ubisoft or EA were seeing numbers like that for the launch of their titles, they’d rightly be concerned. But, when Destiny 2 launched way back in September of 2017, it reached over 100,000 viewers on its first day, and a peak of over 200,000 within a month.
Also worth noting is that, after that initial amazing launch, viewership actually fell below the levels they’re at now. It wasn’t until the game received an initial bump from the release of the expansion Warmind in May of last year that viewership started to climb, and Forsaken in September finally initiated the boost that has culminated in the more healthy state of the game’s online community.
And so, that’s really what we’ll have to pay attention to moving forward, as both Anthem and The Division II move on to their real release dates and beyond: How does each work to establish and support its online community? Destiny is a success not because it’s dominated the Twitch charts for its entire lifespan, but because the team behind it has recognized their community, listened to them, and delivered on their promises. It’s that dedication to iteration and community that has allowed Destiny to maintain its position as a regular contender on Twitch for nearly half a decade, at this point. As we watch others try to take the lessons learned by Bungie and Activision and apply them to their own titles, it will be those that cultivate dedicated audiences through quality content updates and strong support that stand the test of time. It will be interesting to see whether these drawn-out release plans help or hinder the process.