Apex Legends Mobile has been named as game of the year by both Apple and Google this week. But why?
Both platforms chose the exact same game because they share the same mix of PR, branding, platform and business priorities. Look at the other contenders and it’s almost a process of elimination (trust me, I know – I was part of this process during my time at Apple).
Still, one can imagine the folks at Second Dinner being a little miffed this week, and with good reason: Marvel Snap would have been a worthy winner, given its quality and the critical response around it. Same too over at Blizzard and NetEase; Diablo Immortal was one of the biggest launches of recent years, and as a product it is generous, deep and polished to a gleam.
But there are other forces at play within Apple and Google that have given Apex Legends Mobile the nod.
First, let’s discount Diablo Immortal. Despite its huge launch numbers and best-in-class production values, it’s just too spicy to be named game of the year by two tech giants that are hyper sensitive to bad PR.
Its fiery response from gamers angry at its monetisation systems would have discounted it almost immediately. In a regulatory climate where both platform holders are painfully aware or having to justify taking their 30% cut of everyone’s business, it’d be a grave error to put a game accused of money-grabbing on a pedestal like this.
Immortal is also pretty gruesome; it’s counter to the inclusive, family-friendly, games-are-for-everyone feeling Apple and Google want to elicit from these moments.
Then there’s Marvel Snap. A huge brand, a critically adored game, a respected developer, a brilliant, arguably seminal card-battle game. So why didn’t that get the gong?
Sadly for Second Dinner, it doesn’t look as cool in screenshots as Apex Legends: Mobile. You might have Black Panther, Thor and Captain Marvel on your side, but card-battle games have never been all that glamorous or indeed easy to understand by the public at large.
Marvel Snap is the exception, I’d argue – the way it breaks up card game mechanics into quick, digestible, super-dynamic chunks is quite brilliant. But it’s still harder to parse than a bright, flashy battle royale game with a big gaming brand attached.
There’s also the fact that games are now the best way to showcase hardware. Both platform holders, particularly Apple, have phones and tablets to sell, and Apex Legends Mobile shows off the graphical power of their devices. (Fun, under-appreciated fact: any recent iPhone is way more powerful than a Switch, and could mix it with a launch-era PS4).
There’s also an unspoken platform factor at play here. Apple and Google are actively encouraging the big-boy console franchises to make their way to mobile because it’ll encourage others to do so. And of course, they’ll take their 30% along the way.
Adjacent to this is a cautionary tale for big brands failing to seriously consider mobile. This year, Stumble Guys has neatly filled the gap where Fall Guys Mobile should have been, and remains a potent example of what happens if you miss the boat on mobile: someone else will happily jump in.
That’s how you end up with both Apple and Google choosing Apex Legends Mobile as game of the year. I’m not saying it’s not a worthy winner; rather that high profile decisions made within big tech are a heady mix of branding, PR, platform and business priorities.