Lately when gamers go on Twitch, they see Electronic Arts' battle royale game Apex Legends ranking as the third- or fourth-most-watched category — if that — of all categories streaming on the platform, a far cry from when the game launched in February and dominated viewership.
That's reflected in a quarterly report released Thursday by StreamElements, a platform that helps Twitch and YouTube streamers manage and improve their livestreams. The report showed that the game hit peak viewership levels when viewers watched over 40 million hours of Apex Legends-focused streams the week following the game's launch.
But by mid-March, viewership had plunged to around 10 million hours watched in one week — a drop of about 75% from those peak levels back in February.
The key here, according to StreamElements co-founder and CEO Doron Nir, is that based on the report numbers livestreamers are actually now more influential than traditional press in driving awareness of a new game. Nir points out that 57% of the total hours watched on Twitch for all categories actually came from the top 1,000 streamers alone, so you "don't need a lot of streamers to make noise, just those at the top."
"The big takeaway is that partnering with premier streamers is ideal for generating hype for a game, but it's up to the game itself to sustain that momentum once those streamers move onto other titles," he wrote to CNBC. "Keep in mind that it's common for a game to come down a little bit after the initial hype is over, but if it's a good game, it will return to the top when a new season or content is released."
In fact, viewership for Apex Legends dropped in March when only two of the top 20 streamers focused on the game, according to the report.
"Since there was a significant drop in the charts when Apex Legends went from having 8 to only 2 of the top twenty streamers playing it, it illustrated the strength of the personalities more than the game itself," Nir added.
As an example, Nir mentioned the spike in viewership for Grand Theft Auto V, or GTA V, a game in the GTA series that was actually released almost six years ago. In March, many of the biggest personalities on Twitch began streaming GTA V after signing up for NoPixel, a role-playing server that essentially allows approved users to play the game as a character of their choice other than the original protagonist.
That shift in focus by many of Twitch's most popular personalities drove GTA V to become the third-most-watched game on the streaming platform in March.
EA and Respawn Entertainment, the EA-acquired game developer behind the Titanfall universe, upon which Apex Legends is based, confirmed in early March that the game had topped 50 million users in just one month. While Apex Legends was also celebrated at the time for beating battle royale giant Fortnite in terms of early player sign-ups (10 million players within 3 days, a number that took Fortnite about 2 weeks to reach), the report shows that the latter held steady as Apex Legends viewership declined.
Fortnite ended March as the most-watched game in the first quarter on Twitch.
Joel Kulina, head of technology and media trading at Wedbush Securities, said that while initial reports point to a decline in downloads and viewership for Apex Legends, "it doesn't necessarily mean that we're seeing a decline in users or revenue is declining." He said EA management has had a number of execution issues that have become a burden for the company.
"There has been a series of missteps [from Battlefield V and Anthem, to name a few], and those credibility issues are a concern for investors," he told CNBC.
The current outlook for Apex Legends also seems to reflect the same management and execution issues that have plagued EA, Kulina said.
"We haven't seen any new data regarding revenue or any numbers [for Apex Legends], that's another frustration; we're not getting consistent updates," he added.
Ultimately, like many of the big traditional video game publishers, EA is struggling to adapt to a gaming world that has become more social and relies on whole new monetization systems, Kulina said.
Shares of EA soared 21% in the two weeks following the release of Apex Legends. They have since dropped about 13%.
According to SuperData, Apex Legends generated an estimated $92 million in revenue across all platforms in February, setting an opening-month launch record for free-to-play games.