When it comes to including the community in crafting a game’s lore, no developer does more than Respawn with Apex Legends. They have already been making fan-drawn, Respawn written comics since October 2020, but those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to collaborating with the content creators who love Apex.
Take, for example, the 2019 Crypto ARG. The Apex community created an alternate reality game about the hacker Legend, Crypto, but Respawn ended up attaching a canon lore reveal to the end of it. A work order that originated in the fan-created alternate reality game, which began during Apex Legends’ third season, was even later referenced in an in-game loading screen for season five.
Canon confirmed. https://t.co/QYOZAqct97
— Tom Casiello (@tommiecas) May 17, 2020
The ARG all started with a 13-second video on the official Apex Legends subreddit. The video showed a CRT-style screen with the Apex logo and Crypto’s insignia, along with various references to characters from the game, like Mirage. From there, fans like Matthew “Spear” Morales started enthusiastically solving the puzzles someone in the community was creating for them.
“It started off with this one puzzle and then it kept going on,” Spear told Upcomer. “People started out solving the puzzle in the subreddit, in the comments section, in the Discord people were talking about the ARG. And suddenly we noticed that it was kind of fun to be involved in this alternate reality game relating to Crypto, since his lore was somewhere around the same vibe of being very suspicious and low key and under the radar.”
As the ARG progressed, Spear ended up becoming one of the people looking to organize and manage what was happening in the Apex lore Discord. This led the ARG’s creator to reach out to him to start helping out with the game itself. Spear was having fun contributing to the game, but by phase three, the ARG had grown time consuming. Spear began to to wonder what all this effort was really going toward.
“I wanted to know if it was connected to the lore, officially, or if the creator had some sort of connection with Respawn,” Spear said. “And then they confirmed, ‘yeah, this will end up being something official. At the end of the Crypto ARG, we will get an official lore piece.’ So that gave me this huge boost of hype.”
That’s when the creator asked Spear to design the penultimate phase for the Crypto ARG. Spear made a fairly complex website that featured logins and input commands. This site directly preceded the reddit banner that would reveal the final piece of lore. Though the community team behind the ARG had to repeatedly clarify that they were the ones working on it, not Respawn, they did get a canon piece of lore written by Respawn Entertainment’s lead writer Manny Hagopian (though he wasn’t lead at the time).
Community created opportunities
This was a departure for Respawn in terms of how they handled lore collaborations with the Apex community, but not the first. The Pathfinder-focused cinematic “The Truth” was created by Slava Alekseev, an animator whose previous fan film about Bloodhound had caught Respawn’s attention. The team brought Alekseev on board to help make “The Truth” while Respawn’s main animation team saw to other projects.
Achieving a balance between the stories Respawn wants to tell and the creativity of the Apex community is a big part of what makes this developer/fan relationship special, according to Apex Legends senior social media manager Alex Ackerman.
“There are so many things we accomplish by going this route,” Ackerman said via Direct Message. “Take the community drawn comics we do. From a community perspective, I’m able to invite folks to have a seat at the table, elevate their work and turn new players on to them as artists, and know that the work I’ll be getting in return is top notch because these artists are so passionate about the game that they know it inside and out.”
The knowledge these creatives have of not just Apex as a game, but as a larger fictional world, is another key to the partnership between creatives and Respawn. Though canon may seem like something that would put a leash on the creativity of the content creators Respawn works with, it seems to be the foundation on which the studio’s positive relationship with creative Apex fans is built.
“I think one of the things that makes Apex unique is we do have these fully fleshed out characters who allow unique back stories and motives,” Ackerman said. “Canon is key, though. I think it not only helps keep our story straight, but also keeps everything authentic.”
The fanbase loves these characters and are excited to help build the world around them, which Respawn eagerly encourages. But having such a solid relationship with the moderators on the Apex and Apex lore subreddit is what made something like the community-created ARG possible, according to Ackerman.
“I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate those folks,” she said. “They generally give the team a heads up when stuff like that is coming, both for visibility but also to give us the chance to participate as we see fit.”
Social media is full of positives & negatives but for me the positives really keep me coming back. Fans like @spearheadpr_ & many others who show so much love & joy for something we helped make. It’s very rewarding. So thanks helping put positives into 2020. https://t.co/luTQpHwLPg
— Manny “Farted” Hagopian (@MannyHagopian) December 30, 2020
In the case of the ARG, Respawn saw fit to contribute some canon Crypto lore to the end of the alternate reality game, fusing a community-created narrative with the mainline story. And it all happened because fans were so enticed by the Legends Apex has to offer.
Spear was originally intrigued by Crypto’s hacker aesthetic and how the ARG reflected that, but he’s certainly not the only creative that fell in love with the game through its characters. Out of the eight Apex community creators Upcomer spoke to, all of them cited the depth of the characters as something that pulled them in and kept them attached to the game.
“Each character has so much personality that shines in everything they do,” said artist Jessica “JEL” Lee. “From everyone’s unique run animations, to voice lines for pings or taking damage, to their tactical abilities, the characters feel so real.”
The richness of these characters gives creatives in the community a lot to play with, and the authenticity of the world and characters of Apex creates a sort of positive feedback loop with the artists and other creators within the Apex community. But it’s not just the characters that have captured the creative community’s attention — it’s Respawn’s approach to storytelling in general.
“Apex’s social media also acts as an extension of the game to tell further lore, which is something I’ve never seen used to this extent before with other games,” JEL said. “They do what they can to push the limits of the media they have available to them and they’re always willing to try new methods of storytelling.”
This includes everything from the comics, to fan-made load screens, and the cinematics for the upcoming Escape season. All of them come together to create an enticing world for creative imaginations.
The relationship between Respawn and the Apex Legends creative community seems to be as mutually beneficial as Ackerman frames it. Though they didn’t offer specifics, the artists Upcomer spoke with all confirmed they were paid what they considered to be a competitive wage for their work on collaborations with Respawn.
Beyond that, Ackerman and other members of the Apex team are very active in their sharing and support of Apex fan works. The official Apex Twitter account regularly shares fan art and other creative pieces, and Ackerman herself even shared a fan art prompt list for Halloween/October (or Nesstober for those in the know about Apex’s aquatic dino mascot).
According to Jocy, another artist who has worked with Respawn on Apex comics, Respawn makes them feel at home in their community.
“I really love how they like fan art, they respond to people,” Jocy said. “They just talked with the community as if they’re paying attention.”
Spear said he has similar warm feelings toward Respawn.
“You’re a fan of Apex and a fan of Respawn and suddenly Respawn becomes your fan because you did something for them,” he said. “I think they’re very cool people there. They are very respectful and they are very aware of the amount of work that you put into these fan art things.”
But it’s not just the team at Respawn who become fans of these artists. Many of the more recent artists to be commissioned by Respawn ended up in the fan art community because they saw someone like JEL or Genta (another prolific artist in the Apex community) creating things first.
Jocy is among these newer artists. They were checking out fan art of Octane on Pinterest when they encountered Genta’s work. Another Apex comic artist, CaitySecret, was brought in by the Apex community’s memester and Mirage enthusiast, Rhonnie. Rhonnie also traded Apex merch with fellow commissioned artist BagelHero, which helped keep his passion for the community stoked. In short, it’s not just Respawn shining a light on these creators — they’re providing support and hype for each other as well.
“As a community, we tend to support each other,” Spear said. “When any of the posts are Soro, Genta, Lila, when any of them post art you can see all of us down below in the replies just simping and going berserk about the art. So yeah, it is truly awesome.”