Every once in a while, a game stumbles across a formula that catapults it to unimagined success. Whether it’s a first-person shooter like DOOM that inspired many an offshoot with its visceral and addictive gameplay or DOTA that both spawned and revolutionized the MOBA scene, there’s often one or two games that serve as a catalyst for the meteoric rise of a new genre. Oftentimes it’s a combination of timing and gameplay that allows a title to succeed to this extent. In the past year, the growth of the Battle Royale arena exploded far faster than anyone had anticipated with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite leading the revolution. This begs the question: what does the future of battle royale games look like?
While PUBG and Fortnite were not the first titles to attempt a battle royale setting, they were the first to do so on such a massive scale and achieve such success. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds made waves on the Steam charts when it first released in Early Access for PC a little over a year ago. It has since grown into one of the most popular games in the world with millions of players battling for the top spot in the online arena day after day. But how was this massive growth achieved in such a short amount of time?
A large part of what made PUBG so successful when it first launched was the contemporary landscape of competitive shooters and how those games were played. While there is definitely a certain thrill with games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, the formula – for many – was starting to become stale, with games playing out much the same each and every time. PUBG provided a viral sensation because it offered something we hadn’t really seen before. Over the course of the game, you might only see 10 or 15 people, but, with only one life to spare, the stakes were high and the gameplay was more about strategy and survival than it was intense shootouts. Any time a game offers a fresh take on a well-received formula there’s the potential to capture a large portion of the market – and PUBG got in on the ground floor.
As far as gameplay goes, PUBG managed to get things right from the beginning. A winning formula that combines resourcefulness and crafting with strategy and skill really scratched an itch for many players that hadn’t previously existed. The dynamic gameplay that requires players to adjust on the fly keeps things interesting and no two matches are the same. Combine the basic design with tight controls that reward players for their aim and incentivizes improvement, and it’s easy to see how the title has established itself as one of the top competitive games in general.
While Bluehole Studios had trouble keeping pace with the massive growth of PUBG as the company worked to find their footing, they’ve managed to continually improve the game and solidify it as one of the top options in the Battle Royale arena. One of the primary reasons that games like Fortnite and PUBG have managed to be so successful is at the core of their gameplay: the competition.
By eschewing any sort of story and stripping things down to the bare necessities, Bluehole managed to deliver a gameplay experience that offers intense and borderline addictive competition that establishes the Battle Royale genre as a force to be reckoned with. Out of a huge arena of gamers, players strive to earn that top spot and survive over their peers – leading to gameplay that’s both repetitive enough to be familiar while still retaining a random and unique experience each and every time they fired up the game. By designing a game solely based on being the best you can be, the developers created a title that rewarded both skill and persistence – keeping gamers coming back for more day after day as they made efforts to improve and rack up as many wins as they could.
PUBG also had an advantage in that, while it wasn’t the first game of its kind, it was the first to catch on in such a viral manner due to the fact that it offered the competitive shooter genre a unique tension as players combined resourcefulness and strategy in a bid for survival. The marriage of tight gameplay with that addictive feeling of using every tool available to survive gave it a leg up on the competition that would scramble to release alternatives to capitalize on the massive market PUBG had blown wide open.
While there are a number of battle royale games on the market at this point, none have succeeded in the same way as PUBG except for one: Fortnite. Both games boast comparable player numbers at this point with Fortnite’s battle royale mode recently edging out PUBG and continuing to pick up players daily. The recent iPhone release only further boosted that number, and the eventual release on Android will continue to add players to an ecosystem with cross-play across all platforms. Fortnite’s unique construction mechanic that allows players to build walls and forts seamlessly and instantly give it the unique twist necessary to differentiate itself from PUBG while still maintaining that same frenetic experience that makes battle royale games so enjoyable. With unique combat, a more vibrant aesthetic, and Twitch megastars such as Ninja and Myth, Fortnite has definitely made a name for itself in the Battle Royale arena. It may have even surpassed PUBG as the go-to title in the genre.
These two games are the biggest names in the Battle Royale arena, but what does the future hold for the genre? Will the meteoric rise of these two titles continue to spawn offshoots that might be able to compete with these behemoths? In truth, the Battle Royale genre – at least as a viral phenomenon – is still in its infancy. With just over a year of massive success for these titles, it’s clear that the rise is only just beginning and that we’ll continue to see the genre expand. Fortnite has proven that it’s possible to secure a huge player base by offering a unique alternative, so it’s certainly possible that we’ll see a third title that rivals the success of these juggernauts sometime soon.
As far as the future for the Battle Royale genre goes, we should expect the player base to continue to boom and developers to respond in kind. We’re already seeing some existing titles like Paladins start to introduce a similar mechanic. There are even rumors that the new Red Dead Redemption game from Rockstar will include a Battle Royale mode, and Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 may be replacing its single-player campaign with Treyarch’s take on the massively popular mode as well – truly bringing this format into mainstream franchises.
There’s certainly a chance of the market becoming flooded with new titles that all offer their take on the popular game mode. Competition drives innovation, however, and if PUBG or Fortnite are to lose their market dominance it will be due to a competitor simply doing things better – giving consumers an overall net gain. Overall, the future looks incredibly bright for the Battle Royale genre; while the games have grown to meteoric highs, this is only the beginning of a cultural phenomenon that could very well change the face of gaming as we know it.
**Guest writer Jonathan Biran is a programmer, an avid gamer and the co-founder of Gearbroz, an online gaming magazine and the largest database of professional gamers and the gear they use.**