“You get a Battle Royale! You get a Battle Royale! Everyone gets a Battle Royale!” is something I fully expect the Oprah from a parallel universe, one where she’s a shoutcaster, would say. And hey, it’s not an unrealistic statement. After all, this past May, Activision announced that Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII will have Blackout, its own take on the battle royale genre. Oh, and this past Saturday at E3, EA followed suit by teasing Battlefield V Royale — the game’s own battle royale mode re-imagined with its systems and mechanics.
The success of the battle royale genre shocked everyone, myself included. We knew it would be a hit for gamers — but we didn’t know it would be this huge.
Fortnite is carrying the entire genre, literally and figuratively, on its back for the most part. Its total player count has just surpassed 45 million. The first year of esports competitions for the game will have a $100 million prize pool. Everyone’s getting in on the action by forming their own squads. Its Pro-Am display on E3 is hotly anticipated. You’ve got gamers facing off against celebrities and athletes — how can that not be a must-watch event?
So if one game in this genre currently boasts millions of players, thousands of streamers, and a lot of celebrity support, then it’s no surprise that Activision and EA will be bringing the big guns. The trailer for Black Ops IIII’s Blackout looks really good and promises the return of previous characters and even some maps. Many tout it as a celebration of the COD: Black Ops franchise bundled in the frantic and frenetic action of battle royale. As for Battlefield V, we didn’t get more than a tease during EA’s E3 conference. What we do know is that “Royale will be coming in the future.”
The New Kids on the Block
What does this mean for Fortnite and PUBG though? Is it safe to say that this just might be the final nail in the coffin for PUBG? Despite being one of the most popular games on Steam, it’s been bleeding players since earlier this year. It looks as though it just cannot catch up to Fortnite in terms of engagement and retention.
Its woes continued to pile up as the year wore on. Last March, a patch for anti-cheat measures ironically ended up causing frustrations for thousands of players when they couldn’t even launch the game. If they were lucky enough to do so, the framerate stuttering issues caused more frustrations. Vexed players piled up on various forums and were simply told to “close programs that might be interfering with the game.” The developers had no choice but to roll-back to a previous patch. A new map, Sanhok, was repeatedly delayed due to performance problems that have cropped up.
Perhaps PUBG’s biggest fiasco happened in April when it was named as one of the games in violation of the Netherlands’ gambling laws. Since PUBG’s cosmetics can be sold for real world money, this meant that they had a determinable market value, and were violating the country’s Gaming and Betting Act. Due to the collective outrage against microtransactions and loot boxes for the past months, things did not look good for PUBG. The company’s decision to file a lawsuit against Epic Games, the developers of Fortnite, essentially made it look like sour grapes on their part according to various gamers and pundits.
Meanwhile, Fortnite remains at the top of the mountain. But how long will it stay there? It’s free-to-play, fun, with a mix of tactical and freeform gameplay. It’s a shooter but it’s not that violent that kids can happily play it. The bright and cartoony visuals also attract many a casual gamer who wants a fun romp. It receives consistent updates and content in the form of new vehicles, skins, and returning modes. The crafting mechanic would remind you of Minecraft if you’re one of the millions who’ve played it — or perhaps other survival games like DayZ, H1Z1, Rust, or indie darling Don’t Starve.
The Old Guard
Beyond this summit that Fortnite has planted its banner on are two towering franchises that have lorded over the multiplayer shooter genre. These franchises are well-known for attracting hordes of fans and boasting highly-aggressive and rage-inducing competition. For Call of Duty: WWII, a whopping 12 million players were online on a random day in January — and that number is just for the PS4. For Battlefield 1, around 19 million have played the game during EA’s previous financial year. That’s a 50% increase compared to the previous title in the franchise in a comparable time period.
Remember, this was when the games generally had a short single-player campaign, plus zombies, and the tried-and-tested multiplayer modes of yesteryears. They’ve become repetitive and formulaic. However, it’s also worth noting that these games have yet to try their hand at the battle royale genre. We don’t even know how many players these modes would have, just that their respective developers are keen on replicating, and perhaps surpassing, Fortnite’s success.
Right now, Fortnite has the advantage. It’s free-to-play and easy on the eyes. Kids love it. The game branched out for mobiles as well. Currently, it’s available for iOS, and the Android release is coming up soon. Meanwhile, the rumored Nintendo Switch release might as well be a near certainty. Cross-platform play is also possible for some systems. But its grip on the battle royale genre can change in a few months.
The “hardcore” fans of the traditional FPS genre will no doubt be delving into Black Ops IIII and Battlefield V. No doubt that these games would sell well as they’ve always done in past years. With these titles being available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, they will no doubt have a strong grip on the market. The addition of their respective battle royale modes will no doubt freshen up the franchises that have, in some ways, gone stale over the years.
Will they dethrone Fortnite from the top of the mountain? Will they bring the end of PUBG in a genre that’s getting crowded all of a sudden? Or will they flounder and have to go back to the drawing board?