The battle royale genre is a veritable wildfire. There’s no other way to describe it, and nearly everyone and their grandmother is hopping onto the bandwagon. PlayerUnknown’s Battleground popularized it, Fortnite made it a global phenomenon, and now major game franchises are incorporating it into their newest titles.
It doesn’t seem like it might be losing steam either. Fortnite launched in South Korea (a country known for its strong gaming culture and dominance in esports) early in November, and Epic Games Korea even stated that the game now has an eye-watering 8.3 million concurrent players worldwide. To put things in perspective, Fortnite’s previous peak was 3.4 million concurrent players way back in February.
More recently, Epic announced that Fortnite now has 200 million registered players, a staggering 60 per cent increase from June, when it had just 125 million. Of course, part of that is due to the fact that Fortnite is available on more platforms now, including the Nintendo Switch, iOS, and as a beta app on Android. Still, that's nevertheless an impressive jump in such a short span of time, especially for a game that has been around for over a year, and this juggernaut is showing no sign of stopping.
Epic has driven this monster truck with admirable finesse, successfully keeping it going for far longer than I expected. Today, Fortnite has cross-branding deals with giants like the NFL and Marvel, and its licensed merchandise includes everything from Halloween costumes to Nerf guns.
But not everyone can be Fortnite, and I'd argue that the game is successful more because of its artful execution than the game mode itself.
I can’t help but feel like the genre is getting a little bit stale, the inadvertent victim of its own success. Both Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Battlefield V have their own battle royale modes, termed Blackout and Firestorm respectively. Few games are more representative of the so-called mainstream in the first-person shooter genre, and the fact that they’re both getting on board is pretty telling.
Battle royale games are no longer novel. They’re no longer a fringe, upstart genre with the luster of something new and great. Not with 8.3 million concurrent players on Fortnite, and certainly not with COD and Battlefield on board.
The genre has officially entered the mainstream, an inevitable fact given how players have flocked to it. At first glance, it’s difficult to see how this could be a bad thing. A massive player base and more developers catching on are certainly felicitous tidings. But the thing to remember is that the genre isn’t a stakeholder in and of itself.
The stakeholders are developers like Epic Games, and recent developments only translate into more competition for everyone. That’s great news for you, the player, since you get so much more choice. But everything is starting to feel like everything else. Blackout feels a lot like PUBG (even if its pace is a lot quicker) and I don’t see Firestorm being a whole lot different, even if it does introduce some new game mechanics.
Red Dead Online has an interesting take on the battle royale mode with Make It Count, where everyone fights with limited ammunition – either arrows or throwing knives – and your position is revealed if you camp in a single spot for too long. But it's buried in a playlist of other game modes, and it's nowhere close to challenging Fortnite.
The space is too crowded now and the big players are already established. Ultimately, there doesn’t seem to be any room for something like Realm Royale, which also feels pretty unique, to take hold. Just as how no one expects a new Counter Strike or COD to take the community by storm, I think we’ve pretty much seen the best that the battle royale genre has to offer at this point. 2019 will be the year of something else.
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I care about three things in this world – Game of Thrones, pasta, and corgis. Oh, and I write about tech.