Get out your pitchforks folks, because here come a whole heap of controversial views regarding the burgeoning genre of battle royale games.
Yes, since the overwhelming success of games like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite it seems that every developer from Activision to Electronic Arts are frantically working to hop on the bandwagon to rake in some of that sweet battle royale moolah – but is that what this whole surge is, a bandwagon?
There’s a lot to be said about the battle royale genre. The clever changes to the team deathmatch formula have given rise to some of the most high-stakes gameplay out there – albeit the majority of the competitors do little to differentiate themselves from one another. The two top dogs – PUBG and Fornite – have little to distinguish between their gameplay systems apart from aesthetics and small tweaks to how each game approaches gun rarity. Apart from that, the general outline of the game works the same: drop in, loot, and try to survive until the end of the round to win that sweet chicken dinner.
Fortnite has come out swinging over PUBG in the last several months, as Epic Game’s community involvement and developmental decisions far outshadow those of Bluehole Studios and PUBG Corp. – as the latter makes misstep after misstep in regards to their developmental roadmap. Broken promises, sudden pivots, a continuous struggle against cheaters, and an inability to fight the mounting wave of Fortnite players has put PUBG on the backfoot – but it’s far from dead.
What does seem to be dead, however, is the notion of innovation within the genre. Perhaps the developers never planned for their games to reach such massive heights of success, but it’s become increasingly difficult to view the concentration of effort made by the devs as anything but attempting to steer the games toward the cash cow that is eSports. And that, in fact, may be the largest contributing factor to the decision for companies to hop aboard the battle royale bandwagon.
The rise of eSports has proven to be a one-way ticket to millions of dollars for many developers. With organizations such as the Overwatch League being set up by developers themselves, the writing is on the wall: earning revenue from the spectating of games will rival that of those who are playing the games. As such, we can expect to see the trend of developing-for-spectatorship continue – and that’s precisely where battle royale games come in.
Call it jaded, but one factor of the battle royale genre’s success lies in its ability to create progressively high-stakes gameplay as the match expands over time. Unlike traditional TDM match structure, the gameplay starts off as a slow burn, and exponentially rises as it crescendos toward its climax. A better recipe for crowd engagement? You betcha.
This momentum won’t last forever, however. With more games than ever before competing for dominance and attention in an age where attention is running out incredibly quick, entertainment companies are hard-pressed to try and offer the most attention-grabbing package they possibly can. This is by no mean a eulogy for the genre, but rather a desperate plea toward the developers to keep pushing the envelope in innovation and immersive gameplay.
The demand for captivating gameplay and pulse-pounding action will never cease, but neither will the call for new and exciting forms of gameplay. Should the BR genre continue down the path it was tread so far, they may find themselves in hot water sooner than expected.