Battle Royale Games: History and Future

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Battle Royale has become a genre of its own over the past few years. Already game companies seem dead set on creating the next big thing. With so many Battle Royale games currently in the market, there really doesn’t seem to be room for any more unless they heavily change the formula. However, there are already signs that the genre is slowly shifting away from its roots and into new territory.

Origins

Battle Royale was a concept that existed long before it became a gaming phenomenon. Books such as “Battle Royale” by Koushun Takami and “The Hunger Games” by Suzane Collins helped establish the premise of an all-out fight to the death. However, it wouldn’t be till the 2012 film adaptation of “The Hunger Games” that the idea would become a point of interest in the gaming world.

The formula was simple. You and other players would spawn in an arena. There, you would fight to the death until only one player survived. Everybody enters the arena without any items. Weapons, armor, and equipment would have to be found during the match. 

One of the earliest examples of Battle Royale games was a mod for the popular game “Minecraft“. For those of you who remember, Minecraft Survival Games was a game mode where 24 players would scavenge for food and weapons. Gameplay heavily borrowed from “The Hunger Games” featuring a cornucopia in the middle of the map and death bells. 

Minecraft Hunger Games | Minecraft AWESOME Wiki | Fandom
The starting area of Minecraft Survival Games. Not a dropzone in sight.

Popularity

The sudden growth of the Battle Royale genre was skyrocketed by two things. The first was the release of “Fortnite” in 2017. The second was game streaming. 

While another game, Player Unknown’s Battleground, was released earlier that year, it wasn’t until Fortnite hit the market that the genre took the world by storm. “Fortnite” broke away from the realistic, gritty, and droll style that was common in “Arma” mods. Instead, it fashioned a much more cartoony and welcoming style that made it stand out. Probably the most important aspect that led to its success was that it was free-to-play. This opened the floodgates for new fans who wanted to try out a Battle Royale but did not feel like paying $30 for PUBG. For a comparison of the two games follow this link.

New Fortnite Chapter 2 - Season 2 Release Date
Fortnite’s more cartoony art style

The streaming industry would also play a role in the rise of its popularity. YouTubers and Twitch streamers were already popular due to their content in competitive games. However, the advent of the Battle Royale gave streamers a new outlet. This also brought the games to the attention of even more viewers.

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds more gritty look.

It is safe to say that Battle Royale games became the new cash cow. Developers became eager to jump on the bandwagon and milk it for all it was worth. Activision did it with “Call of Duty Blackout”, EA tried it with “Battlefield Firestorm”, even Valve updated “Counter-Strike” with “Danger Zone”. 

Keeping the Flame Alive

Nowadays, there are plenty of Battle Royale games to choose from. The industry understands that the game-mode is not only popular but heavily marketable in the competitive gaming scene. So how long until the formula gets stale? Going forwards developers need to keep the genre fresh. There are only so many times that you can announce yet another Battle Royale where the goal is to fall from the sky, collect equipment, and avoid the circle. Brand recognition can help sell your contribution to the genre, but even then, the player base will gravitate towards more established titles. 

In 2019 Respawn Entertainment dropped “Apex Legends” into the mix. Its release came as a surprise to gamers everywhere as there had been no marketing leading up to its reveal. Like “Fortnite“, “Apex Legends” was free to play and quickly gained millions of players within the first few days. Playing in squads was nothing new to the Battle Royale experience, however, this new game revolved around teamwork.

Hero shooters were also gaining traction at the time. “Apex Legends” made use of this gameplay mechanic by having teams comprised of a variety of different characters. Now you had to think more about what hero to choose and how their different abilities could help your team. 

Apex Legends' isn't 'Titanfall 3', and that's okay | Engadget
Apex Legends features teams of three.

A New Chapter

While Battle Royale games have mostly made their home within the Third Person Shooter ( TPS) and the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre, change has been looming around the corner.

In 2019 “Tetris 99” became available for free for Nintendo Online users. It took the classic gameplay of “Tetris” but made it a competition of 99 players. “Tetris 99” was a small start in what soon would be another chapter for Battle Royales. 

Tetris® 99 for Nintendo Switch - Nintendo Game Details
Complete rows to make the challenge harder for your opponents.

Earlier this year, “Devolver Digital” dropped “Fall Guys” on Steam and the Playstation 4. Unlike the games that came before it, “Fall Guys” took a more gameshow like approach to its gameplay. Here, players would compete in a series of obstacle courses and team games. The goal would be to qualify for the next round in a certain amount of time. Once again, a free to play aspect helped boost its popularity. It was made available as a PlayStation Plus game during the month of August.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout on Steam
Fall Guys features solo and team challenges.

Fall Guys opened a brand new door. No longer was the idea rooted only to TPS and FPS titles. Anything could potentially be combined with the basic elements that make up a Battle Royale. For Mario’s 35th anniversary Nintendo released “Mario Bros 35” which borrowed some elements from “Tetris 99” to create a free for all experience. 

This is not the only game that came through the open door. Earlier this week a new title was announced, “Vampire: The Masquerade Battle Royale”. Once again we see the game mode begin to mingle with other seemingly unrelated titles. This time with a vampire theme that intertwines gunplay and melee combat. Check out the trailer here.

Vampire: The Masquerade is spawning a battle royale | Rock Paper Shotgun
Vampire: the Masquerade and RPG game, gets a Battle Royale.

So what’s next for Battle Royale games? Will they sink or will they grow legs and breach the surface? Only time will tell but current changes in the formula point to a gradual shift in focus and more experimental titles. Give it a year or two and we might see something like a “Tomb Raider” Royale or even an “Alien” Battle Royale. The possibility is endless as long as there is a market for it. Until then, let’s keep aiming for that “chicken dinner”. 

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