Battle royale game
A battle royale game is an online multiplayer video game genre that blends the survival, exploration, and scavenging elements of a survival game with last-man-standing gameplay. Battle royale games involve a large number of players, ranging from dozens to hundreds, that start with minimal equipment who then must eliminate all other opponents while avoiding being trapped outside of a shrinking "safe area", with the winner being the last player or team alive. The name for the genre is taken from the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale, which presents a similar theme of a last-man-standing competition in a shrinking play zone.
The genre's origins arose from mods for large-scale online survival games like Minecraft and ARMA 2 in the early 2010s. By the end of the decade, the genre became a cultural phenomenon, with standalone games such as PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Fortnite Battle Royale and Apex Legends each having received tens of millions of players within months of their releases.
Battle royale games are played between a large number of individual players, pairs of two players or a number of small squads (typically of 3-5 players). In each match, the goal is to be the last player or team standing by eliminating all other opponents. A match starts by placing the player-characters into a large map space, typically by having all players skydive from a large aircraft within a brief time limit. The map may have random distribution or allow players to have some control of where they start. All players start with minimal equipment, giving no player an implicit advantage at the onset. Equipment, usually used for combat, survival or transport is randomly scattered around the map, often at landmarks on the map, such as within buildings in ghost towns. Players need to search the map for these items while avoid being killed by other players, who cannot be visually marked or distinguishable either on-screen or on the map, requiring the player to solely use their own eyes and ears to deduce their positions. Equipment from eliminated players can usually be looted as well. These games often include some mechanic to push opponents closer together as the game progresses, usually taking the form of a gradually shrinking safe zone, with players outside of the zone eventually being killed.
Typically, battle royale contestants are only given one life to play; any players who die are not allowed to respawn. Games with team support may allow players to enter a temporary, near-death state once health is depleted, giving allies the opportunity to revive them before they give out or are finished off by an opponent. The match is over when only one player or team remains, and the game typically provides some type of reward, such as in-game currency used for cosmetic items, to all players based on how long they survived. The random nature of starting point, item placement, and safe area reduction enables the battle royale genre to challenge players to think and react quickly and improve strategies throughout the match as to be the last man/team standing. In addition to standalone games, the battle royale concept may also be present as part of one of many game modes within a larger game, or may be applied as a user-created mod created for another game.
There are various modifications that can be implemented atop the fundamentals of the battle royale. For example, Fortnite introduced a temporary mode in an event which is 50-versus-50 player mode in its Fortnite Battle Royale free-to-play game; players are assigned one of the two teams, and work with their teammates to collect resources and weapons towards constructing fortifications as the safe area of the game shrinks down, with the goal to eliminate all the players on the other team.
Early games (2012–2016)
Formulative elements of the battle royale genre had existed prior the 2010s. Gameplay modes featuring last man standing rules has been a frequent staple of multiplayer online action games though generally with fewer total players as early as 1990's Bomberman which introduced multiplayer game modes, with players, all starting with the same minimal abilities, collected power ups and fought until the last players was left standing. The elements of scavenging and surviving on a large open-world map were popularized through survival games.
Shortly after the release of the 2012 film The Hunger Games, a server plug-in named Hunger Games (later changed to Survival Games) was developed for Minecraft. Survival Games takes inspiration from the film, initially placing players at the center of the map near a set of equipment chests. When the game commences, players can compete over the central resources or spread out to find items stored in chests scattered around the play area. Players killed are eliminated and the last surviving player wins the match.
In 2016, a battle royale mobile game, Btooom Online, was developed and released in Japan. It was based on the 2009 manga Btooom, which in turn was inspired by the Japanese film Battle Royale. Despite some initial success on the Japanese mobile charts, Btooom Online became a commercial failure.
In DayZ, a mod for ARMA 2, players struggle alongside or against each other to obtain basic necessities to continue living in a persistent sandbox filled with various dangers. These games were designed to include player versus player encounters, but generally these events were infrequent due to the size of the game's map and the persistence of the game world. This led to the development of game mods that sacrificed ARMA 2/DayZ open-endedness in favor of focusing on more frequent hostile interactions between players to determine an eventual winner.
Formation of standalone games (2017–2018)
While formative elements of the battle royale genre had been established before 2017, the genre was defined and grew out from two principal titles through 2017 and 2018: PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, followed by Fortnite Battle Royale. Both games drew tens of millions of players in short periods of time, proving them as commercial successes and leading to future growth after 2018.
PlayerUnknown's Battleground was created by Brendan Greene, its title based on his online alias "PlayerUnknown". The game was based on a previous Battle Royale mod for ARMA 2/DayZ that first released in 2013. This mod was directly inspired by the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale, which told the story of a number of students transported to an island and forced to battle each other to be the sole survivor, lending to the mod's name. In Greene's case, to differ his offering from Hunger Games-inspired mods, he designed the mod to randomly scatter weapons around the map instead of from a central repository. Greene updated this mode for ARMA 3 when the DayZ team opted to release their game as a standalone game. Greene continued to adopt his format as a consultant for H1Z1: King of the Kill before becoming the creative developer at Bluehole of a standalone game representing his vision of the battle royale genre, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. While Battlegrounds was not the first battle royale game, its release to early access in March 2017 drew a great deal of attention, selling over twenty million copies by the end of the year, and is considered the defining game of the genre. In September 2017, the game broke the previous record for highest number of concurrent players on Steam, with over 1.3 million users playing the game simultaneously. Battlegrounds' explosive growth and how it established the battle royale genre was considered one of the top trends in the video game industry in 2017.
Prior to and near Battlegrounds' release, games from other developers took inspiration from highly played battle royale-style mods, as well as the popularity of The Hunger Games film series, which first premiered in 2012. Ark: Survival Evolved by Studio Wildcard introduced its "Survival of the Fittest" mode in July 2015, which was geared to be used for eSports tournaments. The mode was temporarily broken off as its own free-to-play game during 2016 before the developers opted to merge it back into the main game for ease of maintenance of the overall game. Battlegrounds' popularity created a new interest in the battle royale genre. Numerous games that copied the fundamental gameplay of Battlegrounds appeared in China, shortly after Battlegrounds' release.
Epic Games had released Fortnite, a cooperative survival game, into early access near the release of Battlegrounds. Epic saw the potential to create their own battle royale mode, and by September 2017, released the free-to-play Fortnite Battle Royale which combined some of the survival elements and mechanics from the main Fortnite game with the Battle Royale gameplay concept. The game saw similar player counts as Battlegrounds, with twenty million unique players reported by Epic Games by November 2017. Bluehole expressed concern at this move, less due to being a clone of Battlegrounds, but more so that they had been working with Epic Games for technical support of the Unreal Engine in Battlegrounds, and thus they were worried that Fortnite may be able to include planned features to their battle royale mode before they could release those in Battlegrounds. Battleground's developer, PUBG Corporation, filed a lawsuit against Epic in South Korea in January 2018 claiming Fortnite Battle Royale infringements on Battlegrounds' copyrights. Market observers predicted that there would be little likelihood of Bluehole winning the case, as it would be difficult to establish the originality of PUBG in court due to the battle royale game genre, which includes both PUBG and Fortnite Battle Royale, being derived from the Japanese film Battle Royale. By the end of June 2018, the lawsuit had been closed by PUBG, under undisclosed reasons.
In 2018, Fortnite Battle Royale surpassed Battlegrounds in revenue, which was attributed to its free-to-play business model and cross-platform support, as well as its accessibility to casual players. Battlegrounds creator Brendan Greene credited it with growing the battle royale genre. Its mainstream publicity further increased following a stream by Tyler "Ninja" Blevins with Drake, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Travis Scott. which set a Twitch.tv record for concurrent viewership. It accumulated a total playerbase of 45 million in January and 3.4 million concurrent players in February. Polygon labeled it "the biggest game of 2018" and "a genuine cultural phenomenon", with "everyone from NFL players to famous actors" playing it, including Red Sox player Xander Bogaerts and Bayern Munich's youth team borrowing celebrations from the game.
Other popular battle royale games released in 2017, inspired by the success of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, include two NetEase titles, Rules of Survival and mobile game Knives Out, and the mobile game Garena Free Fire by Garena. Each of these games have received hundreds of millions of players, mostly in Asia, by 2018.
Mainstream popularity (2018–present)
With the success of Battlegrounds and Fortnite, the battle royale genre expanded greatly. Major publishers, including Electronic Arts Activision, and Ubisoft have acknowledged the impact of the growing genre and impact on their future plans. Activision's Call of Duty series features a battle royale mode titled "Blackout" in its 2018 installment, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, while EA's Battlefield V also includes a battle royale mode. Some other established games added battle royale-inspired gamemodes in updates, such as Grand Theft Auto Online, Paladins, Dota 2, Battlerite, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. In February 2019, EA released a free-to-play battle royale game called Apex Legends, which exceeded 50 million player accounts within a month of its release.
The battle royale approach has also been used in games from genres not normally associated with shooter games. Tetris 99 is a 2019 game released by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch that has 99 players simultaneously competing in a game of Tetris. Players can direct "attacks" on other players for each line they complete, attempting to remain the last player standing. While there have been several successful battle royale games, the genre has seen a number of games have bursts of popularity before their concurrent player count drops. In contrast to other multiplayer-only games, the large number of players typically involved in battle royale games generally require a large enough concurrent player base for matchmaking in a reasonable amount of time. The Culling, by Xaviant Studios, was released in early access in 2016, and was designed to be a streaming-friendly battle royale mode for 16 players. However, following the release of Battlegrounds, The Culling lost much of its player base, and a few months after releasing the full version of the game, Xaviant announced they were ending further development on it to move onto other projects. Radical Heights by Boss Key Productions was launched in April 2018 but within two weeks had lost 80% of its player base. SOS, a battle royale game released by Outpost Games in December 2017, had its player counts drop into the double-digits by May 2018, leading Outpost to announced the game's closure by November 2018.
The Chinese government, through its Audio and Video and Numeral Publishing Association, stated in October 2017 that it will discourage its citizens from playing battle royale games as they deem them too violent, which "deviates from the values of socialism and is deemed harmful to young consumers", as translated by Bloomberg. Gaming journals in the west thus speculated that this would make it difficult or impossible to publish battle royale within the country. In November 2017, PUBG Corporation announced its partnership with Tencent to publish the game in China, making some changes in the game to "make sure they accord with socialist core values, Chinese traditional culture and moral rules" to satisfy Chinese regulations and censors. However, during mid-2018, the Chinese government revamped how it reviewed and classified games that are to be published in China, and by December 2018, after the formation of the new Online Ethics Review Committee, several battle royale titles, including Fortnite and PUBG, were listed as prohibited or must be withdrawn from play. Despite the concern that PUBG Corporation and Tencent were taking with Chinese release, a large number of clones of Battlegrounds have come out in China already, and created a new genre there called "chicken-eating game", named based on the congratulatory line to the last player standing in Battlegrounds, "Winner winner chicken dinner!"
The rapid growth and success of the battle royale genre has been attributed to several factors, including the way all players start in the same vulnerable state and eliminating any intrinsic advantage for players, and being well-suited for being a spectator eSport. Other factors including specific games' business models, such as Fortnite Battle Royale being free and available across computers, consoles, and mobile devices. A University of Utah professor also considers that battle royale games realize elements of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a scheme to describe human motivation, more-so than video games have in the past. While the lowest tiers of Maslow's hierarchy, physiological and safety, are met by the survival elements of battle royales, the love/belonging and esteem tiers are a result of the battle royale being necessarily a social and competitive game, and the final tier of self-actualization comes from becoming skilled in the game to win frequently.
Business Insider projected that battle royale games would bring in over $2 billion during 2018, and would grow to $20 billion in 2019. SuperData Research reported that, in 2018, the three top-grossing battle royale games (Fortnite, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4) generated nearly $4 billion in combined digital revenue. Sensor Tower reported that 2018's top three most-downloaded mobile battle royale games (PUBG Mobile, Garena Free Fire and Fortnite) received over 500 million downloads combined that year. The most-played battle royale games include PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds with over 400 million players, NetEase's mobile game Knives Out with over 250 million players, Fortnite Battle Royale with nearly 250 million players, Rules of Survival with 230 million players, and Garena Free Fire with over 180 million players.
Turtle Beach Corporation, a manufacturer of headphones and microphones for gaming, reported an increase of over 200% in net revenues for the second quarter of 2018 over the same quarter in 2017, which they attributed to the popularity of the battle royale genre.
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