Battle Royale – what the hell is going on? It seems like it was only a week ago that this mode (or should we call it a genre?) came into being, and today it’s the most talked about, played and viewed game type in the world! What happened? Games like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds have ushered us into the era of the Battle Royale and the trend doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon, with numerous new games being announced – some of which will be primarily focused on this game mode, whereas others will include it as part of their multiplayer online offer. 2018 sure looks like it’s the year of the Battle Royale, with its looting, hectic skirmishes, intense adrenaline and urge to survive, climaxing with that incredibly rewarding feeling of being the last player standing. What is behind this phenomenon? Will it live on, or is it just a passing trend?
The term Battle Royale was first coined by Koushun Takami, a Japanese writer who used the phrase as the title for his dystopian horror novel – a book about junior high school students forced to fight each other to the death by the authoritarian Japanese government! In 2000, a movie by the same name and inspired by the book was produced, further cementing the phrase to mean “death match with one survivor”. Later, the success of the Hunger Games trilogy (both the books and the movies) proved that the “last man standing” format is a deeply engaging one to the public, perhaps drawing on some deep-seated urges rooted in our evolutionary psychology.
Of course, the next logical step was to translate the genre to the media probably best suited to this type of entertainment – video games! It’s one thing to watch Katniss fight for her survival, but completely another to be put in those shoes and try to survive by yourself! So, the Battle Royale mode was born – back in 2012 a Hunger Games (later renamed to Survival Games) feature was developed for Minecraft. This mode had players spawning around a map with equipment chests scattered all over the place and fighting for survival. Similar modes were created for games such as DayZ/ARMA and H1Z1 by Brendan Greene, a developer known by his online alias “PlayerUnknown”. He later took the knowledge from working on these game modes and created his own standalone game as a creative developer at Bluehole, a game we all have come to know under the name “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds”. In 2017, the game broke the record for highest number of concurrent players, with a whopping 1,348,374 players competing at the game simultaneously. A truly remarkable feat, to be sure!
The gameplay that defines a Battle Royale mode is simple – take a set amount of players (100 seems to be working well), drop them off at a location with limited resources and have them fight to the death until there is only one left. It’s so obvious, yet it wasn’t done until back in 2012, and even then it was just a mode, not played by many. It took years to open our eyes up to the gripping engagement this type of game mode brings – developers of first-person shooters were so long under the impression that the enjoyment of an FPS game comes from constant battles and knee-jerk reactions, that popular games like Call of Duty and others had, where you repeatedly respawn, constantly shooting and killing other players and dying yourself. In contrast, when you die in a Battle Royale game, you’ve lost the match – that’s it! Game over, you can go ahead and enter a new game lobby. This causes players to play more cautiously, making sure to upgrade their character sufficiently and collect enough gear that their chances of survival are as high as possible before they start meeting enemies. So, gameplay slows down, matches are more intense and adrenaline-packed, and each kill and death brings so much more weight and satisfaction or grievance, that you’re deeply moved when it happens. As the number of players alive keeps dwindling down from the starting hundred towards that last couple of hard-core contenders, the atmosphere becomes palpable – almost like you’re reaching the finale of your favorite series!
This is another factor behind the seemingly unexplainable success of Battle Royale games – each game is a story, with its characters, story arc and clearly defined beginning, middle and end. This is why it’s so gripping for players and viewers alike – the popular streaming platform Twitch has noted that viewer counts increase as a player’s match nears closure and only a few contenders are left alive – everybody wants to see the climax of the story! Will our protagonist survive against all odds, or will they get killed in bloody carnage? Another thing behind the success of Battle Royale, when stream viewership is concerned, is the mode’s natural tendency towards irregular intervals of intense action. This allows for more time in which streamers can engage with their audience, answer questions or explain the reasons behind their actions. A better interaction with chat leads to higher audience satisfaction, which in turn brings higher viewer counts, which then means more money for everyone involved!
A study done concerning the psychology behind the motivation of MMO gamers could offer some clues as to why Battle Royale is so successful. The study divided the psychological engagement of the players down into 5 categories, and they hit so close to home that we can easily see why Battle Royale games are breaking the internet right now. These five categories are as follows: Achievement, Competence, Choice, Social and Story – each with its unique influence on the overall satisfaction of the players. Let’s break it down:
Achievement – Battle Royale games place a high value on the progression of your character. You begin almost like in the title of a Discovery TV show – Naked and Afraid. However, as you successfully navigate the map in search of weapons, armor, vehicles and other equipment, you get more capable to survive an encounter with enemy players.
Competence – Skill always plays an important role in online competitive games, as gamers vigorously seek that feeling of validation that flows over your entire body when you make a successful play. Every online player is familiar with the concepts of “pro” vs “noob”, and everyone would like to be in the former category. Battle Royale games hit this button accurately, with everyone going after that sweet “last man standing” victory moment.
Choice – Having your choice influence the development of the story for you and everyone else involved is one of the principal pleasures of gaming as a whole, and Battle Royale games offer you plenty of choices. Will you camp around until there’s only a few of you left, increasing your chances to win? Will you be a trigger-happy maniac who shoots first and asks questions later? Is it better to use the sniper or the RPG? Every moment in Battle Royale brings an important decision. Make the right one or you’re out!
Social Factor – making friends and playing against your real life buddies can be considered one of the best advantages of gaming, as players enjoy increasing their network with new people from all over the world. This is true of stream viewers as well, as many of them keep coming back to the same stream to hang around with like-minded individuals as well as possibly have a word or two with the streamer.
Story – another factor successfully incorporated in Battle Royale. As we said before, each Battle Royale match can be considered a narrative of its own, with its exposition, climax, and resolution. The choices you make will influence the development of your story, and in the end, you’ll be left with a one of a kind experience, even though each match starts exactly alike. Will you have more success as the scavenger, gathering increasingly better weapons while evading conflict or as the aggressive warrior, fighting everyone in their path?
So, will the genre stick, or is it just a fad, soon to be replaced by something new and better? It seems developers are betting on the former option! Currently, PUBG and Fortnite are the two big contenders in the Battle Royale world, but it looks like many more will be joining their ranks. Some players have voiced concerns that the Battle Royale mode will just get watered down by new additions, dividing up the player base in smaller and smaller camps until there’s nothing cohesive left, with the gameplay dwindling in quality to accommodate new demands in the speed of development and device compatibility. Others, however, believe the Battle Royale genre enforces guidelines definitive enough to make it a standalone mode, while still not being overly restrictive – meaning a plethora of new and exciting combinations are available, with distinct ways to upgrade your character, navigate the map and conquer the opposition.
In our personal opinion, they might be on to something! It looked like PUBG had perfected the genre, but then along came Fortnite with its base-building, allowing players to construct defenses as they skirmish around the map. We’re excited to see what new innovations the games currently in development will bring. This next period will see several new Battle Royale games hit the screens, with titles such as Paladins Battlegrounds, SOS, The Darwin Project, Dying Light Bad Blood, Islands of Nyne, Europa, Stand Out: Battle Royale VR and Survival Arena Battle Royale being developed. It looks like the future of Battle Royale will be made in the next few months, so we’re excited to see if this game mode will fade into oblivion or if it will join the ranks of already established modes like Capture the Flag, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. Or, should we say – will it get killed or be the last mode standing?