Past, present and future of the battle royale: everyone wants their own PUBG

It is evident that in video games, as in almost everything, there are fashions and trends. In our world, the new ideas flow and can affect both a single mechanics (detective vision, crafting, loot boxes …) and a complete genre (beat’em up, platforms, FPS, MOBA …).

Although the game is an extremely versatile medium, looking back we can find certain kinds of games that have been marking certain cycles within the industry. Lately and unexpectedly a new subgenre has gained strength within survival and action games; we speak, of course, of the battle royale, which has found in ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ its maximum exponent.

A battle royale style game basically consists in letting the players lose in a huge map with a safe area that narrows. Usually, the player starts with nothing or a very basic team which is improved by killing their opponents. The main rule is that there will only be one winner and it will be the one that survived throughout the game. Little more.

Although the name of this subgenre is a direct reference to the Japanese film ‘Battle Royale’ (directed by Kinji Fukasaku and premiered in 2000), its first manifestations in the video game do not occur until the arrival on the big screen of the adaptation from ‘The Hambr’e Games ; Suzanne Collins’ book poses a dystopian society in which each year two boys from each district face death until there is only one left.

The premises of these works – both ‘Battle Royale’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ – sought to investigate the human mind putting adolescents in extreme situations of survival, but what wanted to be a social criticism and a reflection around the ” homo homini lupus “ended up leaving behind the materialization of the fantasy of being able to become, literally, the king of the hill. Here there are no difficult moral decisions, where there is no empathy for the other; the only thing that exists is direct competition, killing or being killed, a violent ambition to be the only winner of the game.

The mods as the origin of the subgenre

The genre came to the video game becoming morbid that you yourself can be the protagonist of one of those movies. And not only do you have no regrets about ending your opponents’ lives, but your only objective is that. Kill, get better equipment and win.

With that idea, one of the first mods that planted the seed of the successful subgenre was born; some players developed a new model for ‘Minecraft’ that curiously was called “The Hunger Games”. Its launch was a success. He triumphed among YouTubers and soon became popular in such a way that he ended up being part of the official Mojang game modes.

Something similar happened with ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battle Royale’, a modification of ‘DayZ’, which in turn was one of Arma II’s best-known mods. This new game mode was developed by Brendan Greene – aka PlayerUnknown – with the sole purpose of giving a twist to traditional shooters by avoiding small maps that players could memorize easily. With this first step, Greene won a good part of the users of ‘DayZ’, who accompanied him when the zombie mod became standalone and the developer hit the jump to Arma III adapting ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battle Royale’ to the new delivery of the Bohemia Interactive franchise.

Unexpected success: like blood for sharks

With a large community behind him, Greene decided to follow in the footsteps of ‘DayZ’ and turned his mod into a standalone game; he changed the name to ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ and published it in Steam Early Access in March 2017. By August of that same year Brendan Greene’s game had already surpassed the record of one million active users, and in September it reached 10 millions of downloads on Steam. Currently ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ has more than 2 million active users and more than 20 million people own the game, which has not yet come out of the early access. An incontestable mass phenomenon.

Evidently ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ is not the only battle royale video game; there are many more examples out there, like ‘H1Z1’, ‘The Culling’ or ‘Last Man Standing’ (which curiously premiered six days after the release of ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’), but for some reason Greene’s game is the only one that has achieved enough success to overtake Steam heavyweights as ‘Dota 2’ or ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’ in number of active users.

The unexpected success of this game is also supported by the fact that several companies like Epic Games or the Japanese Tencent (owner of Riot Games) have already set their sights on the subgenre: the first with a battle royale mode for ‘Fortnite’ ( that, to top it off, it has distributed free on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and MAC), while the second has already announced an adaptation of the genre to mobile phones that will be launched in China under the name of ‘Glorious Mission’ .

Now that ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ has shown that the battle royale like the general public all companies want a piece of the pie. At the moment we have ‘Fortnite Battle Royale’ running (not exempt from accusations of plagiarism on the part of Greener) and the Chinese version of Tencent with its focus on the Asian market.

Also at the Microsoft conference during E3 2017 we saw the appearance of a battle royale game of aesthetics similar to ‘The Hunger Games’ that was presented under the name of ‘The Darwin Project’ , and certainly if we inquire about the different digital video game stores we will find several cheap clones of ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’. Even Rockstar took advantage of the reef by updating ‘GTA Online’ with a battle royale mode.

But there comes a point where the latest fad stops being, the revelation game settles, finds its hardcore audience (usually smaller in number) and lets the midcore fly into another mass phenomenon. The question that needs to be asked now is: how long will this fashion last and how many similar games can it support? Anyone knows. At the moment ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ is still the king of the hill, but the next game has already started and the rest of the opponents have a much better team, so the strategy to use will be vital to ensure survival. We’ll see how long this round lasts.