When we look at gaming in the 21st century, the “battle royale” genre is nothing if not a common phrase. But it’s only been that way for around the last three to four years. When thinking about battle royale games, the one that comes to mind first is probably Fortnite which has been taking the world by storm not only in the gaming community but in pop culture.
With the success of games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone, battle royale games are some of the most popular live-service games available right now. This is, in part, thanks to the simplicity of the concept of the game. X number of players load into a map with a random assortment of weapons, the last player, or team, standing wins. This makes it fairly easy for players and viewers alike, to catch onto and grow a larger player base.
But if the idea is easy, how is this genre only a few years old? To answer that, we actually have to go back eight years, to a game called ARMA 3.
What is ARMA 3?
Image source: Bohemia Interactive
Released in 2013, ARMA 3 is an open-world military tactical shooter developed by Bohemia Interactive. Set in the mid-2030s on islands in the Aegean Sea, the single-player campaign sets the player as a U.S. Army soldier in a variety of campaigns. Aside from the player’s main missions, the game was also regularly updated with multiplayer additions, and DLC releases even as recent as this year.
As a PC game available through Steam, the ARMA 3 modding community is massive, to say the least. There are 90,000 mods available through the Steam Workshop that add terrain, vehicles, weapons, and more. This ability to change the game is one of the major reasons players continue to return to it over the years. While the options are massive, there is one mod that has stood out above the rest throughout the years and even erupted a new genre that’s taken the world by storm.
Image source: PUBG corporation
Before we can even begin to discuss Arma 3, we have to look back at Arma 2. Photographer and Graphic Designer Brendan Greene was no game developer but, thanks to the Steam Workshop, began creating mods for Arma 2. His most notable was in 2013 titled DayZ: Battle Royale, named after the “DayZ” Arma 2 mod and inspired by the Japanese film Battle Royale. Greene felt that most multiplayer shooters were repetitive and wanted to create something that was randomized so that players wouldn’t know what to expect. He also stated that he took inspiration from the Hunger Games novels where players would choose from a stockpile of weapons and resources and the last one living, won.
DayZ eventually became its own title, which made the interest in his Battle Royale mod falter. It was then that Greene began working on the same concept for Arma 3. Seeing the success of his battle royale mods, Greene caught the attention of Sony Online Entertainment (now the Daybreak Game Company). Sony brought him on to consult, as they were in the process of splitting their game H1Z1 into two games - a survival mode and a battle royale-like mode. H1Z1 King of the Kill then became the first early “official” battle royale style game released officially by a studio
Image source: PUBG Corporation
After his consultation period, Greene was approached by Seoul-based Bluehole Games. At the head was Chang-han Kim who had enjoyed DayZ and noticed the battle royale format hadn’t caught on in Korea. He wanted to make a standalone battle royale game that would run as a service to support it for years to come. Kim offered Greene the opportunity to work on the project and just a few weeks later he became the Creative Director of the studio.
Development of this new game began in 2016 and Bluehole announced it would be released within a year. The plan was to develop it quickly and then go through an early access period to add updates and ensure stability. Early access began in 2017 and the anticipation of the game was so high that it made over $11m in its first three days. Even though the game was available for players, it wasn’t completed. This early access time period was meant to last six months but was then extended to the end of the year. Feedback during the early access period was more than what Bluehole expected which led to server stability issues before release. After loads of work and patches, PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS (as it was then known) finally came out of early access in December.
The reception from the gaming community was overwhelming. Even though it wasn’t the first battle royale game to be released, it was certainly the first to truly take the gaming world by storm. The early access phase surpassed player-count records of popular titles like Dota 2 and most media outlets credited that to the game’s growing player base over the early access period.
The battle royale genre ignites
The popularity of the game sparked other game developers to try their hand at releasing games of a similar style in the new genre. Most notably, Epic Games added a battle royale mode to their already released game, Fortnite, which had a separate multiplayer mode. One Epic developer stated that he loves battle royale games “like Battlegrounds” and wanted to find a way to make a similar mode with Fortnite’s engine. Now, Fortnite is one of the most popular games in the world with in-game events like an Ariana Grande concert, and movie trailers.
Like Epic Games, Respawn Entertainment already had a game developed and released, Titanfall 2. While developers were working on figuring out what their next game would be, PUBG was rising in success. Developers saw that and decided to apply the concept to the universe they had already created with Titanfall. Respawn kept the concept the same for their new game but added other variables such as giving players options of Titanfall “Legends” to choose from that all had their own special abilities. This changed the model of everyone dropping as the same base character.
Future of the genre
Image source: IGDB
Since PUBG’s release, other developers have put their own spin on the genre in different ways. Activision Blizzard added battle royale modes to their Call of Duty Games in Black Ops 4 and Modern Warfare. The latter, Call of Duty: Warzone was later released as a standalone game.
Nintendo put their spin on the genre by releasing a version for Tetris titled Tetris 99 where players simultaneously compete in a game of Tetris while directly “attacking” other players to knock them out. Mediatonic also created their own version; Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. The game consisted of 60 players that would compete in a series of obstacle courses and the last one standing would be the winner.
It’s safe to say the battle royale genre isn’t slowing down with various developers putting their own spin on the concept and it’s paying off. In 2018, the three top-grossing battle royale games—Fortnite, PUBG, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4—generated nearly $4 billion in combined revenue. That number continues to grow as more battle royale games and modes are developed every year, all stemming from a single modded military game.
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How Apex Legends succeeds where other battle royale games fail
You may look at the battle royale genre and think it’s fairly crowded at the moment, but in reality, it has far fewer games in it than other major gaming genres. That hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most popular genres around, though. So how have the games shaped up? Let’s take a deep dive into Apex Legends and see what sets it apart from its rivals.
What are battle royale games?
When Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene started modding ARMA 2, he just wanted a cool new way to play his favorite games. Inspired by concepts he’d seen in movies, Greene created a mod that forced players into smaller and smaller areas of the map in a fight to the death.