Video games like Fortnite and Apex Legends are hitting milestones that had never been thought possible in the gaming industry. Fortnite, which is free to play, has made an annual revenue of $2.4 billion USD in 2018, and Apex Legends took less than 30 days to get 50 million unique players, shattering previous records. Both of these games are in the new genre called battle royale, which has been on a steady increase in popularity with each game.
The battle royale is a game of survival. The concept and name come from the Japanese movie Battle Royale, released in 2000 and based on the 1999 novel of the same name. In these types of games, the player’s goal is to eliminate and outlast other opponents to be the last person or team standing. Games can accommodate anywhere from just a few players to over a hundred. To prevent games from lasting hours, the playable area on the map gets smaller and smaller as the game progresses, pushing players closer and closer together, encouraging conflict between them.
The first game that really started the trend was PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Shortly after PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds release in March 2017, the other major first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield made their own variants. Other games like Apex Legends, Realm Royale, and H1Z1 Battle Royale have continued to compete with each other pushing the envelope. However, when different battle royale games come out new successful ideas are soon copied by the competitors. For example, when Apex Legends came out players were amazed at how the pinging system solved the problem of strangers playing together cohesively without a mic. Fortnite’s game developers took notice of this useful tool and put their own spin on it in their game.
The huge popularity of the battle royale genre can be greatly attributed to the success of Fortnite. Released in July 2017, the game quickly gained a huge following. This crowd-pleasing game brought in the biggest amount of viewers and players and is the most played and popular battle royale game. Fortnite holds the record for the most concurrent players, with just over 10.7 million. At GDC 2019 Fortnite announced the title had now reached 250 million registered players. Ninja, who is arguably the most popular player is estimated to make $500,000 USD a month playing and streaming the game.
Fortnite‘s success can be credited to several factors, one of the most important being its cross-platform availability. This game is available on iOS, Android, PC, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and PS4, and unlike most other online games, players can play against others on different systems. No other game has seen this scale of compatibility between platforms.
The graphics and aesthetic appeal to a wide audience. Most battle royale games are rated “mature,” featuring graphic violence and lots of blood, so younger players sometimes aren’t allowed to play them. However, Fortnite has a cartoonish and fun look to it that has garnered the approval of parents. It is rated “teen” because it is a shooter game, but there’s no blood and no dead bodies lying around the map. The map has fun vehicles and mini-games to play, and it is not a warzone or post-apocalyptic world like many other games. At the same time, it’s not so childish that adults don’t want to play. Weekly and monthly updates also contribute to its success. New items, skins, and weapons are added at a consistent rate. Epic listens to their community, so when changes need to be made they consider what the public and community want.
The huge success of the battle royale genre and the popularity of Fortnite has led to the creation of the Fortnite World Cup competition beginning in April 2019. There will be $100 million USD in competitive prizes in total and the solo champion will walk away with $3 million of it to be awarded at the end of July.
The success of the genre has not been without its downsides. A Bloomberg article reports on how video games have become an addiction. An example in the article describes how a 17-year-old from Saginaw, Michigan has been logging into Fortnite about twelve hours a day. His grades have plummeted, he falls asleep in class, and his life is becoming the game. “We’d made some progress in getting him to cut down his Fortnite hours and get better sleep, but he’s slipped back on some old habits,” his Mom said in an interview. “I’ve never seen a game that has such control over kids’ minds.”
The same report describes how the Vancouver Canucks have also come across trouble due to playing the game. The organization had such a hard time getting players to meetings and dinners on time they banned Fortnite on the road.
Battle royales can become very addicting, but they have come to define the multiplayer first-person shooter. Previously popular games modes like team deathmatch, kill confirmed and search and destroy are considered repetitive and dull by comparison. In battle royales, every situation is different, resulting in random and adrenaline-fueling gameplay. For those reasons, players keep coming back to the genre and sticking with it–sometimes too much.