In games like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), one hundred warriors are dropped onto an island to scavenge for equipment and weapons before a brutal fight to the death. Last man standing wins! – it’s these elements that define one of the most exciting video game genres to have emerged in the last decade, the “Battle Royale”.
The Battle Royale genre has risen from relative obscurity to become one of the biggest phenomena in the gaming world. PUBG hit the headlines in a big way in 2017 as the game sold more than 50 million copies on the PC and Xbox consoles that year. It gained further prominence with the launch of PUBG mobile in 2018, which had a whopping 65 million active players in 2020 and generated over $2.6 billion in revenue that year, and still counts more than 35 million active players even today.
Epic Games helped grow the popularity of battle royale even further with the launch of its free-to-play Fortnite Battle Royale on the PlayStation and Xbox in 2018. It rapidly rose to claim an even bigger audience than PUBG, setting a world record with 3.4 million concurrent players all playing the game at the same moment in February of that year.
The Battle Royale format has proven to be a huge money-spinner for developers, with Statista revealing that the genre generated $12.6 billion in sales in 2018 and even more in subsequent years. What’s more, there seems to be no sign of the thirst for bloody battles to the death dying down. With the coming launch of titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which is expected to include battle royale gameplay, it’s clear that millions of people all over the world can’t get enough of the thrill.
The success of PUBG and Fortnite has resulted in the birth of dozens of imitators, and there are more reasons behind this than just the insane popularity of those games. For video game developers, Battle Royale games are appealing in other ways too. As Epic Games showed with Fortnite, which began life as a cooperative, tower-defense style game, it’s very easy to adapt existing projects and games to the format. The basic element of having a big and bloody battle to the death with the last man standing winning is an easy thing to introduce to most games. And the other key elements, such as having an open and explorable map, random weapon and item drops, and slowly shrinking the battle zone are all simple things to develop.
The simplicity of Battle Royale has led to a whole host of games, including both new and existing titles, emerging to take on PUBG and Fortnite. Totally Accurate Battle Simulator, or TABS, was originally designed as a parody of PUBG but has since grown to become a heavyweight in its own right. Meanwhile, Apex Legends launched in 2019, reaching 50 million players within the first month thanks to new gameplay elements like its ping system, which allows players to mark specific locations on the map to improve communication in cooperative battles.
Existing game franchises don’t want to be left behind either. In 2018, Grand Theft Auto 5 released an update that introduced a battle royale mode called “Trap Door”, while the Call of Duty franchise launched its first take on the format with “Warzone”, pitting an incredible 150 players against each other in one of the bloodiest and most varied takes on the idea to date.
The coming launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which has been confirmed by its developer Activision for later in the year, is equally exciting, with various reports suggesting that it will either incorporate a battle royale game mode or alternatively be launched alongside the second installment of Warzone.
There are good, scientifically-based psychological reasons behind the popularity of Battle Royale games, the concept of which was influenced by classic movies such as the original Japanese film “Battle Royale” and later the “Hunger Games” franchises. As JaredJDub explains in the video below, Battle Royale games offer an unusual degree of autonomy, with the player in full control of where he or she can go, which items they collect, where they hide, and how they actually approach the challenge of trying to survive – do they come out guns blazing or do they try to hide away for as long as possible? Battle Royale games also enable cooperation, providing an uncanny ability for players to relate to one another, dispute being engaged in a winner-takes-all struggle.
Another reason for the addictiveness of battle royale games is the unpredictable nature of the gameplay. There are so many things that can happen during the battles and not even the most experienced and capable players can guarantee they’ll survive for long. The thrill of being constantly worried about being ambushed never goes away – you never know when someone is just waiting for you to step through that door, with their finger on the trigger ready to blast you away. As you race to reach that must-have shotgun, there’s likely to be another, better-armed opponent heading towards it too.
The fact is that you never have the same Battle Royale experience twice, unlike many other kinds of games where you can repeat the same mission over and over.
In an interview with Digital Trends, Anthony Castro, general manager of Z1 Battle Royale, explained that the high stakes are what really sets the genre apart from other games. The key difference with battle royale games is that you can only die once, meaning that survival is more heavily incentivized than being brave or taking risks. The longer you can survive, the stronger and more invested in the game you become, he said.
“For the longest time, there’s been this fascination, especially with core players, with permadeath,” Castro said. “I think what battle royale does is, because it’s session-based, this idea of permadeath gives you the high stakes feeling without the sort of long-term investment.”
The Next Generation Of Battle Royale, Where Survival Pays
Battle royale is already an incredibly addictive game genre but there are reasons to think even more players could soon become hooked. After all, what could be more enticing than the prospect of a thrilling game of survival where the last man standing not only wins but also takes home a big pot of money?
This is the novel concept being explored by a new generation of battle royale games that incorporate so-called “play-to-earn” elements. P2E is a rapidly growing subgenre of games that take advantage of new technologies such as blockchain, NFTs and cryptocurrency to allow people to get paid for completing challenges and winning in video games. By implementing NFTs, or non-fungible tokens that can represent in-game weapons and other items, it also becomes possible to establish ownership of digital assets. So someone who buys a new weapon from the game’s store will actually own that weapon, and be allowed to sell it to other players if they no longer wish to use it.
P2E games have only recently come to prominence in the last 18 months or so, most notably with the rise of titles like Axie Infinity, which has famously allowed some players to take home thousands of dollars in earnings each month. P2E games cover all genres, and the incredibly popular battle royale format has not been left behind.
One of the most popular P2E battle royale titles to emerge so far is Thetan Arena, a new installment of the MOBA Heroes Strike franchise that incorporates blockchain mechanics for the first time. The battle royale aspect of Thetan Arena is actually just one of four game modes users can play and sees two teams of fantasy/anime-inspired characters attempting to blast each other away on a top-down map.
As LDPlayer explains in its review of Thetan Arena, one of the most compelling aspects of the game is its three classes of “Heroes”, or game characters. Players can choose a Hero that fits their preferred playing style, such as an Assassin who has to hide out in the shadows and can deal massive amounts of damage in a single strike; a Marksman, who stays out of range and deals damage from afar; and Tank Heroes, who are a mix of both styles and deal the most massive damage, but take greater risks as they usually lead their team into combat.
Offering a slightly different take on the battle royale concept is The Red Village, a Vikings TV series-inspired battle between mystic warriors that sees up to eight players slug it out in brutal combat using hand-to-hand weapons only. The game, which launched earlier this year, has already held more than 7,700 eight-player tournaments with over 127 ETH (around $260,000 at the time of writing) in prize money being dished out to the winning combatants.
The P2E battle royale ecosystem is still small at present but it’s going to grow much bigger with the arrival of around a dozen planned titles later this year, many of which are currently available in alpha or beta. One of the most eagerly anticipated is Blast Royale, a dedicated, free-to-play, fun-to-earn battle royale shooter game that appears to take its inspiration from PUBG and the popular multiplayer online battle game Brawl Stars.
Blast Royale is a hot prospect because its developers have paid attention to some of the criticisms leveled at the earliest P2E battle royale games. One of the biggest drawbacks of Thetan Arena is the occasional presence of bots on player’s teams, which are generally much weaker opponents, giving a distinct advantage to the team with fewer of them. In Blast Royale there are only human players. In the game, players get to choose where they want to deploy on the map, they can pick up multiple in-game items and weapons during the match, such as ammo, armor, guns, and more. Moreover, it boasts a superior matchmaking system that ensures players are matched with opponents of a similar skill level to their own. As well as straightforward battles, there will also be high-stakes tournaments where players can win bigger prizes than usual.
The team behind Blast Royale has strong experience, having previously worked on games such as Street Fighter, Tomb Raider, and Monument Valley and it has paid very close attention to the feedback from early testers, with promises to make the controls faster and snappier for more responsive gameplay that allows player’s skill to really make a difference.
As more compelling P2E battle royale games arrive on the scene it’s hard not to think that this is where the genre is headed. P2E has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last couple of years, winning many converts by staying focused on the ideals of rich graphics and strong gameplay while integrating a more appealing business model. After all, why participate in a so-called “pay-to-win” game that requires spending hundreds of dollars on items to be able to compete, if you don’t actually get to own the items you buy? Once you stop playing the game, that’s it, your investment is gone forever. Not so with P2E, where the assets you buy are yours to keep and sell when you no longer want them.
P2E and battle royale games make perfect bedfellows. The most successful games are those that can attract players who play for enjoyment and fun, and there are few more thrilling games than those in the adrenaline-inducing battle royale arena. Throw in the prospect of earning some money for coming out on top, and that’s just another reason to keep trying to survive.