Fortnite Is Here to Stay. Just Ask Its Competitors.


In battle royale games like Fortnite, players skirmish in a shrinking landscape with one goal: to be the last one standing. Ambition in the genre itself is more modest, with imitators piling on in hopes of sharing in the riches.

Within the past year, established video game franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Fallout have added battle royale modes, and small studios have sought to capitalize on the craze with evocative titles like Darwin Project. It is even possible to try outlasting 98 opponents in a game of Tetris.

Many companies have calculated that the genre, which began as a player’s experiment and has exploded into a cultural phenomenon, has long-term viability. Diverting resources and delaying other projects can be risky, but financial rewards beckon.

The three prominent battle royale games draw an audience by leaning on their differences — PUBG is a slow-paced military simulation, Fortnite lets players rapidly build structures, and Apex Legends characters have unique abilities — but their cores share a primal appeal.

“You get to prove that you’re the best out of 100 people. Simple as that,” said Brendan Greene, who cultivated the genre and was hired to create PUBG, which preceded Fortnite in 2017 by several months. “And there is no right way to play. It’s you using your wits and the tools that you have.”

Battle royale, in which competitors fight to the finish in a confined space, is not a new concept. Professional wrestling has showcased it for decades, and the “Hunger Games” trilogy of books followed the 2000 Japanese movie “Battle Royale.”

In video games, the genre combines visceral weaponry with the resource management of survival games like Minecraft. And it has proved popular: More than two-fifths of gamers in the United States played Fortnite, PUBG or Apex Legends in May, according to a survey by Newzoo.

“Winning was the most enjoyable thing people had experienced in games in the last decade,” said Drew McCoy, the project lead for Apex Legends, which is developed by Respawn Entertainment. “They would spend months trying to get that first PUBG win, and that was a driving factor for them to play.”

The influx of competitors has dented interest in Fortnite and PUBG. Monthly viewership on streaming platforms has fallen since last year, but has stabilized in recent months. “While the market is more mature now, we have a healthy player base and are focused on fostering it,” CH Kim, the chief executive of the PUBG Corporation, said through an interpreter, noting that it recently introduced nine regional e-sports leagues.

Some popular shooter games are balking at adding a battle royale mode. Anticipated titles like Gears 5 and Halo Infinite will not initially include one, according to public statements by their developers.

Apex Legends soared after its release in February, surpassing Fortnite in viewership that month with the help of streamers it briefly paid to play the game. Then its innovations — the ability to resurrect dead players, and a notification system that enables nonverbal communication — were quickly copied by Fortnite. In June, Apex Legends had one-tenth of its initial audience.

The drop-off is a reminder that entering the battle royale market is both promising and perilous.

“We have to make our bets far out in advance,” Mr. McCoy said, “and we want to make sure that those bets are big and meaningful rather than just trying to throw things onto the pile.”



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