The debate between the two most prominent Battle Royale games came to a head recently, as PUBG developers threatened “further action” against Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode. The rationale behind these charges seems sound, at first. As the quasi-creator of this genre, PlayerUnknown (real name Brendan Greene) not only directs the most popular entry, PUBG, but he also pioneered the gameplay through the original ARMA 2 mod. By all accounts, this Battle Royale fad could be linked directly to PlayerUnknown. So, it would probably rustle most any person’s jimmies if the people behind your game’s engine suddenly decided to create a similar clone of your work, yet that’s exactly what Epic Games, owners of the Unreal Engine, pulled.
Battle Royale as a genre was inspired by the Japanese movie and book of the same name. The basic story is that a whole class of students gets selected to participate in a game, are armed with a variety of weapons, and are trapped on an island until just one survives. Conveniently, that’s pretty much the same exact concept for the battle royale games: you get placed on a map with nothing, find weaponry, and fight to survive, all while an imminent death mechanic closes in around a random point on the map. Beginning as a mod for the tactical shooter series, ARMA, the game mode would finally get its chance to shine in a standalone package with the release of H1Z1: King of the Kill. Though PlayerUnknown did some consulting work on H1Z1, it didn’t live up to his own standards, and he’d go on to make his own iteration in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
Soon after, you could generally find PUBG sitting right atop the Steam charts, breaking all kinds of concurrent player records and demonstrating what it means to be a gaming phenomenon. Then, in comes Fortnite: Battle Royale. Fortnite as a game is based more on the zombie survival genre, but would later evolve to encapsulate its own version of the Battle Royale game mode with some unique twists. Fortnite kept its cartoony art style and RPG-esque damage system in place while also implementing its unique building system to create a more strategic, creative game experience. Though the basic concepts stayed the same, Fortnite took a wildly different approach to the actual gameplay, creating its own unique niche within the genre.
Soon after that release for Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s publisher, BlueHole, would threaten legal action.
It’s worth noting that Fortnite wasn’t the first work to try and mirror the playstyle of PUBG, as The Culling was another battle royale game that went into early access in 2016, featuring the same mechanics. No, it was more an issue with the “who”. As owners of the Unreal Engine, Epic Games worked closely with PUBG’s team during the creation process, and as designers, that would mean they have an unfair advantage in knowing what PUBG will do next. Suddenly, there’s the very real possibility that a rival game will implement all of your greatest ideas before you even finish development. You can see where Bluehole might take issue here.
Even so, it’s a bit of a silly move on PUBG’s part to call out and threaten its rival, thereby drawing accidental attention to Fortnite. Drama, be it good or bad, will always create buzz around its two sides, in this case leading to Fortnite drawing a much larger audience than it had any right. Sure, it’s a pretty underhanded move for the company behind your game engine go and make a direct competitor to your product, but at the same time, Epic is clearly going for a different experience. The ideas that may be discovered through development probably wouldn’t play the same in such different takes on the genre, meaning all this worry may be for naught. I mean, you’re not going to see League of Legends and Dota 2 locked in a court battle anytime soon, even if they did come from the same mod. As such a powerhouse, PUBG should exude the kind of confidence you see in Blizzard with Overwatch, and let your product speak for itself.
Choosing between the two is largely a matter of taste, though. PUBG is clearly going for a more realistic, intense approach, with sharper graphics and actual guns. Though not entirely optimized graphically, the gunplay feels tactical, and the looting system can cause all kinds of chaos. Fortnite, on the other hand, falls on the side of cartoon entertainment, leaving out all the blood in favor of damage numbers. Boasting a bit more technical prowess, Fortnite offers a unique building system that allows for the rapid construction of cover and towers mid-game. In terms of player base, though, it’s no contest. PUBG is an absolute juggernaut in games these days, finding real traction through the use of popular streamers and a successful marketing campaign. Fortnite owes most of its success to the fact that PUBG called them out, if we’re being honest.
Regardless of how this all turns out, it’s relatively clear that the Battle Royale gameplay is here to stay. Leagues are being built, sponsors are picking sides, and clone games are being created. Like it or not, PUBG has laid its mark on the game community, and this Fortnite feud will only be a slight scratch on the timeline of Battle Royale history.