Dear Games Industry
Hey, buddy. I know we don’t talk as much as we really should – we’re both just so busy these days, you know, with me and my actual life and you with your loot boxes… there’s a lot getting between us, is what I’m saying, but I’ve always done my best to keep up with what you’re doing. Keeping tabs on the trouble you get into, and all that. Well, it’s actually because I’ve been watching you that I felt compelled to write this letter, because, well… I’ve started to notice something troubling, Games Industry. Something I laughed off at first, but now, I feel has gotten out of hand. And now I feel stupid for not having said it sooner. So consider this less of a letter and more of an intervention, because I’m sincerely worried about you.
We have to talk about your addition to Battle Royale games.
Look, I get it. You’ve always been the addictive type. When Doom first launched you were all obsessed with first person shooters – a trap you fell into again when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare came out. And after that you went into your Lucasarts phase and you kept making new Monkey Islands and Day of the Tentacles. Super Mario Brothers put you on a platforming kick and Super Mario 64 did the same thing 11 years later. World of Warcraft got you all pumped up for massively multiplayer RPG’s – oh, and of course Final Fantasy made the whole JRPG thing explode for a bit. MOBAs were big following DOTA and League of Legends. And of course, we’d be remiss to forget your WW2 obsession, that thing with mobile games, season passes, loot boxes (I’m still rather miffed with you about that), games as a service, ect… you have a history of this sort of thing. And I understand that I have to love that in order to be your friend. I’m not about to change that about you.
And I even understand why you like Battle Royale games in the first place. To put it very poorly, they’re kind of like the Dark Souls of the competitive deathmatch: contests where you have such a small, tiny chance of winning against insurmountable odds, and yet, if you manage to scrape a victory out of the jaws of defeat, it’s one of the most exhilarating feelings in all of gaming. They’re games that are fairly easy to balance, since everyone starts with a blank slate and it’s as much luck as it is skill that gets you to the final, heart-stopping duel between yourself and your foe. They have immense replay value, they offer a wide variety of microtransaction options with all the cosmetics you could be decked out in, and apparently they’re super easy to develop: Path of Exile made one in just a single day of development, while Fortnite was able to hammer one together in two months – pretty mild compared to the average development cycle.
And yeah, they’re popular. They’re really popular. So it makes sense you would latch onto it, just the same way you latched onto all the others.
But I want you to take a step back for a moment here and look at what you’re actually trying to do. Because while there’s a lot to like about the Battle Royale genre, there are a lot of problems with it too. Problems that, while not invalidating the genre or making it “untenable”, will make it hard for these types of games to compete. Something unique to Battle Royale games that make your old method just… invalid.
Don’t get me wrong, buddy: your system has never worked. While a few “clones” manage to break away from the games that inspired it and become their own thing, by and large all the pretenders, the fakers, the games that try to copy exactly what a successful game does and re-skin it? They’re lost and forgotten to time. So many mascot platformers followed Mario and Sonic, you could fill Princess Peach’s castle with them and they’d still spill out into the moat. Call of Duty ravaged the competition and the only way people could compete was going back into the past, where the genre used to thrive. MMO’s have been shooting at World of Warcraft for so long the battered and beaten king has basically become immune to the bullets, even if it’s not quite as massive as it once was. And of course, we can’t forget the kind of monstrous stuff you pulled trying to compete in the mobile sphere.
Well, “you”. Mostly pointing the finger at EA on this one.
But Battle Royales are a bit different. They complicate the already complicated formula. Not only do they have all the problems from above – that one or two games will monopolize the whole market, guaranteeing that any other game that tries to compete will get killed – but they’re actually compounded by this genre.
First of all: calling it a “genre” is a bit of a misnomer for the sake of convenience. Battle Royale is more of a “mode” or a “game type” then a genre, as much as team deathmatches or capture the flag. That’s why it can be applied to so many different kinds of games and still more-or-less apply, regardless of if you’re modding them into ARMA, forcing it into a cooperative defense game, wringing it out of an isometric diablo clone, or beating it out of a barely-played first-person MOBA. And while there’s no reason these games can’t explore with different ‘modes’, the problem is that there’s not enough really separating them. Fortnite has the goofy animations, weird weapons, structure building, and cartoon butts. PUBG has the hyper-realism, the competitive scene, the storied history, and the Chinese hackers. And while that might seem like a pretty big difference… it isn’t. Not really. That’s part of the reason Fortnite was able to pick up so many of PUBG’s playerbase, it was offering the exact same thing but more accessibly. And while there are likely going to be exceptions (Looking at Path of Exile), most other Battle Royale modes will follow the same trend. A few small differences, but otherwise extremely similar.
This, my friend, will lead to stagnation. If I were to make a bold claim – and this is very bold indeed – I would say that despite Fortnite’s massive fame and unprecedented success, it has fostered very little, if any, brand loyalty. The only thing Fortnite really did (and it did it well, granted), was take a formula that was doing really well, and turned it free to play. I think that was the only thing that needed to happen to drag PUBG players and others to Fortnite, is that the barrier to entry was lower. But as you start introducing more Battle Royale games, the market will become deluded. Other free games will steal players from Fortnite, and people who want a more premium experience with a bit more knick-knacks will go to the paid, smaller Battle Royale games, like the exciting-looking Hunt: Showdown and Fear the Wolves.
And normally, dispersing a fanbase is fine. But not when a game hinges on PvP matches that need between eighty and a hundred players to be exciting. Playing PUBG with 50 people would get very boring very fast, as the likelihood of running into another player – or even hearing gunshots – would drop dramatically. And since these games are so similar (and there’s no real reason to play more than one), an overall sense of stagnation would creep in. So people might hop to a new game, play it for a bit… then abandon it. Jumping from one after the other, leaving a trail of ruined, empty games in their wake. Is that the future you want?
But let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say people do have brand loyalty to Fortnite: well then it’s the exact same problem as before, but worse. Then all these exciting games are bound to fail without any players to act as content. And we’d have the same situation that World of Warcraft had for so many years, one game after another stepping up only to get beaten down. But since, as we established, Battle Royale games are so much easier (and this, so much cheaper) to make, competitors will be stepping up a lot, and get knocked down even faster. Fortnite will sit on a throne of corpses, and the industry will be weaker for it.
Look, games industry. I know you’re not going to listen to me. I know you’ve got sexier suitors to woo and I’m just a pretty boy in the shop window to glance at as you pass. But please, for the sake of our old friendship, and the hours I’ve sunk into League of Legends and World of Warcraft… don’t forget what I said. Copying may be in your blood but it works better for some games more than others, and this, my friend, is not the game you want to be copying.
Give my best to the wife and children,
Joseph (AKA, Pocru)