Forefathers of Battle Royale
Let me take you back to 2017. Our collective brains were still recovering from the whirlwind of a year that had come before. Among salt chef memes and fidget spinning, a small spinoff of the zombie survival game H1Z1, called King of the Kill, was released. This sparked a hunger within players for large scale battles of survival of the fittest, and soon that hunger would become a worldwide craze with the release of Fortnite.
Could we see this coming? I’m here, as a guy who looks into video game history, to answer that question.
Before we tackle how Fortnite became the cultural behemoth it is today, we need a little context. Long before flossing and chug jugs, the novel Battle Royale by Koushun Takami released in 1999 and one year later, a cult classic movie by the same name released for Japanese audiences. In this book, Japanese students wake up on an island on which they are forced to battle to the death. This all may sound familiar since games like Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds have taken light inspiration from Takami’s work. Namely, well, the name and the entire concept of a shrinking free-for-all where only the most quintessential gamer will survive.
Now that we can accurately identify where the concept of a Battle Royale comes from, we can pinpoint what lit the fire that consumed our collective Twitch viewing time. A few renditions of the Battle Royale genre had been attempted before 2017, but in these dark days, players could only get the rush of a number one victory through modding games like DayZ and Minecraft. It’s important to remember for later that they created these mods in a time before Twitch was popular, and so most gaming entertainment online came through video platforms like YouTube. This severely limited the reach of these mods, and so time passed and they faded away.
With a Final Fantasy-sized exposition dump out of the way, we can finally get into the real meat of the discussion. How the hell did Fortnite get so popular? A small game called H1Z1: King of The Kill released, and players found something new and exciting within its world. Finally, a large scale free-for-all where one can test their gamer grit. Battle Royale players had found a calling, but it was a buggy and chaotic title.
Then it happened: a Steam page came proclaiming the arrival of our saviour – PUBG!
Finally, a slightly less buggy game for us to sling profanity at while guzzling down tasty carbonated beverages and pizza. With the Unreal Engine, it seemed the possibilities were limitless, and we had finally achieved the peak of what a Battle Royale game could offer. Then Epic Games opened the world’s eyes to what was possible with an update that shook the world.
Here comes Fortnite
At this point, you may be thinking, “I thought this was an article about Fortnite? This guy has rambled for four paragraphs about some Japanese book and mods.” Well, I am glad that you asked because here it is, folks.
Fortnite, originally released as a zombie survival game, was updated amidst the boom of PUBG with a Battle Royale mode. Then came the great migration. Many people were attracted to this new game mode because of its low cost, free, and the flexibility that building brought to the battlefield. Swaths of players rushed to the Epic Games website searching for this new holy grail of the Battle Royale genre. Soon the top game position on Twitch was held exclusively by Fortnite as personalities like Ninja and Myth dominated.
Fortnite continued to evolve, season passes brought new skins and challenges while the map was altered by in-game events players could witness. The community around this game had exploded, and this brought all eyes to this phenomenon. News sources reported on Fortnite addiction and one couldn’t go outside without a group of small children aggressively emote dancing at one another as a show of dominance. Epic Games had taken over the world by creating a stellar Battle Royale experience. The game still has immense popularity and is still dominating the view time on Twitch while AAA Battle Royale releases struggle to keep up.
Could we have predicted this?
Finally, I will answer the question posed at the beginning of this article. Could we have seen this coming? Is there some cycle here that will be revealed to us through a lengthy article? Yes, and yes. I present to you the one game that could have predicted all of this. Doom (1993) The signs were all there warning us of another breakthrough in gaming, and yet we didn’t listen. The small spike of popularity in the FPS genre from Wolfenstein, much like the mods earlier discussed, to the public controversy where we are implored that children are addicted to this new game, it all forms a cycle. Much like Doom and the FPS genre, we will see recreations of the Battle Royale genre adapting new mechanics and art styles slowly moving away from what it originally was, finishing the cycle.
That is how a genre is made. The gradual adaptation of what a breakthrough game establishes, one can’t help and see the foundation laid for every FPS when playing Doom and eventually, similarly, Fortnite will be an industry relic that future iterations of Battle Royale games are based upon.
With this information, one can speculate what the next genre-defining moment may be. Will the retro platforming indie scene be taken up by large developers? Will the next huge gaming genre be mobile card games based from beloved franchises? All we can do is look at what has come before. A spike in popularity, impact on media other than gaming, and finally the slow drift from what had defined the genre. This cycle forever creating new genres and bringing us back to the games that define them.