KEVETT: Death, decline of battle royale games is imminent
Opinions Column: Gamer Next Door
Battle royale as a genre is currently at its peak. What started out as a niche game style with a cult fan base has mushroomed to epic proportions. Multi-billion dollar franchises like Fortnite and Call of Duty (COD) now dominate the genre, all but eliminating competition from indie developers. Indie developers, such as Facepunch Studios, creators of Rust or Bluehole, creators of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), were the groundbreakers for battle royale. Prior to such developers the genre of battle royale subsisted merely as an optional community mod in games like Minecraft and ARMA. A harbinger to the end of major innovation and experimentation in a particular genre is the involvement of big-name developers and publishers, such as Activision and Epic Games.
For example, the developers of COD Black Ops 4, Treyarch, are a team of extremely talented artists, programmers and gamers. But, the gaming experiences they create have to be approved by their publisher, Activision, who have a compensatory bottom line. Activision wants to generate exorbitant profit margins on every game they publish. As such, Treyarch creates games which have to adhere to strict budget, time and experimentation restraints. Treyarch cannot experiment too much with their formula for game creation. If Treyarch takes too big of a risk in game innovation and it does not pay off in sales, that means cuts to the development team’s salaries, and in some cases layoffs. Treyarch only began developing a battle royale mode for the COD franchise after their publisher Activision saw the financial success indie developers Epic Games and Bluehole had with their battle royale games.
Treyarch’s battle royale vision is thoroughly enjoyable. I play COD Blackout almost daily, and I love the combination of tight COD gameplay and open world battle royale survival elements. Unfortunately though, the game is wholly unoriginal. The initial battle royale map that shipped with Black Ops 4 looks obviously similar to PUBG’s first map, and the game’s mechanics function just like PUBG’s. Jump out of a flying vehicle, land in a location, loot buildings for healing items, weapons, weapon attachments, ammo and body armor, and then survive to be the last one standing out of 88 people. COD Blackout is just like PUBG in terms of gameplay, aside from both using different game engines. Innovation is seriously lacking, and that is because the battle royale genre has been boiled down to a formula for financial success. Treyarch copied what PUBG did to make billions of dollars, and they copied it well.
It is this lack of innovation that will spell the end of battle royale as a genre. One thing is for sure, indie developers are no longer going to experiment with battle royale. No, these small time developers are most likely already moving on, trying to build the next game or craft the next genre which will overtake battle royale games as the next “thing.” Only time will tell if battle royale games are to become a major staple in the gaming industry.
Battle royale gameplay will become stale fast if the large developers which have stolen the scene do not introduce new elements and styles. When games are boiled down to a pure formula for monetary success they end up losing their personality and soul. Good games that maintain their audiences are crafted by developers who are passionate about the process of development itself, not the end reward. Fortnite has become a big game because it is novel. Yes, at its core Fortnite plays like any other battle royale game, but it has introduced unique mechanics like the ability to build structures and destroy the environment, which keep players coming back.
The end of a genre’s evolution spells the end of a genre’s entertainment factor. If the big money developers who are now leading the development of the battle royale genre do not experiment more, I predict the genre will die fast and be replaced by another a few short years from now.
Mitchell Kevett is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in history and minoring in political science. His column, "Gamer Next Door," runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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