Why Battle Royale is a big deal for some of us serious players

By Keith Pereña

Six minutes. It took only that long before the first ‘battle royale’ game was unveiled at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, held last week in Los Angeles, California. Days before the event kicked off on June 12, speculation was rife that many developers will be releasing battle royale games to cash in on its sudden popularity.

The reward goes to EA Games — a multinational game developer — who showcased their upcoming WW2 game — Battlefield V. During their press conference at the world’s largest gaming convention, they said that V will have a game mode called “Royale.” A mode which EA claims is a “unique take on the battle royale format.”

EA is just one of the many developers that rolled out their own battle royale games this year at E3. During the event’s three-day run, other companies expressed their thoughts on the new genre.

Ubisoft said they’re “not ruling out” a battle royale mode for their game Division 2. Fortnite has been announced on the Nintendo Switch (on top of being available on PC, consoles and mobile). The new installment of Call of Duty dubbed their battle royale mode “Blackout”.

But what is battle royale? And why are developers suddenly making them by the busload?

Battle royale games all revolve around a single idea. A hundred players are pitted against each other. They are airdropped to a vast map where they scrounge for supplies and weapons. The goal of the game is to survive and be the last one standing. Every other player is an enemy. As the number of players alive dwindle, the map becomes smaller until the remaining players are forced to confront each other. It is a game where hearing, seeing and the ability to understand the mind of your enemy are all imperative.

The game mode traces its roots (and name) to a 1999 Japanese novel and subsequent 2000 film. Both the novel and the film follow a group of 42 high school students forced to kill each other by the Japanese government. The novel became a bestseller in Japan while the movie was outright banned in several countries such as the US, Canada and Germany for allegedly ‘glorifying violence’. And yes, if the premise sounds very much like The Hunger Games, then you’re absolutely right.

The first battle royale game wasn’t made by a megacorporation — it was made by Irishman Brendan Greene, better known by his moniker PlayerUnknown. He is credited with inventing the genre. It started when Greene made a ‘mod’ (alteration of one or more aspects of a game) for ARMA 2 — a military simulation. His DayZ: Battle Royale mod is known to be the first game in the genre. It was a departure from the well-orchestrated experiences offered by games of the time.  He later moved the mod to ARMA’s sequel. Expressing interest in his work, Daybreak Game Company made him a consultant for their battle royale game. This later became known as H1Z1: King of the Kill.

After his consultation period with Daybreak, Greene received a partnership offer all the way from South Korea’s Bluehole Games. The partnership with Bluehole allowed Greene to create the definitive battle royale experience. It wasn’t just a mod of another game. This creative freedom bore fruit in the form of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG, which was released in March 2017.

PUBG remains one of the most popular games online. It was the most downloaded game on Steam (an online gaming marketplace) last year and reported over two billion hours of playtime. Again, the premise was simple — land on a map, find supplies, and be the last player standing.

Seeing PUBG’s sudden rise, several developers wanted their slice of the action. Just five months after PUBG came out, Fortnite hit the shelves. To this day, the two games continuously battle it out for the top spot. Earlier, smartphone users only had Rules of Survival but now, both PUBG and Fortnite have dipped their hands into the mobile platform.

At the end of E3, gamers now have the luxury of choosing from dozens of “PUBG Clones”. A report from The Associated Press revealed that game makers are incorporating, if not creating their own battle royale games in the hope of cashing in on its popularity with gamers. Ian Sherr of CNET said: “A lot of game makers want a piece of the [Fortnite] pie. Many companies are saying we’re going to follow the model, but we’re not going to copy it outright.”

But on top of the what, the next question is why? As someone who’s played PUBG, there’s an adrenaline rush in knowing that I’m up against 99 other players who are out for my virtual blood. And the fact that we don’t meet each other immediately and have a go at each other after some time roaming the map is a plus. One moment I’ll just be scavenging for med kits and ammo, in another I’ll be in a firefight with someone over a hundred metres away.

When you’re the last person standing in these games, you win bragging rights. PUBG wittingly acknowledges this braggadocio by simply flashing a screen with the phrase ‘Winner Winner Chicken Dinner’. Nothing else, no flashy medals or one-of-a-kind reward, just a phrase that rhymes.

Battle royale games tap into our tendency to be competitive. Ever since gaming was invented, competition has always been at its core. Why do you think eSports tournaments with millions of dollars at stake is a big deal? Why is it that we enjoy multiplayer games with our friends or families? It’s all about competing — for simple fun or to prove our mettle; sometimes both. It’s now all the rave because it removes all the fluff and gives you the bare essentials of what a game is all about – a show of being better than everybody else.

keith@khaleejtimes.com

Keith enjoys games with compelling storylines. Maybe some chicken dinners every once in a while

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