First person shooters have been one of my favorite genres of this millennia. On the single-player front, I love the atmospheric and deep storytelling told from the first-person perspective in games like Bioshock, Metroid Prime, and Metro 2033. Meanwhile, the fast-paced adrenaline rushed multiplayer in series like Halo, Rainbow Six, and Call of Duty have kept me coming back year after year. Third-person shooters are just as enjoyable, and although I’ve always preferred the FPS style, I’ve had my fair share of fun in the third-person perspective as well.
In 2017 a little game named PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds (PUBG) dropped out of the sky and into the hearts of gamers all over the world. The game, created by Brendan Greene (who also created the ARMA 2 mod DayZ: Battle Royale), is based on the aforementioned mod and inspired by the film Battle Royale, while also having inspirational roots in the Hunger Games novels. The design is simple: 100 players get dropped from an airplane onto an island, and the last man or woman standing wins. In solo mode, the intensity is at an all-time high, because everything rides on you. Duo and squad-based modes add a genuinely interesting team play and strategy element, all while retaining the high stakes action. Even as the game was in early access mode since March of 2017, filled with bugs and glitches, the concept was so strong that gamers all over the world flocked to PUBG. And as a credit to Bluehole, the developing team has paid close attention to the fans and have improved upon the game constantly all throughout the process. And now with version 1.0 finally hitting virtual shelves on December 21, 2017, the PC version has sold over 30 million copies.
Meanwhile, the Xbox One version hit preview mode in early December, and although the version again is marred by technical problems and crashes, it sold over 2 million copies in the first two weeks. And just like the PC counterpart, the Xbox One version has already seen two major updates, with many more to come.
Now that 2017 has come to a close, it’s obvious that a Battle Royale subgenre of shooters has found extraordinary success. And if the history of the online shooter genre can predict anything about the future, we’re all going to see a lot more Battle Royale. Will that be in brand new IPs? Will it come as updates to existing games (a la Fortnite)? Will it come as new additions to existing franchises? Let’s peek into the future a bit and try to predict what could be coming next.
Although many developers and publishers may want to capitalize on the massive success of the Battle Royale subgenre, it isn’t as easy as it may seem. Unlike adding a perk system, killstreaks, or hero shooters to existing franchises, trying to add a Battle Royale mode is most likely going to be a lot more complex. Halo 4, for example, was able to add a progression system of unlocks and a killstreak feature to compete with the revolutionary nature of Call of Duty (COD4, WaW, MW2, etc.) Although many fans didn’t like the final product, adding these features to the preexisting formula of Halo wasn’t an impossible task. However, a Battle Royale system that compares to PUBG is a lot more complex. The DNA of the game itself is going to have to be morphed to adjust to the new features. Many games don’t have an inventory system, bullet drop, massive worlds, or even an online infrastructure that is currently suited for 100 players.
I’m excited to see which franchises attempt to throw their hat into the Battle Royale ring next. New IPs will, of course, be intriguing, but what about the existing franchises out there? Would it be smarter to simply stick with what works instead of trying to compete with PUBG? I think some franchises are perfectly suited to attempt some kind of Battle Royale mode, but it won’t be easy by any means. Let’s discuss the existing multiplayer shooter series out there and which franchises could, should, and probably shouldn’t try to implement their own massive Battle Royale mode.
Franchises that Probably Shouldn’t
Call of Duty
Call of Duty has always been one of my favorite online shooters. I know everyone loves to bash on the most popular thing, but for me, the CoD series has always set the standard for how a shooter should feel. The aiming, movement, and gunplay in Call of Duty are what I want in an FPS. Its simplicity allows for gunplay that feels natural. Whenever I play any other FPS, I always have at least one moment where I think, “Man, I wish this controlled a bit more like CoD”.
I’d love to imagine the possibility of PUBG feeling as smooth and responsive as Call of Duty does. However, the entire game would also have a very different feel. Matches would probably be 15 minutes shorter as it would be so much easier to kill the opponent (or for them to kill you). The feeling of freedom in PUBG would be replaced with knowing you’ll get mowed down if you simply step outside. This could still work, but it would certainly feel quite different. This isn’t the big issue with a CoD Battle Royale mode though. In a series like Call of Duty, you will rarely ever be in a situation where you are engaging in a gunfight longer than 50 meters. Things like bullet drop don’t even exist in Call of Duty because they don’t need to. Also, a massive part of the Battle Royale subgenre is inventory management, weapon customization, etc. In Call of Duty, all of this is done outside of a match. There is no ability to pick up a suppressor on the ground and attach that to your UMP in Call of Duty. All of that is done from the menus before and after a game. The controller layout for Call of Duty has been the same for over a decade. Everything would need to be entirely overhauled to allow for interacting with objects, inventory management, leaning around corners, how to handle FPS vs TPS, etc.
Of all the popular military style shooters (sans Rainbow Six Siege), Call of Duty would need the most drastic overhaul of all, with even the online infrastructure needing a giant renovation to handle 100 players instead of 12-16. If activation wants to get involved in the Battle Royale fight, the Call of Duty avenue it probably not the best bet. Keep making Call of Duty games in their same style. It’s the top-selling game every year, don’t fix what ain’t broke.
A lot of Battlefield’s issues are comparable to Call of Duty. On the positive side, Battlefield’s infrastructure already handles 64 players. And things like bullet drop already exist within the core gameplay. The guns are also already designed to accompany for long range battles. And vehicle usage is an integral part of the series. So Battlefield wouldn’t have anywhere near as high as a hill to climb as CoD when it comes to those aspects of development if they wanted their own Battle Royale.
However, the gameplay is very similar to CoD. There is no looting, no scavenging, none of that. Interacting with environments in a dynamic way doesn’t exist in the ways it needs to work for a Battle Royale mode. Just like Call of Duty, all character and weapon customization is handled outside of the battles from menu screens. EA would need to completely overhaul the gameplay as well as the controls to be able to pick up items, customize weapons on the fly, manage the storage of items, etc. Both Battlefield and COD are built to play as shooters first, as arcade PvP action. The games are not designed to take advantage of stealth, customization in-game, looting, etc. All of those things would need to be worked into the game in a way that would overhaul the way the game is designed entirely. It could be done with a lot of time in development, but it would pull out all the DNA of Battlefield that it wouldn’t even feel like Battlefield anymore.
I see EA’s more successful route being developing a game from the ground up if they really wanted to try to get in the Battle Royale game. Or perhaps a massive spin-off that’s called “Battlefield: Battle Royal” but is its own thing entirely.
GTA Online (GTA V)
For all of the praise that I give to the Call of Duty series for its crisp shooting gameplay, GTA is the total opposite. As much fun as I’ve had in GTA online with its heists and its online co-op, I personally don’t think the game is designed well for PvP action. That may not be the most popular opinion in the world, but I stand by it. Another negative when it comes to GTA trying out some Battle Royale is that the game is over four years old. While today’s era of gaming allows for some very long lifespans (and GTA V is a prime example), I feel like this would work much better in the eventual Grand Theft Auto VI. Both of those complaints may be more on the personal side, though, as there are also some great positive attributes to a Battle Royale mode in GTA Online.
Most of the controls, gameplay, etc. would be a nice fit for Battle Royale. Inventory management for picking up items and customizing things would need an upgrade, but certainly nothing like CoD for example, as the game already has the usage of clothes, attachments, etc. as an in-game feature. The city of Los Santos and the surrounding areas could be a great fit for Battle Royale. Many gamers have spent countless hours exploring the land (which is also designed as an island just like PUBG), so fighting it out last-man-standing style would be a fun new twist. Being dropped in from a plane (the game even already has parachuting built in as well) and picking the area to land in GTA V’s massive world feels like a natural evolution of GTA online. However, going into buildings to loot, hide, and be in cover is a vital part of the Battle Royale DNA, and GTA online’s buildings are for the most part not at all suited for this kind of thing. Shooting from the streets of Los Santos doesn’t sound as fun as being able to stealthily move throughout the buildings, seamlessly moving in and out.
Although I like the idea of GTA Online trying out Battle Royale, I feel like there are too many hurdles for it to be successful right now. I think that whenever GTA VI drops (2020? 2056?), that’s when the GT online can include a successful Battle Royale mode. With time and planning, Rockstar may find ways to set the standard for the genre.
Franchises that Could
When The Division was first revealed in 2013 I was stoked! A co-op squad based PvE and PvP game based during a wintery apocalypse in an urban setting? Yes, please! And although I didn’t end up loving the game, it certainly had a great following and passionate fans.
There are two reasons why I think the Division could be a nice fit for some sort of Battle Royale mode. First of all, much of the gameplay features already exist. Because the gameplay has a heavy dose of survival and scavenging, those aspects already work wonderfully for Battle Royale. The other reason is the idea that The Division could try to plant their flag in their own subgenre of the Battle Royale subgenre (subgenreception?). The Division could try to market the idea that they are the Urban Battle Royale. Yes, PUBG has some cities and towns, but obviously, the game takes place in a massive set of diverse environments — and that is what best suits the Battle Royale genre overall. However, I would love the idea of a developer trying something different with Battle Royale while still maintaining the core DNA. The game can still thrive on survival, scavenging, stealth, intensity, and dramatic firefights; but all be based within the scary and tense environment of skyscrapers and city streets during a snowy apocalypse. Meanwhile, the blue unexplained circle of death in PUBG could be a giant incoming snowstorm in The Division. PvP gunfights in The Division even handle similarly to PUBG, with taking cover, flanking, bandaging up mid-battle, picking up a downed teammate, and swapping attachments on the fly all being things that I’ve done in both PUBG and The Division.
Everything about The Division feels like a great fit for implementing their own urban Battle Royale. The only major issues I can think of are that the game would need a bit of an online overhaul to handle the 100 player count, but more importantly, the game is getting old. Although not as old at GTA V, significantly fewer people are still playing this game. The Division did have another big free update just back in August of 2017, so Ubisoft is still supporting it. But perhaps this game is old enough that it wouldn’t be financially worth it for Ubisoft to spend all that the and resources needed into updating the game if not enough people are going to come back to it. In the end, maybe the best route would be to wait for The Division 2 (which I am predicting will be announced at this coming E3).
Metal Gear Solid V is one of the most perfectly designed video games I’ve ever played. The gameplay, from a stealth perspective in an open word, is about as flawless as it gets. I can easily imagine 100 players being dropped into the MGS V world, in any of the locations, and perfectly simulating the PUBG experience. In fact, I think it would be even better. In the original design of MGSV, every aspect of the game is already built for scavenging, stealth, and survival. The game handles health in similar ways. The game handles pickups and foraging in similar ways. Unlike GTA V, where many of the buildings are closed off, every structure in MGSV is explorable and ripe for ambushes, hiding, and looting. Vehicles can be used to traverse the maps. Africa and Afghanistan can be closed off to create areas for players to battle in. The game is played from a third-person perspective, but over the shoulder shooting as well as aiming down sights (and scopes) is handled in a comparable way to PUBG. Meanwhile, the gunplay itself is superior to PUBG with a better overall fluidity. The gameplay even allows for the ability to roll while prone, shoot while on your back, take cover on the other side of a horse, etc. I can’t imagine a scenario where a Battle Royale WOULDN’T be fun in the MGS V world.
But there are some major hurdles. For example, obviously, the game doesn’t at all have the online infrastructure at the moment to be able to handle any of this. The biggest issue would be whether or not the fans would even accept this. Konami is at a very bad place in the eyes of the consumers. Thanks to the catastrophic fallout with the departure/kicking-out of Hideo Kojima, many gamers would find it off-putting for Konami to “ruin” the Metal Gear Franchise with a Battle Royale mode. Also, how would this game/mode even be released? As a free update in MGS V? As a part of the upcoming Metal Gear Survive? I’m not sure if I can recall a game having such a negative vibe before even releasing as what Metal Gear Survive has right now.
The comparisons to Fortnite are kind of funny here. Fortnite is an apocalyptic survival game with zombie-like creatures and an emphasis on a building mechanic. Although the game had some success, it was the free Battle Royale update that totally changed its fortunes. Now if anyone mentions Fortnite, barely anyone even thinks of the original game; instead, the Battle Royale mode comes to mind. Metal Gear Survive is also an apocalyptic survival game with zombie-like creatures with an emphasis on a building mechanic. Could a Battle Royale update save this game too?
Franchises that Should
Ghost Recon: Wildlands
In nearly every aspect imaginable, Ghost Recon: Wildlands is the perfect fit for a Battle Royale update. For the first half of the year, Wildlands was the highest selling game in the world. Ubisoft has been continually updating the game in marvelous ways. In October, Wildlands added a PvP mode called Ghost War. The mode is a single elimination team-based shooter in large open maps. Just a few weeks ago the game had a surprising update involving the Predator where players team up to hunt down and kill the creature. Ubisoft doesn’t look like they will stop adding things to the game anytime soon, so why not a Battle Royale mode as well?
Obviously, an online overhaul would need to be implemented. As of now, the game can only handle 4-player coop in the main game and 8-player death math in the PvP. But aside from that, the gigantic world of Wildlands can work seamlessly for Battle Royale. Every building, every structure, every inch of the game is available to explore, loot, and stealthily ambush the enemies. The diverse world of Wildlands is massive and could be split into a dozen different maps to duke it out on. Meanwhile, the vehicles already built into the game are perfect for traversing the vast landscapes.
Inventory management would need a tune-up to be more in line with the Battle Royale mode. In the core game, there is an unlimited amount of storage for weapons, attachments, etc. Obviously, this would need to be changed to accompany a storage based system for strategic inventory management. Weapons are currently unlocked by finding them in crates. This same system could be used for Wildlands Battle Royale, but a system of weapons and attachments visibly sprawled across the ground would work better. Instead of regenerating health, bandages and health packs would also need to be added. All of these changes are doable. And while the core game didn’t handle any PvP action, the Ghost War update proves that the core gameplay is a great fit for PvP battles.
The only hurdles for Wildlands seem to be adding a looting element and working on an online structure that can handle 100 players. If those two things can be done, I could see Ghost Recon: Wildland’s Battle Royale becoming a fan favorite.
Red Dead Redemption 2 Online
For many gamers, including myself, Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most highly anticipated games of 2018. If the world is anything like the original Red Dead Redemption, it will be massive, diverse, and filled with endless fun activities. I look forward to playing through the story, exploring every inch of the world, gambling in the saloons, and mowing down outlaws with my six-shooter. The original Red Dead Redemption had a few online modes, including a PvP mode and a posse-based open world online mode with similar DNA to GTA Online. But overall, the online wasn’t up to snuff with the core game. But now that GTA Online has become the behemoth that it is, I expect Red Dead Redemption 2’s Online to be deep and rewarding. The GTA heists done instead in the old west seem like the perfect evolution of the online framework.
PUBG and the Battle Royale subgenre have breathed a fresh air into the multiplayer shooting genre that genuinely gives me joy. It’s interesting to me personally, because my favorite shooter of the past five years is Rainbow Six Siege, which is pretty much the total antithesis of PUBG. But just as Rainbow Six Siege took advantage of the genre by developing a distinct style and gameplay feel with close quarters, tactics, and teamwork that hadn’t been used much in the past, PUBG found an opening for a new style of online action that we really hadn’t seen before. I love to see new ideas developed and then watching the rest of the industry try to catch up.
If PUBG creator Brendan Greene had his way, nobody else would touch the Battle Royale genre. Bluehole was unhappy with Fortnite developing its own Battle Royale mode, even to the point where they have been considering legal action (https://www.polygon.com/2017/9/22/16349536/pubg-fortnite-battle-royale-battlegrounds). When the rest of the industry inevitably tries their hand at Battle Royale, I’m sure Greene and Bluehole won’t be happy with that either. Greene is concerned with how easy it is to copycat ideas without any repercussion.
“There’s no intellectual property protection in games. In movies and music, there is IP protection and you can really look after your work. In gaming that doesn’t exist yet, and it’s something that should be looked into….Someone else takes the idea, has a marketing budget, and suddenly has a popular game because they ripped off someone else’s idea. I think it’s something the industry needs to look into.” (Greene, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2017/12/13/pubg-creator-bemoans-no-intellectual-property-protection-in-games/#222c9d3c15a9)
Perhaps Greene will be more acceptant of games like Red Dead Online implementing a Cowboy Battle Royale or The Division doing an Urban Battle Royale. Maybe that is enough diversity and creativity to set them apart from PUBG.
“I want this genre of games to grow,” Green says. “For that to happen you need new and interesting spins on the game mode. If it’s just copycats down the line, then the genre doesn’t grow and people get bored.” (Greene, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2017/12/13/pubg-creator-bemoans-no-intellectual-property-protection-in-games/#222c9d3c15a9)
Whatever the case may be, I look forward to what PUBG does next to grow and improve, both on the PC and the Xbox One. And as PUBG continues to further themselves from the rest of the shooting genre, I can’t wait to see what franchise, new or old, tries to steal the PUBG formula and take the reins.
What are your thoughts on the Battle Royale genre? Are you interested in what PUBG does next? What existing franchises may be the first to try their own hand at Battle Royale? Can you think of some franchises that I missed in this article? Let me know what you think in the comments below!