This might be the biggest gaming phenomenon since the invention of first-person shooters.
The 62% of gamers who use PC were well aware of PlayerUnknown's Battleground (PUBG) before it hit consoles last December. In PUBG, players are dropped via airship to a giant island–replete with weapons and supplies–where they must scavenge along with 99 fellow gamers. There's a caveat however; in the end, there can only be one survivor. The concept of killing enemy players online is hardly novel. Massive franchises like Halo and Call of Duty have been using simple point, shoot, and kill game mechanics for well over a decade.
The beauty in battle royal games, is the relatively small likelihood of victory. When your chances of winning are 1/100, the value of each win is elevated to such a point as to make the game wildly addicting. There are no prizes for second place and barring an insane amount of skill, it's pretty much impossible to consistently win, so players (including myself) end up chasing a single win for hours.
PUBG is the type of game that could only have been created by someone who was extremely plugged into to the PC gaming community, and it's history is as in important as its concept is simple. Following the release of Arma 2, an open-world shooter, a number of mods were made to the game by various programmers online. One of the most popular mods was called DayZ, which included a separate campaign featuring zombies.
Brendan Greene–better known by his gamertag PlayerUnknown– inspired by the Hunger Games novels then created his own modded version of DayZ in which players would face off in a 100 man death match. He produced subsequent versions of the mod for Arma 3, until he was finally given a chance to create the game beloved by so many today. None of this may sound particularly remarkable, but PUBG marks one of the first times a rogue creator, without any major studio backing, was able to create not only a new game, but an entirely new genre.
With the steady advancement of consoles and their ability to handle more complex games, it was only a matter of time before more developers wanted in on the action. Following PUBG's massive success, Epic, the studio behind the Unreal Engine and Gears of War, created its own battle royal game called Fortnite. While employing cartoonish graphics and adding a building/material gathering aspect similar to Minecraft, Fortnite redefined and reimagined Greene's original vision. That being said, the base of the game was clearly modeled off of PUBG and has left many fans of the original game upset. Still, there's a lot to be said for Fortnite's success.
The major factor that separates the two isn't gameplay; it's the fact that Fortnite is 100% free. By selling character costumes and other minor visual enhancements, Fortnite has managed to redefine the way console games work. While freemium games are the norm when it comes to cell phone apps, Fortnite is one of the first major video game titles to employ this model, and it's working. Well.
Fortnite hasn't just surpassed PUBG in active players, it's taken over Twitch as the most popular game being streamed, period, and its viewership is double that of PUBG's, with top streamers making $350,000 a month. On top of this, Epic announced the release of Fortnite mobile for IOS last week. It comes out tomorrow and is a prime example of the speed at which Epic is committed to updating its new project. The craziest thing however, is that Fortnite is still technically in beta. The game that millions of people have been playing isn't even finished yet.
Unfortunately, as Fortnite continues its meteoric rise, Brendan Greene's project is beginning to flounder. It's buggy on consoles and doesn't have the same universal appeal as its competition. While PUBG feels almost like a survival simulation, Fortnite is whimsical and silly, contrasting PUBG's drab brown and grey landscape with a rich variety of colors. Fortnite's map is also noticeably smaller, creating more chances for heavy combat and less opportunity for players to wander around aimlessly. For PUBG's part, they are trying to remedy this by making a smaller map themselves, but the game's developers can't seem to keep up with their rivals. This is due to the level of detail involved in each game and the ridiculous amount of freedom that Epic has been giving its developers.
All things considered though, PUBG still has a loyal fanbase and will probably continue to be one of the more popular games available. That being said, if things continue on their current trajectory, Fortnite will continue to dominate the spotlight. While there's always the opportunity for other major gaming studios to get in on the battle royal action, right now these are the only two games out there getting it done. Both are innovative in there own way, and both have earned their spots in video game history. The question of how long PUBG or Fortnite can maintain their current momentum is unanswerable, but one thing is for sure: when developers compete to make the best game, we all win.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff
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