Why battle royales rule multiplayer shooters

Illustration by Karly Andersen.

Jonah Schuhart, Contributing Writer

In just a few years since the release of “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” the battle royale genre has become the newest standard for multiplayer shooters. And after “Fortnite” showed the world how profitable a simply made, free-to-play game can be by killing “PUBG’s” numbers, developers started cranking out battle royales at a ridiculous pace.

The newest “Call of Duty” had a similar game mode, “Saints Row” developer Volition came out with a flop called “Radical Heights” and even “Tetris” got in on the craze with “Tetris 99.” So in the wake of a new titanic genre in gaming that I have so far neglected, I recently dipped my tardy toes into the battle royale party by playing “PUBG,” “Fortnite” and “Apex Legends, the three most popular games in the genre.

“PUBG”

“PUBG” is my least favorite of the three. It has no visual or thematic personality. Instead, it tries to be a realistic, tactical shooter like its father-title, “Arma 3.” It’s still fun because it’s a simple game to sit and play with your friends, but it’s also stale and a bit unintuitive. On top of that, it’s the only major battle royale that isn’t free, giving it a huge disadvantage in attracting new players.

“Fortnite”

I found “Fortnite” more interesting than I expected. I definitely resented its popularity; but when I played it, I found it more intuitive than “PUBG.” I also enjoyed the building mechanic because it raises the skill ceiling and adds a unique flare to the game. Unfortunately, it has ugly graphics similar to a mobile game, and its attempts at campy humor come off as cringe-worthy at times. But even that is better than “PUBG’s” lack of personality.

“Apex Legends”

“Apex Legends” is by far my favorite. It boasts the fine-tuned shooting mechanics from the “Titanfall” series and combines it with the strategic elements of hero shooters like “Overwatch” in a free-to-play battle royale format. That gives it enough personality and profitability to compete with “Fortnite” and certainly enough to put “PUBG” to shame. It also has the most robust in-game communication system I’ve ever seen. The ability to ping locations, useful items and enemies removes the need for a microphone and makes it much easier to share vital information across the entire team.

All of this makes a great recipe for a battle royale shooter. In fact it’s so great that, according to Forbes, it gained 25 million players in its first week. That’s much faster than the amount “Fortnite” gained in the same time period. That may be is why “Fortnite” has adopted a pinging system like “Apex”’s and plans to include a very “Apex”-like respawn system in the next major update.

So, why are these games so popular? Well, battle royales are different because they are more accessible to new players because they’re free-to-play. But much of the popularity could also be contributed to the genre’s ability to pad losses. Taking 50th out of 100 is an easier result to swallow than fifth out of 10. Since there’s no price tag and losing in a game is less painful, people are more likely to play a battle royale as their casual game of choice.   

But all of that is secondary to the success of battle royales, which lies in the social environment created by all multiplayer games, regardless of genre. Most people who aren’t playing for competition’s sake enjoy the light-hearted, social aspects of multiplayer games. Since battle royales make that environment more accessible than any other genre, it’s no question why they’ve skyrocket to the forefront of online gaming.

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