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Battle Royale: a Genre in Jeopardy

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

by Sven Stumbauer

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

For the past half-decade, the experience of dropping out of a flying bus, drop ship or any aerial mode of transportation has been a familiar site for almost all gamers.

However, with the video game market growing more competitive ever since, the battle royale genre has experienced a sharp decline in both revenue and player base in some of its highest-profile games.

For example, Call of Duty: Warzone, a battle royale spinoff of the acclaimed franchise that has rivaled Fortnite and Apex Legends, reached a significant low of around 65,000 concurrent players following the release of Warzone 2.0; a far cry from the 488,000 players that launched the game when it first dropped in November of 2022.

As a result, many are left puzzled in determining the cause of this decline not just in Warzone, but in several other battle royale games that have come and gone over the past 5 years. However, it is safe to assume that the decline in the battle royale genre can be attributed to three main factors: genre fatigue, established hegemons in the genre and rushed products from developers.

Genre Fatigue

One of the pitfalls of not just the battle royale genre, but other genres that came before it, like team-based MOBAs or first-person shooter games, has been genre fatigue. Essentially, genre fatigue is a symptom of over-supply and wanting to follow the current trend, which results in the same product being advertised to gamers with the only difference being a new game mechanic or a hardly fleshed-out idea.

As a result, while people are switching from game to game, they're still engrossed in the same genre, which over time, results in a lack of interest from this demographic as time goes on. While the first one thousand or so matches in a battle royale game may be enjoyable, over time, gamers will get bored of the same gameplay loop and ultimately find themselves playing a different type of game or genre entirely to experience something different.

This sense of genre fatigue can be seen in battle royale games that were released a year or two after the massive success of Fortnite and Apex Legends. For example, the title Hyperscape, developed by Ubisoft and launched in August of 2020, was a futuristic-themed battle royale featuring abilities, a streamlined looting mechanic, and an interactive feature where Twitch viewers could choose a temporary effect such as low gravity.

Source: IGN

While this can be seen as a great concept on paper, as evidenced by the surge in popularity in the game’s early days, over time, people grew tired of the game because when all the fancy mechanics were trimmed down, it was the same loop of looting, killing and being the last man standing that players were accustomed to for three years at this point. This resulted in a sharp decline in the game’s player base and culminated in Ubisoft shutting down the game for good on April 28th of 2022, all stemming from the phenomenon of genre fatigue within battle royales.

Established Hegemons

However, genre fatigue is not the only factor that hampered the growth of battle royale games both new and old, but the establishment of hegemons, or mainstay games, within the genre that both tanked player counts and stymied the growth of up-and-coming games.

As of now, there are three battle royales that have stood the test of time and are the main attractions of both revenue and players: Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone (despite its sharp decline as mentioned before). Because of these three games dominating the market, newer games that were released never had a chance because when players played the game, they would simply default back to the battle royale that got them engrossed in the first place.

This can be seen with the launch of Realm Royale from the studio Hi-Rez in 2018 to both rival Fortnite and generate revenue from the lucrative genre. While a sizable chunk of players from Fortnite did end up trying the game out, with popular streamers at the time such as Ninja doing so as well, this artificial player base ended up fizzling out as they returned to the much more established Fortnite.

Source: PS4

However, Realm Royale is not the only case of this, as when Apex Legends and Warzone emerged, the player bases that favored a certain aspect of the genre such as characters with unique abilities or gunplay defaulted to these new titles in addition to Fortnite.

For instance, the launch of Spellbreak in September of 2020 was met with considerable interest from enjoyers of the battle royale genre, however, its unique take on the game with unique abilities and elemental gauntlets to cast spells was simply a much more barebones version of Apex Legends’ cast of characters with far more unique abilities, causing gamers to default to the title that was already established to attract gamers who wanted to play with abilities and unique characters.

Source: Spellbreak

This, much like Hyperscape, resulted in the game shutting down in early 2023 due to the establishment of titans in the genre, leaving aspiring titles such as Spellbreak with little to no opportunity to cement a player base and ultimately spiral down a hole of irrelevance and termination.

Rushed Development

With a genre in fatigue and hegemons already established, one may think that a developer would take their sweet time making a game that stood out from the rest. However, while the consensus would be that an aspiring studio would equip their game with the equivalent of a gold scar to fight off genre fatigue and titans such as Fortnite and Apex Legends, the reality involved these games having nothing but a grey pistol on release due to rushed development of their product.

This case of poor development is no less evident with the game Super People, and there is a reason why one may have never heard of this game whatsoever. With a release in October of 2022 Super People, in theory, could have had five years of analysis and case studies of what to do to make a battle royale game.

Source: Driver Easy

However, the developers released a rushed product rife with glitches, poor character design, movement, and gunplay, all of which culminated in the developers deciding to shut the game down in less than a month on August 21st. While Super People is on the verge of biting the dust, they had all the tools to avoid that fate, but instead, was pushed out much too early by its developers and because of this, will meet a fate similar to other battle royales that came before it.

In Conclusion

While battle royales still dominate the market with titles like Fortnite, the genre itself is not what it used to be. With genre fatigue running rampant amongst long-time fans of battle royales, the establishment of titans in the genre effectively making every release of a new battle royale an uphill battle, and rushed development by several studios, the battle royale genre over half a decade, has truly been able to mimic its gameplay loop. Several aspiring games drop onto the scene, only to be met with the harsh reality that only a few will remain standing once it is all said and done.

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