PUBG Corp is suing Epic Games for an alleged copyright infringement related to their massive hit, Fortnite: Battle Royale. The relationship between the two games has always been contentious, especially with Fortnite using the title of “battle royale,” a term that to that point had been mostly considered synonymous with the genre, not with any particular game.
There is a point in which we stop referring to games using a “-like” signifier and instead create a genre title for games that use a certain set of mechanics or settings. “Doomlikes” became “first person shooters” in the 1990s, and the 2000s saw “Grand Theft Auto Clones,” or “GTA-likes,” more properly classified as “open world” games.
We’re seeing the same process happening now with battle royale games (which, if you wanted to, you could call “GTA-like Doomlikes”). The genre that began with modifications to other, more long-form survival games has now taken over the popular consciousness of the world. Fortnite is big enough to have more than a few mainstream celebrities namedrop the game online, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds consistently holds one of the top spots on Steam’s live tracking of current players.
However, unlike something as broad as “first person shooter” or “open-world,” “battle royale” games generally use a more specific combination of mechanics to invoke the genre. At this point, it’s pretty much standard that a battle royale game will include some element of a shrinking playspace, equivalent starting loadouts, and a degree of soft-survival mechanics like scavenging and healing. Battle royale, as a genre, is relatively standardized.
When PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was released to the public in early 2017, it quickly shot to the top of Steam’s best seller lists. It wasn’t the first game to contain the elements that would define the genre, but it certainly was the first to reach such popular acclaim. Games that make that much of an impact that quickly are bound to produce imitators, or more charitably, games that follow in the design footsteps of the popular.
This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. More accurately it could be seen as the maturing of a game design form. When World Of Warcraft was at its peak, there were plenty of not-as-popular, but still noteworthy MMOs that used the frameworks made popular by World Of Warcraft to their own design ends. The same could be said of MOBA games after the meteoric rise of games like League Of Legends and DOTA 2.
Design inspires design, or, profitability inspires copycats. The end result is the same: eventually, we call it a genre.
The battle royale design is in its relative infancy in the spotlight. Already it’s caught the eye of larger, more traditional publishers, and it sounds like by the end of 2018 even Call Of Duty will include a battle royale mode.
While we don’t know where the specific lawsuit between PUBG Corp and Epic will end up, I think it’s safe to say that it will likely not be the last between battle royale designers, as the genre continues to explore its place within the larger gaming landscape. Hopefully it doesn’t get knocked out in its first few minutes.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.