It’s happening again. Just like when, many years ago, Call of Duty released a zombie game mode. Everybody cottoned on that this was an inherently brilliant idea that worked well in the game and as such, must immediately be implemented into every game ever made from then on. The format is simple, really. Zombies come, and the players with limited resources must survive a set number of waves. Granted, today’s Call of Duty Zombie Mode is actually larger and more complex than its campaign. Annoyingly, one of my old favourites Red Dead Redemption followed in the zombie mode trend with a whole expansion. More recently, PUBG even dabbled with a zombie mode, so this trend has yet to kick the bucket.
There was a casual mention of PUBG that the more perceptive of you might have spotted back there. Go back and check now, if you don’t believe me. It is that beloved shooter of mine that I believe has kickstarted the next trend in multiplayer gaming, and it’s already begun.
H1Z1 was a multiplayer zombie / survival game thats been around a while. The developers quickly realised that it was a subpar Rust / DayZ and that it needed tweaking to really excel. And so, King of The Hill was born. The caveman painting that would one day inspire countless Jackson Pollocks. It was okay. It was the Battle Royale game that people played, simply because it was really the only (semi-good) one around.
What’s that? Player Unknown, the chap who made those battle royale mods for ArmA is releasing his own game? Oh, it’s already out. It’s good. It’s better than good, it makes me feel alive. I shall show it to all my friends. I shall stream it, share it, endorse it and play it professionally, even. At this point, me and all my friends have it and play it basically daily. The game does tremendously well and is extremely popular, making lots of money and more importantly in today’s industry, lots of noise.
A lot of developers smell the smoke that is coming from PUBGcorp’s money-fuelled chimney and begin twirling their moustaches. ‘This must be a glitch in the format’, one exec says as the game hits 10 million units sold. ‘Maybe they are on to something here.’ says another as it smashes 25 million units. Weeks later and it’s sold a total of 50 million copies. The other companies are out of their board rooms and into their development teams, cracking whips.
At some point, Fortnite was a sort of MMO where players could destroy a lot of stuff and build a lot of other stuff. Beyond that, I knew very little at the time. And yet suddenly, it too released a battle royale game mode. I imagine this was already in development, as EPIC released it so soon after PUBG’s successful launch. Either that or the whips at EPIC games are very effective. The game is probably more popular than PUBG now. It’s more casual, more cartoonish, more accessible, more silly, and crucially; more stable on consoles than its main competitor. It’s also free.
Anyway, I’m arriving at the point a little slower than intended.
Battle Royale is the new zombie mode. It is the next feature that is going to be shoe-horned into any major game release. At this point, it’s difficult to say if it’s a good thing or not. My guess is no, since it’s just an obvious attempt by developers to capitalise on the victory royales or chicken dinners of Fortnite and PUBG, respectively. At this point, there are a dozen crap Battle Royale games on the market already.
Call of Duty Black Ops 4 (yes, another one) and Battlefield 5 (yes, another one) have both already teased and trailered Battle Royale modes as one of their most talked about and most anticipated features. It seems that the only way to make these enormous, brown, monotonous shooters successful is to crowbar in whatever the latest trend is. It was once zombies. Now it’s Battle Royale. In five years it will be Donald Trump (probably).
Honestly, this all rather worries me. It highlights the fact that we all know but never really discuss. That the games industry exists to make money, above all else. That’s certainly the case for these major companies who release the same game every year with a new haircut and a new jacket. The same jacket every other game is wearing because, over the summer, that jacket suddenly became fashionable. Game developers are all high school students, really. I’m in the IT room with the unpopular dorks that make indie games.
The market will soon be filled with X: Battle Royale and it’s going to get very tedious very fast. At best, it’s just another multiplayer game mode akin to Capture The Flag or Deathmatch. At worst, it will be crap and people will just go back to the games that do it best. It’s no longer possible for a new game format to come out and do well and receive critical acclaim. It has to be copied and be bastardised and be ruined in the name of a few opportunistic coins.
What’s next, really? Cooking Mama Battle Royale, where you have to beat eggs quicker than everyone else or you catch salmonella? Pokémon Battle Royale? I’m also worried that one day I will see the words ‘Red Dead Redemption 2: Battle Royale. Which I will hate. I’ll still probably play it, but I’ll feel very cheap and frown the whole time. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but the worrying thing is I can actually see some of this being reality.
The only logical solution to this looming market problem is this. We take all the developers, any who have taken so much as a sideways glance at creating a Battle Royale mode, and we stick them all in a plane. Stick them all on one big plane, with parachutes. Send them over a big island full of guns and just eject them all. Then…
Well, you see where I’m going with this.