When Will the Battle Royale Bubble Pop?

PUBG, Fortnite, and Paladins are all battling for supremacy against a horde of lower-quality PC and mobile entries. But how long can this gaming fad last?

It seems like you just can't escape it anymore -- everywhere you look, it's cartoony newcomer Fortnite versus the lauded PUBG. Who knew that a game genre about competitors battling to the death would end up becoming its own knock-down, drag-out grudge match?

There have been lawsuits, accusations of intellectual property theft, and some sour grapes tweets that haven't cast anyone in a good light -- and things are just revving up and getting started!

While those two giants of the battle royale industry duke it out (and we've got that one we prefer over the other), another major contender just announced its entry into what is rapidly becoming some very crowded waters.

 Shenanigans abound in BR games, so it's not hard to see why they thrive!

Overly Crowded Mode: Activate!

Already suffering from frequent claims of being an Overwatch clone on any given review or message board, the free-to-play hero shooter Paladins is also jumping into the battle royale waters with Paladins: Battlegrounds (and without even trying to hide the influence from PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds).

While that iteration is still a few months off, there's no shortage of 100-player, battle royale death matches already available at every conceivable quality level, from bottom of the barrel to AAA.

Oddly enough, the genre has absolutely exploded on Android and iOS platforms, as apparently folks want to gun down 99 strangers while in line at the bank or sitting on the toilet these days.

An absolute avalanche of copy-and-paste mobile titles trying to hit on the proper SEO alphabet soup can be found at the Google Play Store, including Grand Battle RoyaleBattleground's Survivor: Battle Royale, Survival RoyaleUnknown Royal BattleBattle Game RoyaleLast Battleground: Survival ... are you sensing a trend here yet?

 Yeah, we've officially gone beyond "inspired by" here....

Battle Royale Overload

Although both PUBG and Fortnite's BR mode are going strong (and it's a good bet Paladins: Battlegrounds will do very well for itself), the fatigue is already starting to set in.

Just hit any gaming message board, where battle royale-style games are now starting to get a certain reputation as the overused flavor of the week. Fortnite, for instance, wasn't even intended to be a BR game, with its hugely successful free-to-play mode tacked on last minute. I wouldn't be surprised at all if this year's iteration of Call Of Duty announces a battle royale mode instead of zombies as the popularity continues to climb.

There's a bubble growing here, and like any number of fads -- from fidget spinners to cryptocurrency to bad home loans -- we all know that bubbles eventually only do one thing: they pop. The question is simply a matter of when.

When a fad will finally die is hard to judge, as some fan bases are more loyal than others. Despite being a growing bubble for years now, the superhero expanded universe movie genre somehow still hasn't popped, even with movies like Age of Ultron or Batman v Superman consistently landing with a thud.

Likewise, despite overwhelming criticism of the story and mishandled characters, The Last Jedi continues to break records, and Star Wars shows no signs of slowing down with its yearly entries.

It would appear that when people find something they like, they stick with it, even when the returns start to diminish. Of course, a subgenre in gaming is a different beast than worldwide, billion dollar movie franchises.

Gaming bubbles have popped before, and hard -- just ask anyone who worked on a Rock Band or Guitar Hero title. There's no question we've already hit oversaturation levels in the BR realm (just take a look at that ludicrous list of mobile titles above), and there are still more titles prepped and ready to go on the horizon.

Battle Royale Evolved

If the battle royale genre intends to thrive, it will require some major innovation. The same map layouts and basic building structures aren't going to cut it much longer.

To be fair, some of the more interesting BR games already have different themes, from dinosaurs to building your own structures. Ark: Survival Of The Fittest for instance gives you the base Ark hunting, gathering, and crafting elements, while Fortnite has base building, disguising yourself as a bush, and frequent limited-time modes that change the formula.

None of them really include much in the way of aerial combat at this point (imagine a battle royale game in a fantasy setting where you can ride dragons) or the ability to knife fight while jumping to your destination. Focusing on the ability to tunnel underneath other players' compounds and the addition of more large-scale, cooperative modes would also go a long way in changing up how battle royale games are played.

 We need to move beyond "close the door to mess with other players" and get some new battle royale paradigms.

Battle Royale: The Next Generation

Since their inception, we've seen battle royale entries go from interesting FPS mods that only a select few knew about to a bona fide gaming fad now trying to eclipse the MOBA or team-based shooter.

What comes next all boils down to who jumps in and who jumps out, and there's one company in particular that could throw this whole thing upside down.

Considering how Blizzard got into the MOBA arena with Heroes Of The Storm and team-based shooters with Overwatch, it seems like a foregone conclusion that there will be a battle royale title coming, and that could be the biggest game changer right there.

Blizzard has the staying power to take battle royale from gaming fad to long-lasting tradition. The question is whether it will be a BR mode for Overwatch or a full game all on its own? With a Battle.net entry in the battle royale ring, the bubble popping could be forestalled for a good long time to come, although it might mean massive player drops for the existing games that propelled the genre forward.

 It wouldn't be hard for this to dethrone Fortnite and PUBG overnight.

What do you think -- are battle royale games here to stay, or have they already outlived their welcome? Let us know which one you prefer and if you plan on trying out Paladins: Battlegrounds when it lands later this year!

Published Jan. 9th 2018

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