The battle royale: Last man standing for the modern era


When it comes to games that ascend to the top of the sales charts and remain there for considerable amounts of time, it is hard to beat the team-based shooter. Call Of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo have all had their time in the spotlight, and for good reason too. Team-based games tap into our social needs as well as scratching our competitive itch at the same time, and is a major reason why these sorts of games have remained firm favorites on all platforms with the exception of mobile. Recently though, there has been a slight change in the type of shooter that is creating the headlines within the MMO (massively multiplayer online) community. Out goes the old team-based shooter and sitting pretty upon its perch is a new sub-genre: the battle royale.

While there are plenty of similarities between the team-based shooter and the battle royale (it is, after all, still a competitive shooter), the differences are the reason this sub-genre has climbed so quickly to the top. For those who haven’t heard of battle royale, the principal centers around the same idea that Kinji Fukasaku’s film of the same name made famous back in 2001, where multiple competitors are dropped on an island to battle it out and become the last person standing.

last man standing
Kinji Fukasaku

Our first proper taste of this game style was back in 2012 when DayZ (a stand-alone Arma II mod that pitted players against each other in a fictional Russian state called Chernarus that has been overrun by a zombie infestation) was released. Players scour the desolate landscape searching for supplies, weapons, and any other artifacts that will make their battle for survival easier. When they run into other players, a tense standoff usually ensues while both players try to work out whether the other is going to be friend or foe. Hot on the heels of DayZ, a game called Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG) refined the genre by streamlining the gameplay, and molding it into the battle royale style that we know and love today. But why exactly do we love this new genre so much?

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Games imitating art

Firstly, the influence of Hollywood cannot be underestimated here. The critical acclaim of the original Battle Royale film, as well as the Hunger Games franchise, has fuelled an interest in this particular style of brutal futuristic competition. Dystopian cinema has shaped many different game genres, from the post-apocalyptic world of The Road, we see influences in games such as Fallout 4 and The Division, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that in a world where The Hunger Games films are some of the highest grossing of their generation, we are all once again fixated with the ‘last man standing’ competition.

Streams driving interest

Another reason that battle royale games are so popular is in no small part due to the fact that these style of games are extremely watchable on streaming sites such as Twitch. Whereas games like Battlefield, COD, or other similar shooters don’t lend themselves very well to being watched in any professional capacity (after all, in a team based shooter with 32 vs 32, who do you decide to watch?), PUBG and Fortnite (a similar battle royale with added crafting mechanics) have carved out a little niche for themselves.

last man standing
Scene from Fortnite.

The reason? You can pick your favorite streaming star, and have very little reason to swap streams or view anyone else’s. In team-based shooters, it’s hard to understand and see all of the important aspects of an ongoing match. In PUBG, you watch your favorite, you root for him or her until they die, then you watch their next match. That, quite simply, is it. No need to change stream, no confusion about what is happening on the other side of the map. All that matter is the stream you are watching. You are with your streamer. You are on their side. You are involved.

Other games such as Overwatch, have built a reputation for being extremely watchable, and this is partly down to the small team size. With 6 on 6 battles, viewers can see how a match is going, without the confusion that 64 player battles bring. PUBG, while having vast amounts of players in comparison, manages to capitalize of the small team ethos, by limiting team sizes to a maximum of 4 players, and as such we end up with a viewing experience akin to watching your fave 4 players taking on everyone else. There may be 100 players on the map, but there are only 4 that really matter to you.

Battle Royale for everyone

For those of you who are new to the battle royale genre, the chances are you will be seeing a lot more of this style of game in the future. The success of PUBG has spawned multiple copycats who hope to capitalize on the popularity this game type has enjoyed, and some older games have even released a battle royale mode in the wake of PUBG in the hope of keeping their games relevant for a little longer.

last man standing

Fortnite, in its initial form, was never a battle royale game. GTA V, a game that was originally released back in 2013, has recently added a mode that gives more than just a ‘tip of the hat’ to PUBG, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. And using GTA as a prime example, it is easy to see why the battle royale is going to be included in many games over the coming years, both new and old. If your game has a large map, a combat system, and MMO capabilities, adding a battle royale mode is almost guaranteed to turn a few heads.

Whether we see the sub-genre infiltrating game types other than shooters will be interesting, and something to keep an eye on in the coming years. One thing is for sure though, ‘last man standing’ has suddenly become the mode that every gamer wants in their game, and you should expect to see it everywhere in 2018.

Last Updated on August 11, 2019.


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