According to a new report, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is on track to overtake Fortnite as the most popular battle royale game.
When PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite took the world by storm in 2017, it was clear that the industry had a new trend on its hands. But few could have predicted the juggernaut the battle royale genre would become. In a new report, games industry analyst group DFC Intelligence analyze the state of the genre two years on, and make some bold predictions regarding its future.
According to DFC’s numbers, this year, revenue generated by battle royale games will increase by 32% over 2018, surpassing $5 billion by 2020. Fortnite has consistently led the pack since it’s launch, claiming 31% of global battle royale revenue, followed by PUBG, Garena Free Fire, Knives Out, and Apex Legends. Collectively, these five games account for 90% of all genre revenue.
Garena Free Fire and Knives Out may not be all that familiar to western battle royale players, but in their home countries of Singapore and China respectively, they are absolute powerhouses of the genre, thanks in large part to the enormous user base that comes along with mobile platforms. The Asian market has been quietly establishing a foothold in battle royale through the efforts of market leaders NeatEase and Tencent.
“Battle royale is big in Asia on PC and mobile,” DFC analyst Robert Nolan told GameDaily. “In many cases they are almost direct knockoffs of PUBG or Fortnite. PUBG sued major Tencent competitor NetEase for claiming they copied PUBG. These NetEase games made hundreds of millions of Asia, including one (Knives Out) that was successful primarily in Japan. Tencent is in all kinds of areas. They have an interest in both PUBG (they publish it in China) and Fortnite. Any game looking to go big in China will probably go through Tencent or NetEase.”
Although Fortnite has become synonymous with battle royale’s success, it was PUBG that truly established the popularity of the genre. Of course, Fortnite has gone on to surpass it in terms of popularity and revenue generation, but DFC predicts that PUBG has adjusted enough to reclaim the top spot.
“PUBG corrected course by focusing on an easier to use experience,” Nolan said. “It offered a less resource-intensive PC version and had a big focus on mobile. It really went after the Asian and emerging markets. This is a huge market that does not play your traditional core game franchises or use console systems.”
Looking forward, Nolan expects a major trend to be the incorporation of battle royale into existing properties and franchises, although there are few publishers who boast the player base to achieve major success in such an effort. Among the short list of games that are likely to see a positive return on the addition of battle royale are Grand Theft Auto Online and, surprisingly, Minecraft.
“Any sandbox game where players access an open-world is ripe for a battle royale mode,” Nolan explained. “GTA with its online mode (and to a much lesser extent Red Dead Redemption 2) have been some of the only AAA games to attract that huge level of usage that you see in free-to-play games. Minecraft is a pay-to-play game with far more users than any other game of that type. Battle royale has already proven popular since the Hunger Games (before battle royale even became a term). We have seen a big swing in Minecraft popularity in 2019. Meanwhile, GTA remains super popular.”
Not all publishers have seen big returns when tapping their franchises for battle royale modes, however. Nolan cites Activision Blizzard as one example; adding the Blackout mode to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 did not have as significant an impact as it may have expected. It’s the business model, Nolan said, that holds Activision back. The problem is that Call of Duty is a full-priced $60 retail release, whereas Fortnite and PUBG are free-to-play.
“The problem both Activision and Blizzard face is a relatively small user base,” Nolan said. “They sell expensive games to tens of millions of users. Comparative success in F2P needs hundreds of millions of users.”
Where Activision Blizzard sees those kind of numbers is in its King division, purchased in 2015 for a cool $5.9 billion. King’s Candy Crush games boast hundreds of millions of users Nolan says are needed to find success in the battle royale market. And if a workable battle royale mode within a puzzle game format sounds unrealistic, Nolan is quick to point out the success of Tetris 99.
The fight for battle royale supremacy has been one of the most interesting gaming trends of the last few years, and it looks like it’s set to intensify in the near future. It will be interesting to see how the Asian market attempts to disrupt western dominance in the genre as we move forward. The staying power of the genre is still up in the air, but for now we’re living in a 1v99 arena that is continues to expand rather than shrink.
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