How a grisly cult thriller inspired gaming’s biggest genre

“Battle Royale”

The battle royale genre is so ubiquitous today, it’s hard to believe that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds isn’t even as old as the PS4 or Xbox One.

So how did a niche idea turn into a household name so quickly? As it turns out, the core concept have been around for a long time.

Released in 1990, Bomberman features last-player-standing multiplayer combat on a shrinking battlefield, a staple of the battle royale genre.

The last-player-standing concept came to shooters like Unreal Tournament as a deathmatch variant at the end of the decade.

Then, in 2000, the Japanese film Battle Royale became a cult hit. It centered on a totalitarian government forcing children to fight to the death in a shrinking arena, unknowingly laying the foundations for future games.

The 2008 novel and 2012 film The Hunger Games brought a similar fight-for-survival concept to a larger and younger audience.

The year of the film’s release, Minecraft players started the Minecraft Survival Games, a collection of custom modes that turned the chill creation game into a last-player-standing deathmatch.

Brendan Greene’s 2013 Battle Royale mod for Arma 2 is often seen as the birth of the genre for turning a zombie survival game into the battle royale format we know today.

Better known as PlayerUnknown, Greene brought the battle royale to its biggest audience yet with 2016’s PUBG, which sold 1 million copies in just over two weeks.

The next year, a middling PvE game called Fortnite released its own battle royale mode. Within months, Fortnite was a cultural phenomenon that even people who had never played a video game were talking about.

PUBG’s developer sued Epic Games, the studio behind Fortnite, for intellectual property theft, but nothing ever came of the suit.

Since then, countless challengers have gone after the battle royale throne. Some, like Apex Legends, refine the formula and find their own audiences.

For every success, far more games have their moment to shine and quickly fall out of favor, like the fantasy-themed Realm Royale and Spellbreak.

Developers are now applying the core concept to vastly different games. Super Mario Bros. 35 pits 35 players against each other to finish a level while sending defeated enemies to their opponents.

Fall Guys turns the battle royale into a colorful game show where the goal isn’t to kill other players, but simply to reach the end of an obstacle course.

New battle royale games from developers big and small are still on the way. There’s little chance of any of them toppling Fortnite, but if they can push out in even more unexpected directions, there may be room for another hit in the genre yet.

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