If we were to ask a random sample of people, chances are most would be at least familiar with the name Fortnite: Battle Royale. The game mode has become a global phenomenon since launching in September of 2017, but despite its stellar growth in popularity, it seems to be having difficulty maintaining its own hype, as seen with the recent Celebrity Pro-Am Tournament that lost 72% of its Twitch viewership when compared to last year.
Much like mobile gaming, developers have seen the immense revenue brought in by Epic Games with Fortnite and have moved to get in on the action. With so many options now for the Battle Royale style game, how can Fortnite revive viewer and player interest? Alternatively, are we at the point where the game mode finally dies off as a fad that lasted almost two years?
Oversaturation of Battle Royale Games
The concept of Battle Royale is not a recent one, but the standalone games played online are. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) was first in March 2017, and Fortnite came after. Despite having a lead in time, PUBG suffered from terrible optimization issues and had a high cost of entry point compared to Fortnite, which was and continues to be free-to-play, and runs well on most computers.
Since then the market truly has become oversaturated with developers vying for a piece of the pie. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has its own mode called “Blackout”, and Battlefield V has one as well. Realm Royale, Grand Theft Auto Online, Paladins, Dota 2, Battlerite, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, all have similar or dedicated Battle Royale modes as well. Even Tetris 99 is based on the premise of actively attempting to eliminate opponents to be the last among 99 players standing.
While those have been marginally successful at best, EA released Apex Legends, which had a fantastic opening and then slowly dropped off for a number of reasons. Mainly, this concerned not considering the player’s long-term goals through what are called “Seasons” in these games, which is something that Fortnite does outstandingly well, as always.
Last week at E3, we were given perhaps the single most obvious sign that too many Battle Royale games were being made when Bethesda announced their own version within Fallout 76. Here is a game that has been riddled with bugs and problems since its launch a year ago, and rather than devote resources to making a Fallout game, they have decided that they would rather be Nuclear-Wasteland Fortnite. Good for them.
Quite frankly, there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen.
Limited Consumer Time
Anyone who has played a game like Fortnite and aims to collect all the season’s cosmetic rewards knows that there is a bit of a grind involved. There are daily quests, weekly quests tied to the season, and surprise events, as seen with the movie tie-in for the John Wick series. There are also Limited Time Modes (LTMs), Creative Modes, and sometimes you just want to play for fun, of all things.
Aside from the most dedicated of gamers, no one has the time to devote to more than one or two of these styles of game, so they need to pick one and stick with it. Fortnite, despite being great, may simply be the victim of the game mode cannibalizing itself with so many other entrants.
It feels strange to call Nintendo a sleeping giant, but in some ways that is not incorrect. We must recall that the Nintendo Switch launched in March of 2017 to an extremely cautious audience. The Wii U underwhelmed and disappointed fans and developers alike. Moreover, the initial offering of games was small. Thus, Fortnite and other free-to-play variants pop up gave consumers a place to play without any risk of a bad purchase.
Now, however, 2019 marks the point where the Nintendo Switch is hitting its stride. It is so successful that it recently topped the lifetime sales of all PS4 consoles in Japan. With so many near-perfect games made for the console and E3 presenting us with an overabundance of incoming games, Fortnite and the Battle Royale game mode may simply be put to the side while other games are played.
Twitch Viewership is down, but does that actually mean anything for the game?
The advent of video game-streaming is another somewhat recent technological innovation. From June 2011, Twitch.tv has focused on game streaming to an audience, but perhaps this is also something that is not dying but is being spread among many, many alternatives.
In 2016, Twitch had about 2.2 million streamers. Now, that number is up to 4.2 million streamers, and there is competition over at YouTube as well. Nearly double the streamers and a greater selection of games mean that viewers now have greater options with regards to what they watch, as well as the allure of another Fortnite tournament may simply not entice people as much as before.
Fortnite – A doomed esport?
We will not get into it here in great detail, because it has been discussed at length in other places, but there is great cause for concern in the way Epic handles their game from the perspective of an esports viewer or participant.
Put simply, the game introduces changes at a rate that is unsustainable for esports play, causing frantic shifts in a meta that needs time to settle, and has often introduced items that are broken and need a quick nerf after release or removal entirely. This has been stated many times, but Epic seems insistent on staying the course. This may be the one place to begin if they want better viewership.
What can be done, or should nothing be done?
Fortnite is likely to be king of the Battle Royale game for years to come. It has a strong base of players, it is free, it has great cosmetics and tie-ins, and is on virtually any device with a screen. As the genre of Battle Royale becomes less popular, which is quite likely considering Nintendo's flourish of great games, and how much hype is about to come in 2020 with the next generation of Sony and Microsoft consoles, Epic Games would do well to focus on doing the best they can to stay on top. The top might look less lucrative than before, but it is still the top.
Apex Legends had a real shot at competing with Fortnite, but they blew it in their first season by not providing the varied challenges needed to keep players interested. The moment that their seasonal games turned into a grind, they dropped like a ton of bricks.
Now, they are doing much better, and the balanced gameplay means that Apex Legends could be a viable esport, but the problem is, who cares? If the game does not reclaim popularity and users, it is done for.
As for the remaining games offering Battle Royale content, they are doing their absolute best to cash in on a new thing about two years too late. They will work to bleed each other dry of the few players interested in the novelty of their “new” modes. The best thing these other developers can do is abandon the mode and stick to the core mechanics that make their games great. We guarantee you that not a single consumer picked up a copy of Fallout 76 at launch and thought to themselves, “I can’t wait to play some Fortnite in this game!”