With tens of millions of players each, both “Fortnite” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (“PUBG”) are incredibly popular games in the nascent “Battle Royale” genre of video game.
They’re on consoles, and phones, and computers. Kids are playing them, adults are playing them, maybe you’re playing them, too. Even Drake’s getting in on it.
- Epic Games
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid learning about both, here’s a quick primer on the “Battle Royale” concept:
-100 unarmed players parachute to an island that’s full of abandoned buildings chock full of weapons and supplies.
-The goal is survival – kill or be killed, while attempting to stay within a shrinking zone of safety that inevitably brings you closer to your fellow players. If you’re outside of that safe zone, your health drains until you die.
-You only get one shot at victory. The last player standing is the winner!
As both “PUBG” and “Fortnite” have exploded in popularity, the “Battle Royale” game genre they popularized has become a hot commodity unto itself. A quick look at the top charts on the Apple App Store or Google Play offers a glimpse of how many other games are trying to cash-in on the “Battle Royale” formula.
It’s no surprise, then, that the company behind “PUBG” (PUBG Corp.) is suing a Chinese game publisher for allegedly infringing its copyright with two games that it says closely resemble “PUBG.” TorrentFreak got its hands on the lawsuit on Thursday, which aims to shut down two mobile games developed by Chinese company NetEase. NetEase and BlueHole did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
All of this is just the latest volley in the ongoing battle to be the biggest game in the world.
The history of the “Battle Royale” genre is largely credited to one man: Brendan Greene. He’s the man in charge of “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.”
- PUBG Corp.
The “PlayerUnknown” in the name “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” is a person, and his name is Brendan Greene. He’s an Irish game developer who works for Bluehole Studios, the parent company of PUBG Corp.
Before he worked with Bluehole to create “PUBG” – the first game dedicated to the concept of “Battle Royale” – Greene created mods to existing games that offered a glimpse of what the genre could become.
In March 2017, “PUBG” launched on the Steam digital storefront as an “Early Access” PC game – an unfinished product that was playable, that players could pay for, thus funding ongoing development. It became a runaway success, making over a half billion dollars, and remains the most-played game on Steam at any given time to this day.
On the day I’m writing this, “PUBG” had four times the amount of concurrent players of any other game on Steam:
More people played “PUBG” on Friday on Steam than the rest of the top 10 most played games on the entire platform. Combined. It’s a pretty big deal!
“Fortnite” wasn’t originally a “Battle Royale” game. That came later, with the launch of “Fortnite: Battle Royale,” a separate mode. It’s a subtle difference that’s important here.
- Epic Games
“Fortnite” -as it was originally concieved – is a third-person shooter that’s focused on survival gameplay. You, or you and a group of friends, take on hordes of enemies from the tentative safety of a fort you’ve crafted.
It launched on July 25th, 2017, and is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac.
There’s a cartoony art style to “Fortnite,” which tonally fits in alongside the game’s goofy dialog; there’s a playful tone about everything in “Fortnite,” which is starkly different from the dreary, dire tone of “PUBG.” Moreover, the core of “Fortnite” is very different from “PUBG” – it’s essentially a “tower defense” game.
In “Fortnite,” like other tower-defense games, you’re defending an immobile thing from waves of enemies. You have a period of time before the attack begins, when you’re able to set up defenses (turrets, traps, walls, etc.). Once you trigger the battle, you must defend whatever that aforementioned thing is from being attacked. If you survive those waves, you’ve succeeded.
In September 2017, Epic Games added a new mode to “Fortnite.” The new mode was called “Battle Royale.” Moreover: It was free and available on game consoles like the PS4.
- Epic Games
“We love Battle Royale games like ‘PUBG’ and thought ‘Fortnite’ would make a great foundation for our own version,” a September 12, 2017 Epic Games blog post announcing the new game mode said.
And so, Epic released “Fortnite: Battle Royale” as a free addition to the game. Better yet, it was free even for those who didn’t own the original “Fortnite.” Anyone could download it and get to battling.
In retrospect, Epic’s blog seems prophetic: “Fortnite: Battle Royale” is outrageously popular, eclipsing the original game its built upon.
Somewhere in the realm of 45 million people have the game across PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One, and Mac. The iOS version, which is a standalone version of the “Battle Royale” mode, has somewhere in the realm of 11 million downloads according to Sensor Tower data provided to Business Insider.
Initially, “PUBG” parent company Bluehole Studios took issue with “Fortnite: Battle Royale.” There are some major differences between the games, but they are foundation ally very similar, in the sense that they place 100 people on an island for a last-man-standing shootout.
In the months following that early dispute, Epic and Bluehole seem to have squashed the beef. “I’ve tried to combat the perception that we’re competitive with other ‘Battle Royale’ games,” Greene said in March. “Its great that the space is expanding. We’re happy that more and more people are getting to play games.”
It turns out that “Fortnite: Battle Royale” was the first of many to take a stab at the “Battle Royale” formula. Games like “Knives Out” and “Rules of Survival” closely resemble “PUBG.”
On April 2, PUBG Corp. filed a lawsuit in a California court against Chinese game publisher NetEase, over allegations of copyright infringement. The suit, discovered by TorrentFreak, seeks a relatively small amount in financial damages – just $150,000 “per infringed work.”
The aim of the suit is to stop NetEase from selling its “Battle Royale” games altogether: “To remove each and every version of the games ‘Rules of Survival,’ ‘Knives Out,’ and similarly infringing games, from distribution and to cease developing and supporting those games,” the suit says.
It’s the strongest move yet from the folks behind “PUBG” to defend their work, and it makes sense. “Knives Out” alone has 25 million downloads, with $50 million in revenue, according to SensorTower data provided to Business Insider. And that doesn’t include China.
The question at the heart of the lawsuit is whether it’s possible to infringe on a video game copyright. How different does a game have to be from “PUBG” to be considered legally different?
Playing “Knives Out,” it’s immediately clear that it’s very similar to “PUBG” – but it’s also clearly not exactly the same game.
In the case of “Rules of Survival,” the comparison is a bit more dramatic. Look at this image from the lawsuit document – “Rules of Survival” is on the left, “PUBG” is on the right:
PUBG Corp. is also claiming that NetEase intentionally misled consumers into believing that its games were related to “PUBG.”
And let’s not forget about the rest of the video game market. When does “Call of Duty” get a “Battle Royale” mode?
Most video games take a lot of time to make – years.
The “Call of Duty” game that comes out this holiday will have been in development for several years by the time it’s ready to launch. The Activisions and EAs and Ubisofts of the world haven’t had enough time yet to create a “Battle Royale” game that could take on the likes of “Fortnite” and “PUBG.”
But they’re coming.
“While we have yet to see direct competitive modes from our publishers under coverage, we fully expect [Activision, Take-Two Interactive, EA], and virtually everyone else to come up with their take on the ‘Battle Royale’ genre,” Macquarie Capital analysts Benjamin Schachter and Ed Alter wrote in a note this week. They also expect major publishers to build “some version into key known franchises, as well as potentially releasing various other stand-alone titles” in the “Battle Royale” genre.
Indeed, it would be entirely unsurprising to see a few new “Battle Royale” modes or dedicated games show up on stage at this year’s big annual video game show, E3, in June.
The battle royale to be the biggest game in the world rages on.