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Why 'PUBG' Was Always Going To Lose To 'Fortnite Battle Royale'

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Credit: Epic/PUBG Corporation.

Fortnite: Battle Royale and PUBG.

I should be clear about one thing, right from the start: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a massive, unqualified success by almost any standards. The game that popularized the battle toyale genre is the third-highest selling game on Steam ever and recently announced five million copies sold on Xbox One. That’s not just good, that’s incredible, and PUBG deserves kudos for achieving that success with taught, tense gameplay that’s as addictive now as it was when it first launched. Of course, when I say “almost” any standards, there’s one other game I’m talking about. Fortnite Battle Royale has entered into full-blown craze territory, and PUBG seems destined, to some degree, to be the game that inspired it.

We don’t have direct numbers on this, and even if we did we wouldn’t&nbsp;be able to make a direct comparison. Fortnite Battle Royale announced 45 million players back in January, and it appears to have seen a massive expansion since then. It’s available on more platforms than&nbsp;PUBG and it’s also free: it’s a recipe for bigger numbers, to be certain, even if we can’t be sure if bigger numbers translate to bigger revenue. That will be even truer when the game migrates to mobile, where a vast ocean of players is more than happy to play without ever paying, thank you very much.

Even so, we can see the ways in which Fortnite is currently dominating the conversation. Drake joined Fortnite streamer Ninja for a session to shatter Twitch’s record for concurrent viewers on a single stream, and Ninja himself has been happily breaking records for weeks now. Fortnite dominates the most popular tab on Twitch, with 236,000 viewers to PUBG’s 78,000 at this moment — PUBG has also fallen behind Twitch mainstay&nbsp;League of Legends. Fortnite is the game that Good Morning America does a trend piece on, Fortnite is the game your kids won’t stop playing. Fortnite passed PUBG’s record concurrent players with 3.4 million back in early February, and the game has almost assuredly grown since then. While Epic releases a never-ending stream of new content for Fortnite, PUBG struggles with cheaters and technical issues. A new, smaller PUBG map seems to be a response to Fortnite’s popularity. The signs are there, without a doubt –&nbsp;Fortnite is winning in an uneven fight.

In retrospect, this was always going to happen. I wrote about this at the time, but PUBG’s main problem was that its appeal was all concept while execution lagged. The idea of 100 players dropping onto a big map to scavenge weapons and fight it out hit a chord with the gaming public, and the game grew despite being in a somewhat rocky version of early access. Bluehole was a small developer punching above its weight, but that meant it was always vulnerable to a heavyweight that decided to enter the ring. Which is exactly what happened when Epic took a swing.

As a counterpoint, we’ll look at Overwatch. Overwatch didn’t invent the class-based shooter, just like PUBG didn’t invent Battle Royale. But it popularized it at this moment and as a result it’s seen a wave of imitators just like PUBG. None of those imitators have been able to match Overwatch’s success, however, mostly because heavyweight doesn’t really begin to describe a developer like Blizzard. It had the technical stability, marketing and&nbsp;development muscle to keep things fresh. Other developers could do well imitating its success, but taking it down was just going to be near impossible.

When Epic entered the Battle Royale world, it did so with access to the sort of force Blizzard uses to keep Overwatch on top, as well as the sort of technical expertise that only the company that makes Unreal Engine can really claim. Most important in this is stability: bugs, hiccups and cheaters were something that PUBG players lived with because of that essential appeal. As it turned out, however, a developer like Epic was capable of making a far more stable product, and ultimately that’s just a better way to play. With that out of the way, it started to crank out content in the form of map refreshes, limited time modes, cosmetics and weapons: PUBG couldn’t hope to keep up.

It helped that Fortnite was better geared towards wide appeal. The game had much of the tension that made PUBG so engaging but it was quicker, simpler and looked a lot more friendly, something that’s no doubt been important in its appeal to kids and their parents. The building mechanic gave&nbsp;PUBG players a genuinely new feature that made the new game worth checking out, and it raised the skill cap to the degree that players like Ninja could strut across Twitch with some truly fancy moves.

PUBG’s lead in the space carried with it the miraculous quality that accompanies every breakout success, but it was precarious at the same time. A concept is easy to copy, and the execution could clearly be improved upon by someone with more development muscle. Epic saw that and took advantage.

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Credit: Epic/PUBG Corporation.

Fortnite: Battle Royale and PUBG.

I should be clear about one thing, right from the start: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a massive, unqualified success by almost any standards. The game that popularized the battle toyale genre is the third-highest selling game on Steam ever and recently announced five million copies sold on Xbox One. That’s not just good, that’s incredible, and PUBG deserves kudos for achieving that success with taught, tense gameplay that’s as addictive now as it was when it first launched. Of course, when I say “almost” any standards, there’s one other game I’m talking about. Fortnite Battle Royale has entered into full-blown craze territory, and PUBG seems destined, to some degree, to be the game that inspired it.

We don’t have direct numbers on this, and even if we did we wouldn’t be able to make a direct comparison. Fortnite Battle Royale announced 45 million players back in January, and it appears to have seen a massive expansion since then. It’s available on more platforms than PUBG and it’s also free: it’s a recipe for bigger numbers, to be certain, even if we can’t be sure if bigger numbers translate to bigger revenue. That will be even truer when the game migrates to mobile, where a vast ocean of players is more than happy to play without ever paying, thank you very much.

Even so, we can see the ways in which Fortnite is currently dominating the conversation. Drake joined Fortnite streamer Ninja for a session to shatter Twitch’s record for concurrent viewers on a single stream, and Ninja himself has been happily breaking records for weeks now. Fortnite dominates the most popular tab on Twitch, with 236,000 viewers to PUBG’s 78,000 at this moment — PUBG has also fallen behind Twitch mainstay League of Legends. Fortnite is the game that Good Morning America does a trend piece on, Fortnite is the game your kids won’t stop playing. Fortnite passed PUBG’s record concurrent players with 3.4 million back in early February, and the game has almost assuredly grown since then. While Epic releases a never-ending stream of new content for Fortnite, PUBG struggles with cheaters and technical issues. A new, smaller PUBG map seems to be a response to Fortnite’s popularity. The signs are there, without a doubt — Fortnite is winning in an uneven fight.

In retrospect, this was always going to happen. I wrote about this at the time, but PUBG’s main problem was that its appeal was all concept while execution lagged. The idea of 100 players dropping onto a big map to scavenge weapons and fight it out hit a chord with the gaming public, and the game grew despite being in a somewhat rocky version of early access. Bluehole was a small developer punching above its weight, but that meant it was always vulnerable to a heavyweight that decided to enter the ring. Which is exactly what happened when Epic took a swing.

As a counterpoint, we’ll look at Overwatch. Overwatch didn’t invent the class-based shooter, just like PUBG didn’t invent Battle Royale. But it popularized it at this moment and as a result it’s seen a wave of imitators just like PUBG. None of those imitators have been able to match Overwatch’s success, however, mostly because heavyweight doesn’t really begin to describe a developer like Blizzard. It had the technical stability, marketing and development muscle to keep things fresh. Other developers could do well imitating its success, but taking it down was just going to be near impossible.

When Epic entered the Battle Royale world, it did so with access to the sort of force Blizzard uses to keep Overwatch on top, as well as the sort of technical expertise that only the company that makes Unreal Engine can really claim. Most important in this is stability: bugs, hiccups and cheaters were something that PUBG players lived with because of that essential appeal. As it turned out, however, a developer like Epic was capable of making a far more stable product, and ultimately that’s just a better way to play. With that out of the way, it started to crank out content in the form of map refreshes, limited time modes, cosmetics and weapons: PUBG couldn’t hope to keep up.

It helped that Fortnite was better geared towards wide appeal. The game had much of the tension that made PUBG so engaging but it was quicker, simpler and looked a lot more friendly, something that’s no doubt been important in its appeal to kids and their parents. The building mechanic gave PUBG players a genuinely new feature that made the new game worth checking out, and it raised the skill cap to the degree that players like Ninja could strut across Twitch with some truly fancy moves.

PUBG’s lead in the space carried with it the miraculous quality that accompanies every breakout success, but it was precarious at the same time. A concept is easy to copy, and the execution could clearly be improved upon by someone with more development muscle. Epic saw that and took advantage.

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