Since Fortnite announced its battle royale mode, there’s been a little, uh, tension between its developer Epic Games and the developer of that other battle royale game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. What’s come next has felt a little like an arms race for accessibility, throughout which Fortnite’s free, console-supported battle royale mode is quickly gaining traction.
Prior to release, Battlegrounds developer BlueHole released a fierce statement about Epic Games’ upcoming free 100-man PvP survival mode, describing their concern that it would be “replicating the experience for which PUBG is known.” BlueHole’s fear wasn’t misplaced. Days later, when the new (and free) Fortnite mode was released, amid overwhelming praise for it, a few uncanny similarities jumped out at players: the lobby where players run around and shoot each other; the floating vehicle from which they float downwards; the hilly, green island on which they fight; the supply drops and, well, the general battle royale experience. Fortnite’s major innovation is its building mechanics, which has players mining materials and constructing forts to protect themselves.
The mode is good. It’s faster-paced and simpler than Battlegrounds, which can sometimes feel a lot like gathering lots of items, moving from hiding place to hiding place and, twenty minutes later, getting head-shotted by someone you can’t even see. Also, it beat Battlegrounds, still in early access, to consoles. Crucially, PlayStation 4 players can now get in on a 2017 battle royale game (as of now, they won’t get Battlegrounds). In fact, Fortnite’s battle royale mode is the first big, new game of its kind to release on console, also beating out H1Z1 and The Culling.
Since Fortnite’s battle royale mode released, there’s been a feeling of competition among the two games, which is made awkward by the fact that developer Epic Games made the engine Battlegrounds runs off. On its first day, over one million players flooded Fortnite’s new mode, the game’s Twitter account bragged. About a week later, Fortnite’s player count exploded to 7 million, and in a few days, its Twitter account would boast of hitting 525,000 peak concurrent users. Two days later, Battlegrounds dev PlayerUnknown would screenshot his game’s 2 million peak concurrent users for a Twitter post, and, twenty minutes later, Fortnite would announce that 10 million people have played its battle royale mode.
Neither developer would comment on whether there’s an ongoing conversation between them.
JShredz, who moderates the Fortnite Battle Royale subreddit, says he’s seen an “overwhelming” number of posts on the subreddit from Battlegrounds veterans, indicating that some players have jumped ship. He gave Battlegrounds a spin a while back, but “never really got hooked due to some stability issues,” he said, referring to the game’s known connectivity issues. With Fortnite, he was “really, really hopeful they’d be able to bring what other BR games like PUBG and The Culling had been able to do well and integrate it within a lighter, friendlier, and generally sillier environment.” Since the battle royale mode came out, JShredz has completely forsaken the game’s main mode for it.
That “friendlier” environment extends to Fortnite battle royale’s learning curve. Redditer FinallyRage, who plays both Battlegrounds and Fortnite’s battle royale mode, says that it took him several Battlegrounds games to land a kill. With Fortnite, it took him just one. “PUBG is slower paced, it has a huge learning curve and half the time I don’t know why I died. [In Fortnite] BR it’s much easier to spot people and more of an action shooter. It’s a lot easier to get started in,” he told me. Also, he said, Fortnite’s games are faster, meaning he can play a round during a lunch break.
It’s unlikely that Fortnite will match Battlegrounds’ record-breaking number of concurrent players, but its rapid explosion in popularity says something about accessibility. Free, easy-to-grok and on several platforms, Fortnite’s battle royale mode is grabbing players who, for various reasons, felt disenchanted with Battlegrounds—or couldn’t play—despite its use of ideas that we’ve seen before.