How (and why) Battle Royale games like PUBG took the world by storm

Battle Royale involves putting many combatants against one another until a single fighter remains. This format has been used in films and entertainment for years and years, and it has migrated to gaming in the form of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) and other similar titles. The sub-genre is incredibly popular with alternative titles popping up and amassing impressive concurrent player figures — PUBG alone managed to pull in three million on Steam alone. Everyone is playing Battle Royales, but what makes them so appealing?

These are a few of the factors that keep gamers returning for more action.

Our PUBG PC review

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Fortnite is another Battle Royale game that takes a different approach to the format.

Battle Royale as a genre of sorts revolves primarily around PUBG today, and so I'll be focusing on developer Bluehole's massively successful title in this analysis. The game itself offers both third- and first-person action, with solo and co-operative play that caters to a wide audience. Shooter titles have always been a place for gamers to band together and enjoy some heated combat and let off steam. What PUBG added to the genre is an ounce of strategy and random number generation (RNG) — as well as luck.

Winning matches in CS:GO, Halo and Call of Duty are largely determined by skill. If you're better than the opponent, you'll generally come out on top. With PUBG there are many variables that can affect victory. Loot drops are random, the initial spawn is random, the circle that contracts with each stage to restrict playable area is random. These are all out of players' hands, requiring them to adapt and inject skill and experience to gain the upper hand. Still, even a veteran can lose to someone who only has a few hundred games under their belt.

Battle Royale doesn't require skill. Everyone is welcome.

PUBG started life as a mod for ARMA, created by Brendan Greene (goes by the alias PlayerUnknown). Greene was approached by the developer of H1Z1 to help create a similar game mode for the zombie survival game, which was titled H1Z1: King of the Kill. After working on this project, Greene decided to go it alone and met up with the folks from Korean developer Bluehole to work out a plan for what we now know as PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds, or PUBG. And so a legend was born ... or rather created. Other companies are looking to get involved by releasing their own Battle Royale games, like EPIC Games with Fortnite.

The initial drop


In PUBG, to commence each match, up to 100 players meet and greet one another in a lobby, waiting for everyone to connect. Once enough players are in, the game throws everyone onto a plane and sets a random path over the map. Two maps are currently available at the time of writing — Erangel and the newer Miramar. Players can then choose when they depart the plane for a little sky driving. Controls are returned at this point, and it's up to everyone to navigate the skies and land at chosen locations.

Not everyone can be reached from the plane since each map is rather huge. This makes it possible to choose between a remote location with little activity or a bustling town with 30 or so other survivors to battle it out against. Decisions can be overturned mid-flight as you (or your team) glances around to see who is landing nearby. From the getgo, strategies are being formed and heart rates increased as the adrenaline kicks in.

Go in alone or team up with friends; the more the merrier.

And because everything is randomized, including loot and vehicle spawn, it makes for an unpredictable experience with each match. Try to land at the same building each game and you'll be kitted out with two automatic rifles one match and nothing but a pan in another. For a title that looks and feels the same on the initial drop, it's the story that can be crafted by each player throughout the match that sets PUBG apart from other shooters that can become rather repetitive.

Loot for your life


The first thing you need to do once landed is to loot up. This means picking up everything you come across that you believe will be useful. Each player has a weight limit though, so one needs to be careful exactly what they collect. Only a couple of weapons can be held at any given time. A balance between ammo, attachments, medkits and energy drinks needs to be maintained for an efficient loadout.

The beauty of looting and gunplay with random elements means it appeals to a broader audience. You can easily get by with mediocre skill and make the top ten through sheer perseverance and strategic thinking. Some players can reach the end of a round with nothing but their clothes. It's all about using each round effectively.

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Analysis has been done on weapons, damage and protection to work out the most effective items for different situations. But again, you don't need to know any of this. In fact, you could call weapons different names and still get by. All you need is a mouse and keyboard with at least basic reflexes. Chances are you're not going to win. Should you come to terms with that, it can actually improve your focus on each play. Every decision counts.

Why people keep coming back for more PUBG

Last man standing


The start of the journey is a slow burn, but things quickly ramp up in pace towards the end of each match. Having around 10 players within a small circle of land is an incredibly tense period where palms are sweaty and weak arms heavy. It's this moment where a Battle Royale title like PUBG really shines.

Top 10 action makes for a super-tense thirll to get the blood pumping.

Knowing that your next move has the chance of ending the match with a chicken meal for you or your squad, or to take a bullet to the head and load up the lobby, is a feeling that only a few games can offer. Even if you have a moment or two to enjoy the chicken dinner you just earned through blood, sweat, and tears, you'll more-than-likely hop into a new game and start from fresh before long.

Is PUBG the perfect game? No, not by a long shot, but what it offers is unique and at times hilarious. Keep an eye out for future games being released that bring a unique take to the Battle Royale table. I don't see this phenomenon dying out anytime soon.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.