In one of the more ill-judged moves of Bluehole Studio’s brief existence, the developers behind the insanely popular PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds launched a press release lamenting the upcoming free battle royale mod for Fortnite. It smacked of the studio’s inexperience but also showcased that the developer has a long way to understanding how success in the video game industry works – and the upcoming battle to keep PUBG relevant.
It’s a bizarre spat, all the weirder when you consider that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is itself a spin-off from Arma 2 – where the game began its existence as a free mod. In the hours after the story broke, Bluehole went into damage limitation mode – suggesting that they took offense to Epic using PUBG as a marketing tool. Even on this level, it’s hard to see Bluehole’s comments as anything more than petulance from the inexperienced developer.
Imitation is, and will always be, a huge part of the video game industry. As exciting new titles emerge – others will try desperately to chase the success and grab their slice of the pie. Rockstar encountered this problem in the early 2000’s when Grand Theft Auto 3’s success gave rise to any number of knock-offs (See The Getaway, LA True Crime, Driv3r, Saints Row and much more). Doom’s success in 1993 gave rise to any number of clones and first-person impersonators (So much so that “Doom Clone” was the phrase used to refer to these games. Minecraft is arguably the biggest example of this in recent times. How many block-based games have released since that game touched down in 2011?
What stopped these games from sinking beneath a wave of awkward clones was the simple fact that they did what they did better than anyone else. Instead of coming out to denounce the pretenders to their throne, Rockstar rose to the challenge. They released better games and refined their gameplay to a level that no one came close. When people talk about open world games, Grand Theft Auto is the benchmark. For id Software, imitation meant the company pushing on and developing the next logical step – Quake. Being a market leader in the video game industry means learning how to see of those challengers. It means giving gamers something they can’t get elsewhere, or risk losing your position at the top of the mountain.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is already the market leader for Battle Royale games. No other title comes close to touching it and, with over 10 million reported sales, gamers clearly like what they see. But there’s a sense that the developer needs to get to grips with the marketplace it’s competing in. Put simply, they need to make their game so good that others can’t come close – because the challengers are coming.
I don’t want to be the one to break the bad news, Fortnite is only the beginning. If you don’t think that there are developers the world over rushing through the development of their own PUBG clones right now then I’m afraid Bluehole are in for a rude awakening. A game with the levels of success that PUBG has enjoyed will always attract jealous glances from EA, Activision, 2K and oh so many more developers. A year from now, I’m fully expecting a slew of battle royal-themed games to be hitting the market. Why wouldn’t they when the success of PUBG?
That puts pressure on Bluenote Studios to make their game the best it can be. Instead of releasing terribly advised press statements, they should be working on delivering those key features gamers want to see. Those promised features that have been “coming soon” since the beginning of this year are the currency by which gamers will decide if PUBG is a success. The failure to deliver these will only push gamers into the arms of these other developers.
It doesn’t help when the studio makes such hilariously dumb comments as “We’re considering action” over competitors. Giving them more exposure than they probably would have gotten otherwise, in particular when its a free addition to a game, only gives competitors more room to grab new gamers. The last thing Bluenote want to be doing is pointing gamers in the direction of its biggest rivals and drawing unfavorable comparisons between itself and cheaper alternatives. PUBG is a fun game, but it’s one fraught with issues that should have been long since resolved. Bluenote have so much good will right now – to squander it in such petty manners will only make the company (and their game) look bad in comparison).
In defense of Bluenote, they’re a new team and clearly, the success of the game is a surprise to everyone involved. No one could have predicted the runaway success that PUBG would become when it launched into Early Access. But the reality is that they don’t have a right to call out other developers or make insinuations of legal action. By the video game industries very nature, imitation is inevitable and they don’t own the monopoly on the idea.
It’ll be interesting to see where the game stands in a years time. With Fortnite providing an interesting glimpse into the future state of play, the time has come for Bluenote to realize they aren’t the only fish in the pond. They need to step up and deliver the game people want before others turn up and do it for them. Fads come and go in the games industry and it won’t be long before Battlegrounds is fighting off its very own horde of clones.
The question I put to the studio, are you good enough to stay on top?