Epic Games' Fortnite is getting a free Battle Royale mode next week, and PUBG developer Bluehole isn't too happy about it. However, it shouldn't come as a surprise. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has been a smash hit on Steam with over 10 million units sold, so there was bound to be copycats. So what gives?
Bluehole's main argument is that Epic Games has used references to PUBG in their press materials. Chang Han Kim, executive vice president at Bluehole, says that the company has had a relationship with Epic Games throughout the development of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds since it uses Unreal Engine 4. Kim stated that Epic Games never spoke with Bluehole about Fortnite: Battle Royale, so they don't feel it's right that Epic is using PUBG's popularity as a vehicle for their own Battle Royale game.
Looking at Fortnite: Battle Royale, it's obvious that Bluehole and Kim are right. The game is derivative of PUBG and is definitely a cash-in on the formula that has proven to be a surprise hit. Bluehole might even have a moral leg to stand on as well, but two things make the whole claim frivolous at best.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is just as derivative as Fortnite: Battle Royale
The Battle Royale genre isn't new at all and is just an evolution of the King of the Hill game type that has been in dozens of games. In its current form, it can be traced back to DayZ, where players basically had to compete in a non-regulated Battle Royale to obtain resources and survive. Brenden Greene (PlayerUnknown) was inspired to focus on the competitive aspect of that mod's gameplay and force players into proximity to each other. The result was the Battle Royale mod for Arma 2, and later Arma 3.
Those mods were very popular and led to Daybreak Studios adapting the format for H1Z1: King of the Kill. In fact, Brenden Greene was a consultant for Daybreak when they were designing the game. After he helped Daybreak get started with King of the Kill, he was approached by Bluehole, and the rest is history.
Really though, it seems like the people that should be mad here are Daybreak. Greene worked with them, then went on to Bluehole to make the most popular PC game of the year. Seems to be kind of similar to Epic Games consulting with Bluehole then going on make Fortnite: Battle Royale. The hypocritical stance is making Bluehole look incredibly petty, but there's a reason for their grumbling, and in a way, Epic's Fortnite: Battle Royale does threaten PUBG's supremacy in the genre.
Bluehole doesn't want Epic Games to lock down the genre on console
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is coming to console, starting as an Xbox One timed exclusive later this year. Previous Battle Royale games haven't made it onto a console. The Arma series, and by extension its mods have been PC only, and H1Z1 has been delayed for console indefinitely. Bluehole likely thought it would tie up the console market for the Battle Royale genre as neatly as it did for PC while being able to take its time before actually publishing the game.
Epic's announcement that Fortnite: Battle Royale is throwing Bluehole's plans off kilter, and suddenly there's competition in a market where it thought there would be none. It's understandable to be a little salty. I have to admit I would be too in Kim's shoes. But pretending like it owns the Battle Royale genre, or that Epic is shady for doing basically what Bluehole itself did when they hired Greene to be the creative director for PUBG.
Bluehole needs to be shaking hands, not making threats
Bluehole has rocketed from having almost no penetration in the Western market to having the most popular PC game of the year. That kind of fortune is almost mythical, and the company has succeeded beyond expectation where many of its Korean peers have failed miserably.
Even with Epic getting the drop on PUBG by releasing the first Battle Royale game on consoles, Bluehole has little to worry about. Epic Games hasn't exactly been hitting them out of the park with its recent games. Given a choice between the free-to-play, somewhat cartoony Fortnite, and a console version of the quintessential Battle Royale game, fans of the genre are going to go with PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
Kim's statement that Bluehole would, "contemplate further action," concerning Epic's Fortnite: Battle Royale and its use of the PUBG name in press releases is ridiculous. The damage the company's reputation will take from overreacting to the situation has a chance of being far worse than the potential sales lost from Fortnite: Battle Royale's release. It'd be like if Bandai Namco sued everyone who compared their game with Dark Souls, in which case 90% of indie game developers would be bankrupt.
Hopefully, Bluehole will take a chill pill, and assume their role as a rising Western developer and publisher. It's setting an example now not only for how indie companies should handle success but also for its peers. Now is the time for Kim and Bluehole to shine and I hope they make the right choice.