Last month, Epic Games released a massive new PvP mode called "Battle Royale" for its Early Access co-op shooter Fortnite. The move managed to garner a large wave of renewed interest in the game, which was good since it had been floundering a bit ever since its Early Access debut earlier this year.
However, it also earned Epic Games a little something of its own as the ire of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG) developer Bluehole. In Bluehole’s eyes, Epic was pretty much directly lifting the same concept that had made PUBG so popular, and what followed was an interesting examination of the line that separates creative inspiration and outright plagiarism.
The animosity between Epic and Bluehole has seemingly died down for the time being, but the discussions and debates that have risen as part of the disagreement between the two companies will likely have lasting effects on the gaming industry as a whole, and it’s the points made by those discussions and debates that I want to discuss today.
Better To Ask Forgiveness
I suppose I should start off this opinion piece by offering my personal take on the issue. Now, obviously it’s a bit silly to think that a single game studio would claim ownership over an entire genre (in this case, the battle royale-style shooter), and to Bluehole’s credit, it never claimed such ownership.
Bluehole readily admits that PUBG was far from the first battle royale shooter to appear on the market, but I think it’s fair to say that PUBG was the first game that managed to take the battle royale genre out of the fringes of the niche gaming community and into the spotlight of popular PC gaming. Sure, games like H1Z1 and DayZ made their respective marks before PUBG, but if you were ask most gamers today what the battle royale genre is defined by, they’d likely say PUBG without a second thought.
As many of us know, one of the ways in which you can pretty much guarantee your game will gain some traction is to take another popular game and emulate what made it so successful (with a few minor tweaks of course). Indeed, that seems to be exactly what Epic did with Fortnite.
The studio saw how insanely popular PUBG is, realized it could do something similar in Fortnite, and bam, Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode was born. Epic even mentioned in its original Battle Royale mode announcement that it was inspired by games like H1Z1 and PUBG, something which Bluehole also took issue with since Epic apparently hadn’t gotten permission to mention PUBG by name in its marketing materials.
Now, to use the parlance of our times, I’d like to “cut through the bull” and list some points which I obviously can’t prove, but which I also think are likely true to a degree:
- Epic knew it would likely catch some flak from Bluehole, especially since the companies had already been working together closely (PUBG is run using Epic’s in-house game engine Unreal 4).
- As much as Epic tried to play off their Battle Royale announcement as paying tribute to games like PUBG, let’s be real here, Epic looked at PUBG, saw a whole bunch of dollar signs, and soon after Battle Royale was announced.
- As shady as Epic’s intentions may or may not have been, it’s hard to fault the studio from a purely financial standpoint. Epic saw that Fortnite was struggling, then it saw how well PUBG was doing, and as of the time of this writing Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode has now garnered over 7 million players, a reversal of fortunes if there ever was one.
Keep Your Friends Close
Before this pieces becomes too much about Epic’s role in all this, I should definitely mention Bluehole’s side as well. As I mentioned earlier, Bluehole made it clear shortly after the Fortnite Battle Royale announcement that it wasn’t cool with how Epic handled the situation, noting specifically Epic’s mentioning of PUBG in its announcement and how the Battle Royale mode appeared to be “replicating the experience for which PUBG is known.”
It was that latter issue which led some fans to cry foul, saying that Bluehole couldn’t claim ownership over an entire gameplay concept. Bluehole later clarified its stance (somewhat), saying that the real problem it had was that it felt Epic had gone behind its back and made its own battle royale game after claiming to be such a strong supporter of PUBG (and facilitating PUBG’s existence by licensing out its Unreal 4 engine).
Bluehole even went so far as to insinuate it might be pursuing legal action against Epic, but that ended up being more of an empty threat than anything. So, let us now get to the heart of the issue (at least how I see it) from Bluehole’s point of view:
- Bluehole was totally in the right to be a little miffed at Epic, but making its displeasure public didn’t seem to do it a whole lot of good, especially with the vague threat of legal action.
- One could argue that Bluehole should have expected PUBG’s success would spawn new competitors, but on the flip side of that same coin, I doubt it expected one of those competitors would be the company it had been working directly with for so long (and had already been paying a lot of money to in licensing fees).
- Bluehole might have been better off trying to work things out with Epic internally rather than taking a half-cocked approach at getting the public behind it.
- That being said, it’s hard not to feel sympathetic towards Bluehole to a certain degree, since the fact remains that it was likely paying a decent amount of money to Epic (and still is) for the use of Unreal 4, only to have Epic turn around and make its own battle royale game.
Of Wrongs And Rights
Personally, I don’t think either Epic or Bluehole conducted themselves in the best manner possible. Epic could have given Bluehole a heads up and maybe tried to work out some sort of deal with the Korean studio instead of pulling a fast one with the surprise announcement of Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode, and Bluehole could have tried to work out a solution internally instead of making a knee-jerk play for the public’s favor. But, what’s done is done, and there’s little use in wondering over what could have been.
The good news in all this is that it would seem the negative repercussions that Bluehole (and maybe Epic, to a smaller degree) feared would happen never really came about. Both PUBG and Fortnite Battle Royale continue to pull in large player numbers, and it would seem that fans of the battle royale genre have found unique reasons to appreciate both games.
Sure, Fortnite Battle Royale does have a bit of a noticeable edge in its free-to-play business model (PUBG is a paid game), but it could also be argued that PUBG balances out that advantage with the widespread name recognition and popularity it continues to benefit from. Plus, it should be noted that each game takes a noticeably different approach in terms of aesthetics and gameplay, so there’s little reason why they both can’t coexist.
It’s hard to tell at this point if this is the absolute end of whatever feud there was between Epic and Bluehole, but the public seems to have more or less forgotten about it, and I’m sure that those who are playing either game would rather the two studios focused instead on refining and creating content rather than perpetuating an ultimately pointless disagreement. If there’s a lesson to be taken from this whole ordeal, it’s that the people behind both Epic and Bluehole are just like us, and that means they’re not above making mistakes or adopting risky strategies from time to time.