Variability in Battle Royale

The newest entry into the battle royal genre of games has reached 25 million in its first week. Apex Legends, which was released without any significant marketing has done very well. It’s refined and brings numerous improvements to the battle royal genre. For the unfamiliar, battle royal is a type of game where a large number of players (60-100) fight to the death to be the last person standing. I don't want to focus on the entire genre or what apex has improved. Instead I'll focus on how battle royal adds gameplay elements that add variability compared to competitive shooters.

Most competitive shooters have very little variability. Weapons spawn in the same place and matchmaking assures players are of relatively equal skill. This signifies the main goals of competitive shooters, to provide a skill based challenge to determine who is the best. The only point of variability is players respawn at semi-random locations. But typically this is biased to respawn players away from their enemies. That is all the variability that typically exists in competitive shooters and is contrasted by battle royale games that embrace variability.

The beginning of a battle royal is always the same, but this is where variability is first introduced. Typically a plane, bus, or other vehicle moves over a large map in a straight line. The angle and offset from the center of the map changes every match, meaning the vehicle passes over a different part of the map each game. You choose when to jump and where to land. But you can't fly everywhere and even experienced players are forced into areas they aren't familiar with. This encourages learning the entire map and thriving no matter where they are.

After landing things are tense, you’re without a weapon and others may have landed nearby. So you search the nearby buildings for weapons and other loot. You find an assortment of pistols, shotguns, grenades, and armor. Picking up as much as you can, you find a rare piece of armor that provides you more protection. These randomized pieces of loot become your lifeline. If you run into someone more skilled than you and less well equipped you might actually stand a chance.

Now you’re notified about the first circle. It represents a random area all players need to be within or they will be killed. Having potentially fought for your right to exist for longer than the first five minutes you have to move. If you’re outside you’ve got a couple minutes to make your way inside the circle. If you’re lucky enough to already be inside then you’ve got to continue looting, and watching for all the people outside the circle as they come spilling in.

This is the point when battle royale as a genre becomes about survival. By forcing you into random locations with random equipment you’re only option is to adapt. You can’t get by on good shooting alone. Instead you learn how to balance looting with hiding and move as strategically as you can. Every opportunity to get an advantage over others must be taken. All so that when you inevitably have to fight you might have the edge you need.

You can’t avoid fighting, at least not forever. The circle continues to get smaller as the game goes on forcing you closer and closer to your enemies. Firefights often break out which can be avoided or intentionally sough out. But if you wait long enough you’ll be faced with one last person and one of you has to be the last standing. Depending on each persons strategy and luck throughout the game one side might have a significant advantage over the other. You can be hiding and scouting for the last person and they’ll drop down and blow your head off.