If you’ve kept even just a peripheral gaze aimed at the online gaming community over the last six months or so, you’ve likely seen the explosion in popularity of Fortnite Battle Royale. Epic Games’ cartoony and competitive survival shooter game took a core element of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds — 100 human players parachuting onto an island with an ever-shrinking battlefield — and turned into a worldwide phenomenon. Fortnite clips and highlights have inundated Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter at an alarmingly high rate, helping it permeate mainstream culture in ways few other modern have.
The popularity of Fortnite may be precisely why the creators of PUBG are working hard on a new, smaller island map for their own PC-focused game, which will debut on its test servers next month. In the announcement yesterday, developer PUBG Corporation explained that the “smaller map will offer faster, more intense matches with higher player density.” One of the core complaints you can make of PUBG in its current state is that its games take quite a long time, and much of that time is spent moving from one place to another without setting your sights on another human player. That’s how the game was originally designed: a realistic military-style shooter in which you had to carefully plan a route, obtain vehicles for faster travel, and avoid or engage in nearby firefights to maximize your chances of victory.
Next month we are launching a new, smaller, 4x4km island map on our Experimental Test Server. This smaller map will offer faster, more intense matches with higher player density. Your feedback during this playtest period will directly impact the map's development. pic.twitter.com/H7SHPt5joA— PLAY BATTLEGROUNDS (@PUBATTLEGROUNDS) March 8, 2018
But Fortnite has completely reoriented what players expect, and how they like to play, games in the burgeoning battle royale genre. Because Fortnite’s single map is smaller, and because characters move faster across it, games are nearly half the duration of standard PUBG matches. And because of Epic’s design decisions over the last few months, which include drastically changing aspects of the map by adding new locations and more loot to find, games have accelerated even faster toward the final 20 or 30 players. It’s in that bracket that action becomes more tense and the most rewarding plays can be made.
The creators of PUBG know they’re going to have to iterate faster than ever before to keep pace with Fortnite, which has for months featured new and experimental limited time game modes and a dizzying number of new weapons, items, and purchasable cosmetics. Epic Games’ take on a battle royale game is already the most watched game on Twitch and has posted viewer numbers almost double that to PUBG in recent weeks. Popular streamers, like Dr. Disrespect, have also begun experimenting with Fortnite streaming because of its sheer popularity. If PUBG doesn’t make the necessary changes to keep up, its game will remain restricted to the hardcore PC gaming enthusiasts who helped propel it to the forefront of the online scene last year, while Fortnite becomes the vastly more popular mainstream title.
So it’s clear why the creators of PUBG see a smaller map as an important add-on. A new, more intense environment to compete in will undoubtedly increase the number of highlights making their way to social media, and it will give popular streamers a new battleground to compete in live on Twitch. As part of its 2018 road map, PUBG Corp. also detailed technical improvements and new features it will be adding, including an emote system that is another obvious response to Fortnite.
While the hardcore PUBG players may bemoan the developer’s attempts at more mainstream appeal, these changes are clearly more a matter of survival than anything else. As Epic illustrated when it lifted core concepts of PUBG back in August and catapulted Fortnite into the mainstream, it doesn’t matter who does it first; it matters who does it best.