Can anybody own a genre? That’s the question in the recent Epic Games and Bluehole showdown.
Earlier in the month, Epic Games announced a spinoff of its successful early-access title Fortnite. Titled, Fortnite: Battle Royal, it didn’t take long for players to realise the similarities between it and another monster of early-access, namely PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
Now PUBG didn’t invent the battle royal genre, but it did make it go mainstream.
While it is still in early access, PUBG is the seventh best-selling PC game of all time. It dominates Twitch streams and is set to grow even larger when it’s released on consoles. Or it would have if Fortnite: Battle Royal wasn’t beating it there.
As you might expect, this hasn’t exactly gone over too well with the developers of PUBG:
“We’ve had an ongoing relationship with Epic Games throughout PUBG’s development as they are the creators of UE4, the engine we licensed for the game,” Bluehole’s Chang Han Kim said in the press release. “After listening to the growing feedback from our community and reviewing the gameplay for ourselves, we are concerned that Fortnite may be replicating the experience for which PUBG is known.”
It certainly doesn’t help the situation that in their announcement trailer, Epic Games specifically mentioned PUBG as one of their influences.
The South Korean developer finishes by stating that they are considering “further action,” which doesn’t sound ominous at all.
This is not going to look good for anyone.
Bluehole’s argument appears to be that Epic Games is somehow infringing on their game by copying their formula. The only problem is that formula also happens to be the standard for the battle royal genre.
Now, Bluehole seems to be intentionally ignorant of the genre’s history.
Brendan Greene, Mr PlayerUnknown himself, created the building blocks for the modern battle royal genre within a mod for the shooter Arma 2. He even says that a lot of his influences came from another mod known as DayZ.
And it’s not hard to see the similarities. Players are dropped into a huge arena, have to scavenge a random assortment of weapons and hunt each other down. Hell, the eastern-European aesthetic even looks like PUBG. The only main difference is that is that matches in DayZ can span the course of weeks as opposed to short one session gunfights.
Another crinkle in this story is that Brendan Greene has essentially made the same game three times. There was the original mod for Arma 2, H1Z1: King of the Kill, and, most recently, PlayerUnknown’s Battleground.
On paper, all these games are almost exactly the same, despite being made for different developers. There were no complaints before, so does that mean this should be no different?
Epic Games owns and licenses out the rights to Unreal Engine 4. It is one of the most widely used software engines for building games. Similarly, Fortnite: Battle Royal is built on the same engine.
Can you see the problem here?
The real issue is that codes, just like songs, scenes and words, can be plagiarised. If two games on the same engine have nearly identical gameplay, it begs the question, how much code do the two games share?
Now I have no idea what is going on behind the scenes of Epic Games and Bluehole. But nobody is going to come out looking like a hero in this one.