This past week Epic Games launched a ‘Battle Royale’ mode within their game Fortnite.
It’s a giant multiplayer match where 100 competitors enter – there are no respawns and last player standing wins. To keep the mode engaging there is an active play zone that shrinks to force players into a more confined space.
This may all sound familiar – that’s because it is the premise of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. A hugely popular PC game from developers Bluehole Studios, who have also noticed the striking similarities in the games.
Over 1 million players have partied on the Battle Bus during the first day of Battle Royale! Thank you and party on! 🙌🎉🚍 pic.twitter.com/Tdqnk8YClb
— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) September 27, 2017
Bluehole Studios have warned Epic about their decision to challenge them and are consulting legal advice. They believe Epic may have infringed on their intellectual copyright and have acted illegally in doing so. Epic is a much larger company and Fortnite is intended to be a much larger game.
Bluehole is worried that this could pose a threat to the future of PUBG, so one can understand the studio’s concern. Do they have a leg to stand on in their case though?
Can anyone own a game mode?
The ‘Battle Royale’ mode is just that: a game mode. And can anyone really own a game mode? Can Call of Duty claim the rights to a team deathmatch? Can Forza claim the rights to all similar racing games?
Being a market leader in a particular game series or mode does not give one a patent for the mechanics of those games. PUBG is, after all, an online deathmatch, a concept that is as old as gaming itself, the details of the deathmatch are circumstantial.
“But!” we hear you say, “PUBG is so much more than a glorified deathmatch!” Yes, the huge quantity of players being dropped on an island, randomly scouted weapons and a shrinking environment are all staples of the game that stands out against the competition.
And yes, these are elements which have been copied by Epic for their new Fortnite mode; but this is not the first time such circumstances have arisen in popular media.
It is not even the first time a ‘Battle Royale’ mode appeared in a video game. PUBG creator Brendan Greene actually worked on two similar modes within other games. The two titles Dayz and H1Z1: King of the Kill are also available as open world battle royale alternatives to PUBG.
— DayZ Development (@dayzdevteam) July 15, 2017
At best, Brendan Greene took inspiration from popular media to adjust a format that already existed within games. Epic games may have acted disingenuously in copying that successful format but they have breached no legal terms.
Finally, we must take into consideration the fact that Epic games are also the company that developed the Unreal Engine. The same Unreal Engine that powers PUBG. Bluehole Studios will see this as the opportunity Epic needed to get their hands on the concept for their new mode.
Honestly though, this means Epic does have a fair claim to the mode’s creation, considering they designed the engine that powers it.
PUBG has been far more successful than Greene’s other enterprises largely due to that Unreal Engine. The game is faster and smoother than ever before and frankly, Bluehole Studios could not have achieved that alone.
— Unreal Engine (@UnrealEngine) June 11, 2017
It’s a shame that what was so recently celebrated as a wonderful collaboration for the studios has turned sour. But if anyone could own the rights to a ‘Battle Royale’ mode, Epic would surely have as much claim to it as Bluehole.
— PLAYERUNKNOWN (@PLAYERUNKNOWN) September 22, 2017
In the end, it’s a victory for capitalism; if Fortnite Battle Royale maintains a successful release it could go on to dwarf PUBG. Bluehole should forget about pursuing any legal actions and work on more modes, items and landscapes for their already insanely popular game.