Fortnite is eating PUBG’s lunch

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds will be fighting an uphill battle after celebrating its first birthday

March 23 marks one year since Bluehole unleashed PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) on Steam Early Access. The title has exceeded the wildest expectations, selling over 30M digital copies across PC and Xbox One through January 2018 and popularizing the battle royale game type. For most games, this would be a happy anniversary. However, there are signs the game is at risk of falling behind competitors including Epic’s Fortnite: Battle Royale.

Fortnite has already overtaken PUBG in many success metrics. During the last week of February, Fortnite had 14.0M unique viewers on Twitch compared to 8.7M for PUBG. Compare this to their performance in the fourth week of January when PUBG had 8.5M unique viewers while Fortnite had 6.1M. In February, Fortnite passed PUBG in total revenue on PC and console ($126M versus $103M). While Fornite continues its steady upward trajectory, PUBG revenue peaked in December (the month it left Steam Early Access on PC and launched on Xbox One).

Fornite’s advantages boil down to accessibility. The game is free-to-play (while PUBG costs $30) and it arrived on consoles in September 2017, several months before PUBG. Fortnite also has an easier learning curve and is more kid friendly thanks to its cartoonish looks. These factors have combined to make Fortnite a bona fide social phenomenon, inspiring high school exams and finding its way into sports celebrations. The title’s recent mobile launch also appeals to young players without access to game-ready PCs or consoles.

PUBG’s slowing trajectory is not only due to Fortnite’s success. Cheating in PUBG remains rampant, and Bluehole has been forced to spend resources fighting this instead of creating new content and polishing the core gameplay.

Competition in the battle royale space will likely get more fierce in the near future. Major publishers like Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Ubisoft have the potential to bring AAA-level production values to the subgenre. However, even they cannot take too long to do so.

As players become invested in certain titles, the battle royale category will likely start resembling top-heavy genres like MOBAs and collectible-card games (CCG). In 2017, League of Legends and Dota 2 owned 57% of the PC MOBA market. MOBAs from the biggest publishers like EA (Dawngate) and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (Infinite Crisis) have died off after arriving late to the party. Similarly, Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft controlled over half of the PC card game market last year.

With several competitors biting at its heels, what can PUBG do to stay relevant?

First, the developers should double down on the realistic, demanding gameplay. Potential battle royale competitors from AAA studios will likely cater to beginners. PUBG can position itself as a more serious alternative, much like how hardcore shooters like Rainbow Six: Siege have found success even if they appeal to a smaller audience than Call of Duty. PUBG’s developers need to quickly get past the cheating issues so they can flesh out the game and add content on a more regular basis.

PUBG is no longer the biggest battle royale game in town. But it still has an edge over games that have yet to come out, giving it time to correct its course and carve out a major share of the market for years to come.