Battle royale is currently the hottest genre in gaming and Niko dubbed 2017 as the first year of battle royale games. In 2017 we noted that PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG) was the most popular game with over 30 million-unit sales on PC and Console. Fortnite was also gaining popularity thanks to its free to play model and had over 40 million players across PC and console. Soon it was clear that demand for battle royale games would continue to grow in 2018, on PC and on mobile.

Tencent and NetEase, the two largest games companies in China, caught wind of the battle royale genre fairly early on as PUBG gained traction in China. Despite only being available on Steam, millions of Chinese gamers signed up for a Steam account just to buy the game and join in on the fun. By the end of 2017, more than 10 million copies of PUBG had been sold on Steam in China and around 45% of active players globally were based in China. Live streaming and esports were huge contributors to the growth of PUBG in the country. It was clear that China had fully embraced PUBG and the battle royale craze.

Tencent obtains license for PUBG

Tencent lost no time in negotiating a license to bring an official localised version of PUBG to China. The final agreement was reported to include a Tencent investment in Bluehole, gain the rights to the PC version, and a license to develop two mobile versions of the game. The two mobile games were published in January 2018 in China and launched in the rest of the world last month. The PC version of the game is still in development and will release later this year.

The mobile versions of the game are off to a successful start.

The two mobile versions are:

1. PUBG: Exciting Battleground (Tencent’s Lightspeed & Quantum studio), focuses on the traditional PUBG experience.

2. PUBG: Full Ahead (Tencent’s Timi studio), focuses on land, sea and air battles.

In China, both games achieved a total of 75 million pre-registrations before the January release and had approximately 32m DAU’s across both games during the Spring Festival. Tencent has recently released the games in the West with the hope to reach a much larger audience. The company has not yet begun to monetise the game but plans to do so in the future.

Additional battle royale games either in development or already published by Tencent include:

  • CrossFire Mobile battle royale mode (Mobile)
  • Honor of Kings battle royale mode (Mobile)
  • Glorious Mission (Mobile)
  • Call of Duty Online battle royale mode (PC)
  • Europa (PC)
  • H1Z1 battle royale mode (PC)

Tencent will publish Fortnite in China developed by Epic Games, which is 48% owned by Tencent. Fortnite has been a hit in the West where it has amassed over 40 million players and is now the most streamed game on Twitch. The immense popularity of the game led Epic to develop a mobile version of the game which is currently at #1 on both the iOS games download and grossing charts in the US. Tencent plans to bring the game to the China later this year. It’s clear that Tencent is going all out on battle royale games to offer gamers many choices within this one genre and to dominate the battle royale genre in China.

Look out Tencent: NetEase provides strong competition

NetEase, China’s second largest games company, has also jumped on the battle royale trend in a way that not many would have expected. Relatively unknown outside China, the company now has some of the most popular mobile battle royale games in the world with Knives Out and Rules of Survival.

The company started by building a battle royale mode for its licensed mobile title, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, a sandbox post-apocalyptic MMO. The battle royale mode went into testing in July 2017 and launched in August 2017. The mode was extremely similar to PUBG and had between 24 and 48 players to parachute in and then fight till the last “man” standing. NetEase built upon this experience to develop a standalone battle royale game, known as Knives Out.

NetEase launched both Knives Out and Terminator 2’s battle royale mode (under the name ‘Rules of Survival’ in the West) globally in November 2017. This was the first time that NetEase launched a game globally on the same day and shows that the company was keen to be first to market in the mobile battle royale genre. With multiple mobile battle royale games on the market, NetEase was able to build up a user base of over 200 million players across both games.

After the successful global launch, the company started rolling out its esports plans. NetEase confirmed they would invest RMB 1 billion ($160m) setting up an esports gaming ecosystem for its battle royale and MOBA games.

Just like Tencent, NetEase has been quick to announce additional battle royale games that are currently in development or already released:

  • Crusaders of Light battle royale mode (Mobile)
  • Code Alive (Mobile)
  • Operation Windcloud (Mobile)
  • Fortcraft (Mobile)

NetEase also recently released a PC version of Knives Out to expand its reach. This is interesting because the typical pattern is to launch a mobile adaptation of a popular PC game to capture the mobile gaming audience, but in this case they are doing the reverse to help build gamer loyalty on both platforms.

Outlook for 2018

There is a lot to watch and the market is heavy with all sorts of battle royale games. We will continue to analyse the market for this genre and watch for the next genre to emerge. Niko publishes extensive monthly research notes which are in-depth analysis of a current trend or topic. Our latest research note on Battle Royale games contains more information on how China embraced this new genre. Contact us if you’re interested in subscribing to our research notes or purchasing a single edition.