If you're gamer there's no way you haven't seen or heard of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite, two games that helped solidify the "battle royale" archetype of action-shooter to the mainstream over the last year or less. Before these games took over streaming services however, there was another that helped kickstart this industry-changing shift, a game that has its DNA infused into PUBG in particular.
We're of course talking about H1Z1, a game with a fascinating history, and one that now sits with an uncertain future.
H1Z1 began as a Sony Online Entertainment clone of the at-the-time popular DayZ - a game that itself began as a mod for ARMA 2 but that found itself as a real standalone title before it was abandoned by its player base and never really finished. H1Z1 was a similar survival-based zombie game, launched in early access three years ago at the beginning of 2015 during a time when Daybreak Games acquired Sony Online Entertainment's titles/assets.
In early 2016, a year after its launch, Daybreak split H1Z1 into two separate projects: Just Survive (the original gameplay) and the newer King of the Kill, a battle royale mode that was popular in the modding community for both DayZ and ARMA. Daybreak even sought out Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene himself, the creator of the mode, to help make King of the Kill for H1Z1 before he eventually went on to make the self-titled PUBG with Korean developer Bluehole.
Another year later, early 2017, and H1Z1: King of the Kill is a force to be reckoned with. It topped the charts of Twitch.tv, was popular among YouTubers and peaked at over 100,000 concurrent players. It was a game-changer, and one that helped skyrocket the idea of battle royale gameplay, allowing PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds to come in and rather quickly take over the market. Streamers began moving over, leaving H1Z1 for the more "realistic" PUBG. PUBG was the new hotness, its creator having a hand in both games. Not long later, Epic Games (the makers of the game engine that PUBG uses) stole their idea and added a free-to-play battle royale mode themselves to fledgling Fortnite and made it available on not just PC, but PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as well. Again, for free.
This ruthless cycle has brought about a rapid evolution in online multiplayer games, esports, and streaming opportunities, and it's been fascinating to observe. Today we sit less than a year since the launch of PUBG and it has broken all sorts of records, becoming the number one game on Steam, hitting numbers in the millions of concurrent players. Through a deal with Microsoft, PUBG also found itself launched on Xbox One for the 2017 holiday season, and despite its atrocious quality on that platform, it quickly surpassed 5 million in unit sales. It's a beast.
How impressive it then that the free Fortnite achieved even higher player counts, and in the last few weeks has taken over PUBG as the number one played (and streamed) shooter. Rapid content updates, better communication with its user base, a broad appealing title available on both consoles and PC have allowed it to take over while PUBG conversely sits relatively stagnant on updates, instead favoring a focus on sketchy loot box microtransactions (many of which now require real-money to open) and all of which can be sold for real-money raising concerns for hacking and the effects of gambling.
All of this however, spells doom for H1Z1 (yes, a few months ago it dropped the "King of the Kill" subtitle). In the last seven months, H1Z1 has lost over 90% of its player base leading up to its official launch out of early access on February 28, 2018. That's some bad planning, and somehow the three year-old title still hasn't found itself on consoles. Is it too late?