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 game 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 PUBGand 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 in the 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 accounts, and in the last few weeks has taken over PUBG as the number one played (and streamed) shooter. Rapid content updates, wonderful communication with its user base, a broad appealing title available on both consoles and PC have allowed it to take over PUBG while 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?
H1Z1 Is Now Out of Early Access, And It's FREE!
Despite claims that H1Z1 was dead and the depressing, massive drop in player activity that can be seen on Steam Charts, Daybreak remains confident and dedicated to their battle royale title. It launched out of early access finally two weeks ago and brought with it a surprise brand new mode called Auto Royale which "puts the pedal to the metal within the standard battle royale concept."
- You never run out of gas, keep that pedal to the metal
- Speed through the map for power-ups, weapons, and vehicle upgrades
- Drop landmines, shoot enemy vehicles, and fire up your boost to kick things into high gear
- Find ultra-rare weapons like Light Machine Guns and Explosive Arrows in airdrops
- Work with your team to outshoot, outdrive, and outlast the competition
By all accounts, it's a rather fun mode even if it's drastically different and feels like a last-ditch effort/gimmick to regain some traction. On its launch, Daybreak sponsored top streamer Dr. Disrespect to play the game for the day but within a day or two, H1Z1 was nowhere to be seen on Twitch. The full launch a week ago added these updates as well:
- Tactical Deployment: Players can choose which area to parachute into at the start of a match using a heat map that shows locations of where other players spawn.
- Airdrop Revamp: The airdrop system has been refined to add more points of contention, increasing the drop frequency and item value.
- Season 1: The official first in-game Season for H1Z1 starts with an all-new scoring algorithm designed to reward consistency and aggression, not just a player’s ten best placements.
- Mini Map: Players now have the option to turn on a mini-map to help the navigate the world.
- Founder’s Item: All players who bought H1Z1 during Early Access will receive a special in-game shirt.
But that didn't work to rescue H1Z1 from its low player accounts and low interest so the next step, just a week after launching in full and Daybreak has made H1Z1 free-to-play just like Fortnite as of today. So, players who purchased the game in early access get more than a t-shirt now, they also get an "H1Z1 Appreciation Pack”, containing the following items:
- Gasrunner Hoodie
- Bloom Survivor T-Shirt
- Splinter Camo ARV
- 10 Victory Crates
- 10,000 Skulls
H1Z1 Is Trying to Push Into Esports With Its Own Pro League
This had to happen because despite the cliff dive in players, Daybreak was planning to make a push on the Esports scene, and today they made this official alongside going free-to-play.
The H1Z1 Pro League™ (H1PL), the first professional battle royale esports league today unveiled the 15 charter teams that will compete in its inaugural season beginning April 21st in Las Vegas, Nevada. The H1PL also announced that it has teamed up with Facebook to exclusively broadcast all digital content and that Caesars Entertainment will be its official venue and entertainment partner. Redefining the current esports model, the H1PL is the first professional esports league established as a joint venture between a game publisher and an independent league operator – Daybreak Game Company and Twin Galaxies LLC.
This seems to be a year too late and we can't see this event being a destination for fans because there aren't that many, nor will Facebook streaming be the place gamers will be watching their favorite teams compete. PUBG has held multiple Esports tournaments already, and while that game has plenty of issues of its own (something they also had to cop to today in their own official layout of plans for the future - a reaction to Fortnite kicking their butts lately), at least it has the players and stream interest.
Going free and adding a new mode is smart, but will players leave the bigger and more popular PUBG and Fortnite for it? Player attention is easily replaced the by the next better thing in this genre, and big missteps are not quickly forgotten. For this reason, once more battle royale games debut - especially ones from triple-A developers currently stuck in their old ways - start hitting, PUBG could follow a similar path to H1Z1.
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