Fortnite and PUBG Were a Study in Contrasts at PAX West

Fortnite and PUBG Were a Study in Contrasts at PAX West

Fortnite had youthful energy to spare at the show.

We're all guilty of narrowing down complex comparisons to a single "winner" and a single "loser." This is especially true of video games, and things got pretty ridiculous in the '90s when entire schoolyards divided on the notion that the Sega Genesis "won" and the Super Nintendo "lost."

The vicious 16-bit console wars are long behind us (Sega lost), but we still treat nearly everything in this industry like a zero-sum game. Case in point: Western society is currently neck-deep in the riotous colors of Fortnite, whereas its forebear, Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) is seemingly drab and quiet by comparison, even though it briefly dominated pop culture when its popularity peaked at the start of 2018. "PUBG is dead," we scoff as we watch sports stars and celebrities perform dances that entered mainstream culture through Fortnite.

While it's true PUBG's player base is falling and Bluehole needs to reverse the dive ASAP (though I doubt the studio is collectively scratching itself as the numbers come in), it's hardly on the rocks. PUBG is still huge in China, which isn't exactly a small market. PUBG also commands an older, more hardcore player base than Fortnite. I know anecdotes aren't worth much, but my brothers are big into shooters, and neither will touch Fortnite with a Battle Bus-sized pole.

PUBG is fine for now, but its presence admittedly still feels diminished in this part of the world; it's not hard to understand why people say "PUBG is dead." When I attended PAX West last weekend, I immediately noticed Fortnite's towering presence. There were outdoor tournaments, dancing mascots, and, of course, a makeshift miniature golf course. PUBG, on the other hand, had a much lower profile with a military vehicle that whisked people away to play the game (cue plenty of jokes exchanged about getting into a stranger's car).

Seeing Fortnite next to PUBG at PAX West made me realize why the discrepancy between the two battle royale games' popularity seems much bigger than it is. Simply put, Epic is aware its audience skews young, and it capitalizes on that fact in interesting ways. First and most obvious is how Fortnite is much more colorful and cartoony than the realistic-looking PUBG. All those bright colors admittedly made for eye-catching displays at PAX.

Beyond that, Epic's built up a culture around Fortnite that kids love. They adore the cool skins and goofy mascots. They love the iconic locales on the battlefield. They love the Durr Burger, but then again, who doesn't (except Mike)? There's probably no way Bluehole can make a fun mini-golf course from PUBG's lore. It'd be like dressing up a resentful old cat in a silly hot dog costume.

Epic's current strategy of drawing out Fortnite's "story" events is a clever one.

It's not like PUBG has much lore in the first place, though. Fortnite, on the other hand, has tons—even if it's not distributed through text or talking. Remember the mysterious meteor that dominated game news last spring? How about the rifts that kicked off season 5? Both events marked important changes to the game, and Epic easily could've inserted them without fanfare. Instead, it noted how games like Five Nights at Freddy's are driven by kids' bottomless appetites for "lore,", and it capitalized on that by letting players gasp over the bigger implications of every shift to Fortnite's environment.

That doesn't mean PUBG needs meteors and rifts to stay competitive with Fortnite. PUBG needs to focus on keeping its own demographic happy with improved performance and continuous content updates. If PUBG continues to keep its unique audience happy, it'll be just fine. There's no denying Fortnite's 24/7 party atmosphere makes the latter seem so much livelier than the former, though.

Disclosure: USgamer is part of Gamer Network, which is owned by ReedPOP, the organizers of the PAX events including PAX West.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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