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Are mobile clones of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds fighting a losing battle?

Are mobile clones of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds fighting a losing battle?

Trends rarely go unnoticed by the mobile games industry.

Be it fidget spinners or the political rise of Donald Trump, you can bet your bottom dollar that mobile game developers will be doing their utmost to get in on the act.

So when a PC game is generating as much attention as PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, in which 100 players compete in online battles to be the last one standing, it's hardly surprising that developers will want a slice of the pie.

20 million copies of PUBG have been sold as of November 7th, inspiring imitators in the PC and console space - most notably Epic Games' Fortnite Battle Royale.

And while there's a greater technical challenge in bringing such an experience to mobile, a few challengers have already emerged on the app stores.

Fighting for survival

To see the inspiration behind one of these, Ultimate Battle Royale, you need only look at the app icon. In a clear recreation of PUBG's key art, it features a masked man holding a pistol on one hand, a rifle on his back, standing in front of an explosion.

The only major difference is that the scene is rendered here in a simple, blocky art style which is replicated in-game.

Ultimate Battle Royale's only monetisation is a $1.99 IAP to remove ads, and it's hardly troubled the top grossing charts in any country.

But it's performed adequately in the download charts, peaking inside the top 100 for iPhone downloads in Latvia, Hong Kong, Slovakia and Thailand. It's maintained solid ranks in other European countries too, including the UK.

It's unsurprising that NetEase is keen: 35% of PUBG's players are from China.

The game's developer, Ghulam Mustafa, appears to be a one-man operation. But it's not just smaller developers taking an interest.

Triple threat

Chinese gaming giant NetEase is so keen, in fact, that it's released three different battle royale games.

Each seemingly very similar, and entirely without monetisation, it appears that the company is simply testing the waters at this point to see what sticks.

It's perhaps unsurprising that it should be a Chinese company at the forefront of PUBG imitating, when a reported 35% of its player base is based in China.

Knives Out was launched by NetEase on November 14th, and takes the same 100-person battle concept as PUBG. It's performance has been solid yet unspectacular in the US, ranking at 487th in the country's iPhone download charts. 

But it's done particularly well in Asia, boasting top-ten chart positions in Taiwan, Japan, Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand. In China, where it was released a few days prior to the worldwide launch, Knives Out topped the downloads chart for a full week.

Upping the ante

But what's better than a 100-person battle royale? With Rules of Survival, NetEase's answer is 'a 120-person battle royale'.

Rules of Survival has found a much bigger audience in the West, topping the US iPhone download charts from November 16th to 19th. It's also performed well in Europe, ranking inside the top five in Germany, France and the UK as of November 19th.

Meanwhile in China, it's peaked at second in the iPhone download charts and has ranked consistently in the top 10 since November 6th.

And finally, there's Survivor Royale. This one appaears to have the least traction, with no Chinese version and not even entering the iPhone download charts for countries such as the US and the UK.

The only country in which Survivor Royale has really excelled is in Thailand, where it's ranked at 10th in the iPhone downloads chart as of November 20th.

What's next?

So what can be taken from all this? First, there's the obvious: NetEase really wants to own the mobile battle royale space. It's flooding the market, trying different angles for different markets, and it's largely working.

NetEase really wants to own the mobile battle royale space.

That these games have been able to top the iPhone download charts in major markets like the US and China also demonstrates the sheer demand for such experiences on mobile

This begs the question: why is NetEase not monetising these games already? With these being games so reliant on community, the sensible guess would be that the Chinese outfit is focusing on growing an audience first and foremost.

If this is the case, then the download rankings so far certainly give the firm a strong foundation to build upon. 

But then there's another question: will NetEase eventually try and migrate its player into one single game, the battle royale game to rule them all, or continue this multi-pronged approach?

Whatever the case, NetEase will likely find itself facing sterner competition for the battle royale crown on mobile sooner rather than later. Only time will tell if it has what it takes to be the last developer standing.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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