H1Z1: King of the Kill is a major hit. It's sold seven million copies in its lifetime, according to SteamSpy, and yet for the last six months you probably haven't heard much about it. It takes an even bigger hit like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds to completely overshadow a game like King of the Kill, selling 10 million copies in just a few months. But PUBG's arrival didn't signal the death of King of the Kill. Daybreak's battle royale shooter has been a fixture in the top five most played games on Steam and a popular viewing choice on Twitch for much of its time in Early Access.
I had a chance last week to chat with a few members of King of the Kill's development team about some of the changes coming to KotK (I'll have more specifics on that in the near future), but I also wanted to hear their thoughts on the popularity of PUBG, what that means for King of the Kill, and how they see the battle royale genre changing in the future.
Speaking with Anthony Castoro, general manager for H1Z1: King of the Kill, Dave Mendelsohn, creative director, and Eric Correll, director of brand management and IP development at Daybreak, I asked whether any of the recent or upcoming changes to KotK, past or future, were made in response to PUBG's popularity.
"Our approach is definitely to focus on what would make our game better," said Anthony Castoro, "and we'll take that input from any source and put it through our design crew, so our focus has always been on [the] fast-paced nature and original roots of the game, and the high skill level required to be consistently in the top.
"Sometimes people might speculate that, oh, we were doing this because of PUBG, [and] we just chuckle because we were in the meetings in February where we decided to do it. The reality is a lot of that is just, there are conventions in shooting games that are pretty common, and when we were adopting best practices for our game and improving our game, some of those things are going to be similar to other games.
"But where we really focus [on] is what makes out game special and unique. We just sort of try to ignore any comparison there and focus on what is the experience that people [are] having that makes our game great and how can we double down on that."
For a long time, even with PUBG increasing in popularity, it looked like KotK's player count was remaining solid. PUBG was pulling in new players week over week, but it never appeared as if those players were leaving KotK behind. However, looking at SteamDB's charts for August and September, there does appear to be a dip in KotK's player counts.
"The game's peak [concurrent user count] is still really healthy and we're still in the top four on Steam," Castoro said. "There's some seasonality to what happens with our games and there's also a pattern of updates and things that are going to drive attention, right? And so, what we do know is that a lot of people who are playing Battlegrounds for the first time have never played or heard of our game, and we see that as a huge opportunity."
"We're excited about how many people are starting to get into that genre and the opportunity for us to grow as a result, so I wouldn't worry too much about what you're seeing in player counts and whether that's related to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds or not.
"As a matter of fact, since the [combat] update our numbers, particularly in Europe and NA are noticeably up, so we're really excited about that."
I also asked the team their thoughts about other developers and publishers jumping in to the battle royale genre. We've already seen a few try: there was a battle royale game called The Culling that appeared in March of last year, Ark took a swing with Survival of the Fittest, and both Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite have added or are adding battle royale modes.
"I'm somewhat surprised we haven't seen a little bit more because it's really compelling," Castoro said. "Everyone should be paying attention to this genre, and to what H1Z1 is doing, and what any other [BR game] comes in and does."
"Two of the top four games on Steam are this new sort of burgeoning genre," said Eric Correll, "so we're pretty proud that we were sort of the first game to take a big commercial risk on it and articulate it and innovate, and we're looking forward to continuing to innovate and sort of build our brand of battle royale as fast-paced and action-packed.
"And we think there's an incredible market for that, and it will, as Anthony said, I think there's so much interest around it you can't ignore it. But we feel we have a great inside track in terms of how we do this last man standing genre."