Epic Games recently added Reboot Vans to Fortnite: Battle Royale, causing players to draw a comparison to the respawn beacon and drop ships in Apex Legends. Some are even saying that Fortnite is blatantly copying its competitor. While it does seem like Epic was directly inspired by the respawn system in Apex, this type of innovation from others has been going on forever.
Apex is a battle royale game that takes conventions from Fortnite, PUBG, and other similar titles that came before it. These games had the way paved for them by mods added to titles like Minecraft and ARMA II, which established the rules of the battle royale genre. The mods both took inspiration from movies like The Hunger Games, which has a similar premise and seems to be influenced by the Japanese film, Battle Royale. These all have traits that have been taken from what came before it.
Fortnite wouldn’t exist without the iterations of battle royale games that came before it. When looking back at the history of ideas that have become foundational, the line gets blurred between copying and being influenced by something. The conventions of battle royale games are just the beginning when it comes to features that Fortnite and Apex have adopted and help to illustrate a lineage of advancements in mechanics and ideas.
Copying or capitalizing on conventions?
Apex did so many things right but used the games that came before it and the conventions that made those games successful—everything from the colors that designate rarity and the first person controls to different heroes with unique abilities and an ultimate that charges over time. These are all conventions and mechanics that have come from different games.
The common to legendary color schemes were made popular by Diablo 2 and a bit later by World of Warcraft. These have been used by many games for the last decade, with some slight variation. This convention is used because it works and has become recognizable by gamers.
The hero system with passives and ultimates has also been around for a while, but has seen a surge in popularity due to the first person competitive shooter, Overwatch. The legends from Apex feel like they were conceived with a similar mindset used to create the Overwatch heroes.
Other conventions, like loot boxes and season passes, have also become mainstays in the market for the last few years. But sometimes common conventions aren’t always a good thing.
This “copying” is actually the only way for advancement in any kind of media. Artist movements like Naturalism or Expressionism came about from one artist having an interesting new method and others deciding to emulate that method in their own work.
Stole from, not inspired by
Blatant rip-offs are not the same as something emulating another product. A rip-off is a copy of what’s come before. This isn’t someone taking a method or technique, or in the subject of Apex, a game mechanic, and finding a place for it in their game. A rip-off is when someone with no original concept attempts to piggyback on the success of something else by making something that copies most (if not all) of its mechanics. This isn’t what’s happening here with The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, nor with Fortnite and Apex.
In those examples, they all had original ideas, with original aesthetics and characters, but they’re inspired by other pieces of media. These developers and artists were inspired by a great idea by their peers and then thoughtfully implemented it in their project to enhance it.
Building on a solid foundation
While Apex could have felt like a Frankenstein monster with different ideas all loosely stitched together, Respawn’s work shows. Apex has also taken some established systems in gaming and made them better. The ping system has been in games for a while but has arguably never worked as well as it does in Apex. While the respawn point isn’t entirely original, it’s implementation is a good idea and caught the eye of the Fortnite devs.
If this “copying” were to end, media and all entertainment would become stilted and stop evolving at the rate it has. Entertainment lives in an ecosystem where things feed off others and help each other grow. Most of the successful movies, songs, novels, or games have been built upon a foundation of conventions that came before it. And if it’s original enough, it could become another place for someone to build from.
Even when something new comes out, it can inspire the ever-updating video game that came before it. The developers of Fortnite were inspired by the developers of Apex just as the developers of Apex used some of the conventions made popular by Fortnite.
This relationship isn’t about copying each other or who’s ripping off whom. Instead, it’s about being inspired by each other and pushing a genre and medium forward. The gaming community needs to have more of an open mind and recall the history of games that brought us to this point before accusing a developer of copying. Without copying, we wouldn’t have the experiences we’re privileged to have today.