How Developers and Publishers are Pushing the Limits of Real-Time Massive-Scale Open-World Gaming

What lies beyond Fortnite? GamerToken investigates.

Most gamers accredit The Legend of Zelda as the original truly open-world game. Now more than ever before, open-world gaming is ruling the industry. We’re seeing a shift from linear to open-world gameplay happening online and offline. Classically linear games like Metal Gear Solid and The Witcher have successfully changed allegiance for their most recent iterations. At the same time, games are increasing the number of opponents — World War Z have announced up to 1000 attacking AI zombies at a time.

The trend of real-time open-world gaming looks set to continue. It’s leading across genres, from indie games like Rust to mobile games like World of Tanks Blitz. Yet its dominance is most pronounced in high player-capacity first-person and third-person shooter games like PUBG and Fortnite. The latter of which has become such an ubiquitous cultural juggernaut that its prevalence is inescapable across playgrounds, the high street and even World Cup celebrations.

Credit: Facepunch Studios

There are dozens of these battle-royale style releases in the pipeline, including CoD’s realistic battle royale mode – Blackout, sci-fi battle royale – Islands of Nyne, Viking battle royale – Vallhall, and recently released zombie battle royale mode – Dying Light’s Bad Blood.

Real-time open-world action gaming doesn’t look likely to be a passing fad; with many gamers drawn to the all-or-nothing survival matches containing up to a hundred players. But questions remain as to whether tech progression can keep up with this new phenomenon.

Why now?

From genre-staleness to marketing to psychology, many an article has been written to try to decipher Fortnite’s success. So why now? A more fitting question is, “How now?”.

It’s only through technological breakthroughs that this new subgenre can flourish. Classic cluster-based MMORPG servers can hold thousands of players — triple-A titles like WoW were able to hold tens of thousands years ago. However, their segmented zone-based solutions will not work for real-time action games with regular, intense PvP action. Unlike the MMORPGs of old, these new games require complex, instant player-to-server-to-player data exchange. Using traditional methods, this requires high levels of latency and processing power.

So how did Fortnite manage it? Both PUBG and Fortnite run on Epic’s own tried-and-tested Unreal Engine. Unreal has been a staple of game development for years and it’s arguably more valuable to Epic than Fortnite itself. It was through a familiarity and expertise with this engine that Epic were able to flexibly adapt Fortnite’s gameplay to meet player demand.

Having their own engine allows them to update and fix the game with incredible speed. Patches and fixes are regular and nearly instant; they tend not to take longer than a few days (compared to months in other triple-A titles). This also allowed Fortnite to go cross platform with ease.

Credit: Epic Games

Nonetheless, Fortnite’s effectiveness is also thanks to its simplicity. It is not a technically complex game and it has low graphics requirements. As the genre progresses, players will expect heightened graphics, more players and larger maps. These technical challenges have led publishers to be vague in their player-count promises; when pushed for an answer about Blackout’s player cap, Treyarch’s studio responses have included, “multiples higher than the highest we’ve achieved” and “an order of magnitude above anything previously in Call of Duty”.

What solutions are available?

To actualise players’ wishes for huge immersive battles, developers need to get creative.

Following in Epic’s footsteps, some developers are sticking to their own engines to give themselves full creative control. Look no further than Amazon’s New World, a sandbox MMO set in colonial-era America. They’re using Amazon’s very own Lumberyard engine. Just as with Epic games, this should give them agility to add patches, platforms and additions.

One interesting alternative solution has been put forward by the much hyped Mavericks: Proving Grounds, previously known as “Project X”. Mavericks has been described as “an MMO of unprecedented scale, supporting 1000 concurrent players in an ultra-high fidelity world instance”.

They have been confident in their ability to produce a 400-player Battle Royale mode with photo-realistic graphics, a highly reactive environment and more stable gameplay than existing battle royale modes. They’re hoping to achieve this by running on Improbable’s SpatialOS platform, effectively uploading the entire game onto the cloud. That world is then coupled with Crytek’s CryEngine to provide real-time rendering on players’ PCs.

Credit: Automaton Games

The system works to the advantages of both client and server. Servers handle the data and moving parts while the client handles the pixels. In theory, this should free up plenty of computational power to improve games’ quality, fidelity, graphics, scalability and immersion.

This redesigns the relationship between client and server. Rather than having to increase the processing power of individual platforms or reduce the technological requirements of their game, players’ PCs become windows into the cloud where the game is truly run.

The project is certainly ambitious, but it provides a creative and promising solution with potential to extend beyond Unreal’s standard capability. It’s possible that this solution could be the beginning of a revolution in how we enjoy technologically demanding games.

Does Blockchain have a part to play?

Blockchain always has a part to play! Fortnite has been the greatest example of a free-to-play skins-based economy. The battle royale format is perfect for the sale and trade of cosmetic in-game items. Blockchain based solutions like GamerToken allow for hundreds of thousands of instant transactions almost immediately. It allows publishers to improve their margins by cutting out PayPal, Stripe and/or App Store fees while providing players with safe and secure purchases and the ability to truly own their in-game loot.

As real-time, massive-scale, open-world gaming continues its journey, GamerToken will be right there beside it.

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