H1Z1 is no more.
No, it hasn’t shut down. It’s now officially known as Z1 Battle Royale on PC, despite being unofficially labeled as such since last September, following Wednesday’s mega-patch, Return of the King, which General Manager Anthony Castoro described as representing “the first big delivery on the promise that the new NantG team made when it took over development last September: Bring back the game that so many of you fell in love with in the classic ‘King of the Kill’ era around Preseason 3 at the end of 2016 and in early 2017.”
Last week, Castoro also characterized the patch as “pivotal in reuniting Just Survive with Z1 Battle Royale,” hinting at a possible return of H1Z1’s original survival mode. I think it’s even more important than that; this patch, and its level of success, will be pivotal in keeping the primary battle royale game mode alive.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. Prior to the patch, Steam Charts had Z1BR hovering at around 1,000 average players in February. After the patch went live two days ago, it shot up to nearly 13,000 players, topping out at nearly 10,000 yesterday with a peak of about 8,600 today. Keep in mind that those two figures represent peaks. The average over the last few days, which would be directly comparable to that 1,000 figure from February, is probably in the 7,000 to 8,000 range.
Now take a look at last February, just before H1Z1 went free-to-play. The average player count that month was 7,162.7. It surged to 13,673 in March, when F2P hit, and then was down to 6,798.9 in April — lower than what it had been before F2P and pretty close to the average over the past couple of days since the patch.
So, that leads us to the following conclusion: Z1BR is just about as successful right now, two days after its rebranding, as H1Z1 was a month after it went F2P. Is there any reason to think it won’t follow the same path and continue dropping, until a year or so later when it’s back to 1,000 concurrents? Will it even take a year? Will the game survive that long?
A couple of things could work in Daybreak’s favor. First, the game is available on PlayStation 4, and we don’t have any way to track its numbers there. DC Universe Online was supposedly doing huge business on the PS3 for years, and it’s still around, so there must have been something to that.
Second, when H1Z1 went F2P initially, it was still pretty much the same game before F2P. Free-to-play won’t instantly make a game better, so if it was going downhill before, there’s not much reason to think it won’t continue to slide after the brief jolt it gets after going free-to-play.
The Return of the King update sounds like it’s changing all that, however. NantG at least realized that the current state of the game wasn’t too popular and decided to change things up to try and recapture its magic. Castoro’s stated time frame of “end of 2016 and in early 2017” would seem to be the ideal point in H1Z1’s history for Z1BR to try and emulate. That was when the game was just starting to surge and become one of the most-played games on Steam.
Even if the quality is there, will the players come back? It’s a colossal understatement to say that a lot has happened in the battle royale genre since early 2017. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite: Battle Royale, and Apex Legends are the heavy hitters, but Ring of Elysium, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Blackout, and Realm Royale — which is a bit of a comeback story in its own right — aren’t doing too shabby either. When H1Z1: King of the Kill launched, it was pretty much the only game in town. Now it’s facing intense competition on PC and consoles and it’s going to have a tough time recapturing its former glory.
After a less-than-successful free-to-play launch and a failed esports league, this would seem to be H1Z1/Z1 Battle Royale’s last chance. If it doesn’t do the job, there probably won’t be any other options left to explore. Regardless of what you think of the title or of Daybreak Game Company or NantG, you have to admit: it’s been one hell of a ride since we first heard about the game five years ago.