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The people behind PUBG believe the extraction shooter is the next big thing

They’re probably not wrong, but are they pivoting in time?

Key art from PUBG: Battlegrounds of several players fighting in the Korean Taego map Image: PUBG Studios/Krafton
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Tucked inside a report to investors, one sees the plans PUBG: Battlegrounds publisher Krafton has made to extricate itself from a battle royale market it helped create, but which seems to be plateauing, even for the Big Four (including Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Call of Duty: Warzone) that dominate the space.

PUBG’s studio is working on an extraction shooter, a subgenre that looks like the way of the future, especially for the heavy hitters among first-person shooter developers. The game so far is called “Project BlackBudget,” South Korea-based Krafton told investors last week, and a three-pronged launch — PC, console, and mobile — is on the table.

Krafton is “challenging ourselves to popularize the extraction shooter genre,” the company said. Here’s the thing: It may be popular enough already, and Krafton’s trying to cut as big a slice as it can get following Call of Duty: Warzone’s success with its still-in-beta DMZ mode.

Extraction shooters have been around in earnest since at least 2019, when Escape From Tarkov — by then almost three years old — caught fire atop the charts of both Twitch and Steam. Their concepts can also be found in modes like The Dark Zone of 2016’s Tom Clancy’s The Division and its 2019 sequel, as well as — naturally — DayZ. A mod of that game became PUBG: Battlegrounds.

But we’ve also seen an uptick in good, stand-alone extraction shooters, or at least interesting early-access attempts at getting shooter fans’ attention. That’s come over a yearlong stretch that has been absolutely brutal on new ideas pursuing either a battle royale or battle pass model, or both.

The biggest casualties:

  • Rumbleverse: Iron Galaxy’s “brawler royale” was a melee-based approach to the battle royale, and it lasted less than a year. The game, published by Epic Games, launched in August and will go offline Feb. 28. To be fair, both Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout and Naraka: Bladepoint are melee battle royales, and both are still standing. Rumbleverse may have had a difficult time standing out as a free-to-play game with a battle pass simply because Epic already dominates the space with Fortnite, Rocket League, and, by the way, Fall Guys.
  • Apex Legends Mobile: Electronic Arts on Jan. 31 announced a startling about-face for the mobile adaptation of its battle royale. That game shuts down in May, about one year after it launched. Apex Legends got into the mobile space well after Fortnite and PUBG, and with Call of Duty: Warzone’s mobile version expected sometime this year, EA may have seen little percentage in chasing that pot.
  • Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon Frontline and Hyper Scape, two battle royales that drew little attention (and comparable player bases) that the French publisher axed in July and April of 2022, respectively. In hindsight, the Tom Clancy franchise being too late to the party to make any noise as a battle royale might have been something of a bellwether.

Other signs that the shooter genre, on the whole, culls out weaker ideas at a faster pace because so much of its identity rests in a single genre governed by four titles:

  • Battlefield 2042, EA’s flagship shooter, may have had a raft of other problems — its first multiplayer season was delayed seven months past the game’s November 2021 launch. But it also didn’t help that multiplayer-only Battlefield 2042 had no battle royale to capture fans, either; Battlefield 5 introduced its Firestorm battle royale in the spring of 2019.
  • Furthermore, while a mobile version of Battlefield had not yet launched, EA announced it had given up on that project the same day it canned Apex Legends Mobile.
  • Knockout City, Velan Studios’ attempt at a brighter and friendlier multiplayer shooter with a season and battle pass model, has been TKO’d. It’s still playable, but will shut down on June 6, two years after launch.
  • CrossfireX, repeatedly marketed as the western version of Asia’s all-time most-popular first-person shooter, is another live-service game that is completely shutting down in May. That goes for its multiplayer component as well as the single-player campaign developed by Remedy Entertainment, neither of which were very well received.

If extraction shooters are where the smart money is headed, this is what Krafton will find when it gets there. In addition to the aforementioned Escape From Tarkov and Call of Duty: Warzone’s DMZ, these games have recently seen success with the format:

  • Hunt: Showdown — Irony of ironies, this extraction shooter may breathe new life into Crytek, the gold standard for FPS games a decade ago, and mired in a slump ever since. In this game, players are making their way through a bayou on a mission to hunt down a boss monster. Killing it disperses the loot, but then the players who grab it become visible to all the others in the game. Bottom line, someone’s getting out with the goods. Hunt: Showdown usually hovers around the top 50 of Steam’s most-played games.
  • Second Extinction — This game is still in early access, and is also available in Xbox Game Preview. It’s expected to make a full launch this year. In this extraction shooter, players drop into a world overrun by “mutated, evil dinosaurs,” and they’re given a set of shifting objectives that they can complete, or bail out of by getting to the extraction point early.
  • The Cycle: Frontier — From the studio behind Spec Ops: The Line, this extraction shooter launched in June 2022 after three years in early access. It’s a free-to-play game available through both the Epic Games Store and Steam. Players are prospectors on the surface of an alien planet, trying to extract its riches while fending off dangerous and deadly threats, as well as other players.
  • Dark and Darker: This isn’t a shooter, per se, but Ironmace’s fantasy-themed, melee-based, loot-and-leave roguelike definitely fits the bill of the multiplayer extraction adventure laid out so far. It just finished an alpha test on Steam, which saw player counts peak at more than 100,000 on five out of the seven days it was offered. Dark and Darker is expected to launch in the last quarter (October to December) of 2023, with console versions possible once Ironmace — another Korean studio — locks down the PC launch.

With the subgenre familiar enough to shooter fans, but the extraction genre table barely set so far, are conditions ripe for it to be the next breakout, like battle royales in 2017? This bears watching.