Designing a more friendly Fortnite with food, puns, and no in-app purchases
Apple Arcade’s latest hit started out as a joke. The developers at Singapore-based Mighty Bear Games had already pitched an idea to Apple for its new subscription service, but two days before CEO Simon Davis was set to fly to California to iron out the details, someone on the team came up with a pun so powerful it derailed everything. That pun was “butter royale,” and it got the studio thinking about ways to make the ever-popular battle royale genre more approachable. It’s a space dominated by behemoths like Fortnite, PUBG, and Apex Legends, but Davis thought there was enough room to try something different. “We wanted to give an alternative that was much more accessible and family-friendly and non-threatening,” he explains.
Butter Royale, which is out now, is similar to those games in that the ultimate goal is to be the last player or squad standing. Thirty-two players drop onto a quaint suburban cityscape, and you have to gather up gear and weapons to defend yourself as an encroaching storm forces everyone closer and closer together. But that’s about where the similarities end. For one thing, despite being a top-down shooter, Butter Royale is decidedly nonviolent. It’s less battleground, more food fight. You’ll sling popcorn and hot dogs at other players and fire rockets that are actually baguettes. The encroaching storm, which forces players closer together, is a giant wave of melted butter.
Violence wasn’t the only thing the team wanted to change. Butter Royale is also noticeably simpler than its contemporaries; all you can really do is move and shoot. There’s no building or upgrades to fuss with, and you can only carry one weapon at a time. Similarly, the matches are short, usually clocking in at around five minutes. The goal was to boil the genre down to its essentials so that virtually anyone could pick it up and play. It was a philosophy inspired in part by Nintendo. “Mario Kart is a great example of a universal game that you can play regardless of age or skill,” Davis explains. “But there’s nothing really like that from a shooter perspective.”
Butter Royale is also different in that it doesn’t ask you for money. As an Apple Arcade release, it’s completely free to subscribers, with no in-app purchases whatsoever. For players who are used to spending cash to get the latest skins in Fortnite or Overwatch, it’s a welcome and occasionally jarring change. Despite this, Butter Royale maintains a familiar structure, with what is essentially a “battle pass” where players unlock content over time. There’s also an in-game shop where you can buy things like new characters with in-game currency, but everything in the game is unlocked entirely through gameplay.
“One of the beauties of being on a subscription service is that you don’t have to worry about monetization,” Davis says. “You just focus on creating the best possible experience for everyone. We know that for online games, people want to unlock content over time, and have something that they can keep working towards. The battle pass system works well in that respect. I think the fact that we’re not pushing power-ups or anything like that, also works in our favor. People generally feel pretty good about it. And having the high-level skins can feel like a marker of status.”
The game features a huge and — as you can probably guess from the name — very quirky cast of characters to unlock. That includes everything from a grandma with curlers to a young father with a baby strapped to his chest to a bride in a wedding dress. They’re strange, silly, and — most importantly — very diverse.
According to Davis, around 20 people worked on Butter Royale, with staff hailing from eight different countries. That, combined with the international nature of Apple Arcade (all games have to be localized in a large number of languages, for instance), meant diversity was particularly important. “We wanted to create a game that really reflected who we are and who our players would be as well,” Davis says. “We wanted everyone who plays, wherever they are in the world, to be able to play as someone who looks like them.”
The team is being quiet on what, specifically, fans can expect in the future. Changes to how progress works are coming, alongside the usual content updates like new weapons and characters. The developers may even experiment with Fortnite-style limited time game modes. But Davis says that Butter Royale has already garnered a very dedicated audience, and the plan is to change the game, in large part, based on their feedback. “We plan to support the game and really listen to our users,” he says.