Ubisoft empowers audiences in its new Battle Royale – will it work?

The ambitions of ‘Hyper Scape’ as a live-streaming behemoth demand a loyal viewership – but is the gameplay good enough to muster an audience?

With all the dependability of the setting sun, a new battle royale has crossed our collective horizon. Almost every publisher in the games industry has had a pop at biting this phenomenon, with many of them pleased to find incredible success. It’s easy to forget due to its utter cultural dominion, but Fortnite was initially a humble base-building zombie game with a price tag… we’ve all gotta start somewhere!

As the space has become saturated, new entrants into this Sisyphean genre gauntlet have found they need to warp the boundaries to appeal to the public, tapping trends and indulging the most garish elements of our current cultural moment. Ubisoft’s upcoming Hyper Scape isn’t exactly subtle in its approach. Beyond its bouncy gunplay and subsequent verticality, the game’s unique selling point is its Twitch integration, which quite literally gets in the way of the game.

Ubisoft has noticed that a free-to-play game of this nature’s success is inexorably tied to its streaming numbers, and has added a set of features that allow those consuming the game to make an impact on the players they’re watching from the comfort of their couch. Those who watch Hyper Scape on Twitch can vote to activate low-gravity or unlimited ammo effects, events that directly affect the game in progress.

I found this out the hard way when a ‘player reveal’ event was twigged in the dying throes of a tense firefight: I was quickly deleted from virtual reality thanks to the votes from the audience, only to be thrown back into the fold when my teammates revived my data-corpse.

It made me realise that the Twitch integration in Hyper Scape is really all about turning matches into stories, something the game excels at due to its comeback culture. You’re never truly gone unless the entire team is dead here, and a lone wolf can go on a hero’s journey full of tension and release to emerge victorious.

This focus on story makes the game watchable and completes the feedback loop Ubisoft needs to ensure Hyper Scape’s success: you can easily root for those you’re observing if you control their fate.

Most importantly, the mastermind hive of viewers feel as if they have impacted the match and the streamer in a meaningful way, beyond flinging parasocial pocket money at them so they can sing them a half-arsed ‘Happy Birthday’. Streamers can personally invite the audience using the extension, and viewers can even progress their Hyper Scape battle pass by watching as well as playing.

It’s a clever rebuttal to the people who don’t understand streaming, the famous retort being “why don’t you just play the game instead of watching it” – with Hyper Scape, we’re getting close to the point where viewers actually can…

Hyper Scape
Hyper Scape. Credit: Ubisoft

All of this comes with one massive caveat though. Hyper Scape’s ambitious audience agency can’t make an impact on the genre if there isn’t a loyal viewership to begin with.

Due to partnerships with top streamers during the Technical Test, the game shot to the very top of Twitch’s live categories in the first 48 hours, but on its final day on Wednesday it was hanging around near the 100 mark.

This does not bode well for Hyper Scape’s longevity. I’m sure it’ll see another boom upon its full release or open beta (most likely revealed during the Ubisoft Forward event on July 12) but the fact that it did not dominate Twitch for the entirety of its testing period tells me the talent has lost interest beyond the initial encouraged promotion. After a quick fix, viewers fell back into old habits.

Without the influencers to back it, Ubisoft knows Hyper Scape is doomed, as its audience integration can’t make its mark with a small player or viewer base. I think the game’s integration features are an exciting idea myself, but the metrics are worrying.

It’s kind of a Catch-22. If it’s so fun to play, everyone will watch it just for the drops (like Valorant), causing an initial boom, then everyone will be in-game playing it rather than watching it on Twitch. On the flip side, if it’s so much fun to watch, who’s going to be bothered about playing it?

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Hyper Scape, and if the game’s ambitions may end up being eaten alive by the fickle live-streaming culture it’s chomping on.

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