Will PUBG Become an Esport? PlayerUnknown Weighs In
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is one of the most popular games in the world. It seems like whenever you open up Steam, more than half your friends are actively slaughtering each other in winner-take-all combat. Meanwhile, Battlegrounds is one of the biggest games on Twitch and YouTube, with millions of viewers flocking to see the latest clutch plays.
If you’ve never experienced Battlegrounds first-hand, it may be hard to understand the game’s massive draw. While the game is based around a Battle Royale style of gameplay, Battlegrounds intensifies the action by pitting 100 players against one another in a battle to the death, all while the play area gradually shrinks in size, pushing the surviving players closer together.
Right now, PUBG is in Early Access and sees rapid growth with each passing month. The developers have been hard at work fine-tuning the game in order to get it ready for release before the end of the year, and it will even appear on Xbox as a console exclusive this fall/winter.
Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with the creator of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene, and found out more about the game’s development, including two new maps and whether or not PUBG has a future in esports.
Where did the original idea behind Battlegrounds come from?
I started out modding back in ARMA II, and there was a DayZ mod event called The Survivor GameZ and I just wanted to play that. I decided to make my own mod loosely based around Battle Royale the movie; that sort of ever decreasing area of play. And yeah, that’s where it kind of came from, a mixture of the two [ideas], and making a game that I wanted to play.
Are you surprised by how massively popular Battlegrounds has become?
Just a little. I was expecting some popularity but we sailed past 200k yesterday. It’s been crazy, the amount of people. We didn’t expect this level of popularity.
What are some of the hardest challenges you’ve faced while working on Battlegrounds?
Doing it in a year. We have a great executive producer and a really passionate team, but at the start I was like, “No we can’t make this in a year,” you know? Making a realistic map takes a year in itself. Some of the challenges were just getting stuff ready for Early Access.
I didn’t want to go into Early Access with a product that wasn’t at least stable to play. We’ve been very open since the start of development. We’ve let people play the game so that we mitigate a lot of the problems. Because you’ve got a large player base testing, you get to see stuff quicker and fix it.
What led you to working with Bluehole, and how has the process been with them on board?
I got an email from their executive producer—the boss of the project—and he said that he wanted to make a Battle Royale game for the last 10 years. I decided it might be a good idea if the two of us were teamed up because his idea for a game was very similar to what I wanted.
They flew me to Korea, we had an interview, I met the whole team, and decided, “Right, let’s do this.” A week later I was there, and I’ve been there for the last year and a bit working with them making the game.
In the past, you developed mods like DayZ: Battle Royale. Did these modding experiences help shape your approach to Battlegrounds at all?
Yeah, it gave us a really solid base to work off. Over the last four years—especially in ARMA III—we’ve had a chance to refine the game mode and test stuff and see what works and doesn’t work. Going in to make my own game with Battlegrounds, I had a lot of that information already.
The gameplay still needs to be tuned and balanced, but we have a very good base to work off. We had a leaderboard system and all this kind of stuff we could implement pretty much straight away. Needs more tuning, obviously, but the platform was there already.
How do you feel about Battlegrounds being so successful as an Early Access title?
We were really happy. I didn’t want to go into Early Access. It was one of those things I fought against, but I’m only the creative director. I don’t get to make decisions like that. The point I made to my boss was, “Listen, it has to be stable.”
Because we had so many alpha tests along with the closed beta, it was pretty stable when we got to Early Access. There’s probably 10 percent of players who aren’t having the best time, but 90 percent of people are enjoying the game, and we are going to fix it.
Speaking of mods, are there any plans to add mod support to Battlegrounds in the future?
Eventually, yeah. I want to find the next me. I want to give people a platform to play with our island and stuff. Until the game is stable and runs good for everyone, we don’t want to worry too much about modding. But yes, we do want to put [modding] into the game.
Battlegrounds is one of the most viewed games on Twitch right now. Do you think exposure from streamers is one of the things that helped buoy the game’s success?
I think so. Battle Royale game modes—ever since H1Z1: King of the Kill and even my ARMA III game mode— have always been popular on Twitch and some of those big streamers like Lirik were playing quite consistently.
It’s a good thing for streamers to play because you’re dedicated, you’ve got action within 30 minutes, but there’s downtime as well. Especially in Battlegrounds, where it’s more tactical and less hectic, you’ve got that downtime where you can chat and it’s definitely helped with the popularity of the game.
Do you ever watch streams of your game on Twitch or YouTube to check out the different strategies people use to win?
Oh, I do. Because I live in Korea I’m at weird time zones—it’s like 16 hours ahead of Pacific time—I get to watch some Grimmmz and some Josh OG; whoever’s on at that time I tend to watch. It’s a great bug fixing thing, watching people play your game. You find out stuff that’s broken very quickly.
What are some of the biggest fan requests you get for Battlegrounds?
First-person. I had a guy come up to me at TwitchCon last year and spend half an hour convincing me why I should get rid of third-person and put first-person servers. First-person requires a bit of work from us because we have to redo camera angles because we’re doing true, first-person cameras.
So it takes a bit of work, and we don’t have the time to focus on that. We want to get the server optimized. There are a lot of people who want it more like H1Z1, and people who want it more like ARMA III, but we have to stick to our guns and get my vision for the game out there. We listen to people’s feedback, but we still have our vision to make.
With such a fierce competitive element to winning at Battlegrounds, are there any plans to host esports tournaments in the future?
Everyone has been asking us about esports. We believe in order for a successful esport to form it has to be organic and grow from the ground up. Also, the game needs to be stable. I mean, we’re talking to teams, we’re talking to organizations, finding out what they want from the game as a platform for esports, but until the game is solid and we have solid servers with a good tick rate, that’s not our focus.
I want Battle Royale to be the new esport. I think it’s a great format. I think it can be fun and good to watch, but until the game actually works, we’re kind of not going headlong into esports.
Are there any new maps in the works for Battlegrounds?
Yeah, we have two new maps, both about the same size as the current map. One is based in the Adriatic in the old Yugoslavia. It’s got some really cool features and it’s an island. Our lead environmental artist Sergei is designing that at the moment and pulling crazy hours doing his research on architecture types.
We also have a new technical artist and she’s building tools, so depending on where you put houses on the landscape, you can alter the number of floors very easily. We’re putting lots of new tech into the maps as well to make them look more real and have more texture. One’s in the Peruvian desert and one’s in the Adriatic. The Peruvian map is going to be a nice desert map with cities that’ve been covered by big sandstorms.
Will Battlegrounds expand to add new dangers into the game alongside enemy players and map restriction?
With the Adriatic map we have a high, snowy mountain center of the map to give it verticality. The team that we have and the boss that we have, they understand what we’re providing. We’re not planning to release the game and that’s it. There’s a very firm plan for the next 5 or 6 months as to what we want to do and deliver.
What’s one thing you’re most excited about when it comes to the future of Battlegrounds?
Server performance; we’ve been profiling the servers. This is what we’re doing all month, looking at the data trying to find choke points, and we already found one or two big issues with the network codes. Once we fix that and get higher tick servers, it’ll improve the game because the client game is pretty solid at the moment.
It’s not fantastic for everyone, but it’s pretty solid and people can play. The servers are the biggest issue. Once we get that locked down, it’s really going to make everyone so much happier. There’s also a lot of new content coming, and I’m excited for that too, but for me it’s really performance and getting everything working. Then we can look at adding more stuff.
What advice would you give other modders or would-be game designers looking to create their own game?
I know it’s cliché, but make something you want to play. I made Battle Royale as a game I wanted to play. It drew its inspiration from various sources, but it was something I wanted to make. It’s the same [with] the idea I have for another game. Again, it’s just a game I want to play.
I know that’s kind of cheesy to say, but find something you’re passionate about, because if you’re making something just to try and make money, you’ll never get there. Game design is about people making things they want to play, then capturing other people’s interest.
What’s one thing you want fans to know about you as a person?
I’m called PlayerUnknown for a reason. They should know as little about me as possible. I get a lot of people tweeting, “Oh, I’m not a content creator, you’ll never listen to me.” If you tweeted at me, I see it. I may not reply because I get a lot of tweets every day, so I can’t reply to everyone or my fingers would be sore.
I do hear most people’s complaints, and even if we don’t listen to everyone we do read them at least. And never be afraid to say hi if you can spot me. I’ve done a very good job of being PlayerUnknown because I’ve been at my own stand at conventions and have heard people talking about me and not recognize me. It’s fantastic.
Finally, are you planning a full release for Battlegrounds sometime this year?
We want a full release towards the fall. We said 6 months of EA, so we want to be out of Early Access by September/October, but there’s no firm release date. There are things we have to make sure work and are stable, but that’s kind of what we’re aiming for. We want [the game] to be out this year.
We thank Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene for taking the time to talk with us. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Battlegrounds in the future, and try out the two new maps once they’re released. What do you want PlayerUnknown to add into the game once it’s released, first-person, esports, or mod support? Let us know in the comments below!
For more information on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, be sure to check our feature on the game’s upcoming desert map, recap the game’s impending release on Xbox One alongside a new zombies mode, and read more about the game's longest confirmed sniper kill!