Even though it’s not even officially released, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is already a big deal. It’s smashed concurrent user (CCU) records on Steam, and recently busted past 20-million sales. Even writing that sales milestone feels weird because it seems like it’ll be an outdated figure in the next few weeks. In the lead-up to the 1.0 release of PUBG (still reportedly on track for before the end of the year), I had a chance to chat with the once-anonymous, now-famous Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene. For the really juicy stuff, pick up the latest issue and check out my cover feature. For some additional titbits, read on.
PCPP: What’s it like going from obscurity to the biggest thing ever?
Brendan Greene: A bit mad, right? It’s been kind of surreal. I was in Russia [recently], for a day, I had to do a press conference. I met fans there who had played Battle Royale game modes since Arma 2. They’d come up, and just meeting people like that and meeting fans, it’s really been surreal. No complaints.
PCPP: As an extension of that, how does it feel to create or redefine this new subgenre in the shooter space?
BG: I never really set out to do that. I was asked this a lot, and people were comparing me to Notch [creator of Minecraft]. That’s just surreal to me, it really is. I can’t get my head around that kind of comparison; I just set out to make a good Battle Royale game. There was never any intent to define the genre or anything like that. I’m happy that people enjoy the game mode and enjoy Battlegrounds, but it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
PCPP: Speaking of Battle Royale modes, what was the initial design philosophies for PUBG, especially after your work on the Arma 3 mod and H1Z1?
BG: So, with Battlegrounds, it was finding my chance to take the Arma 3 game mode in its entirety and make it into a complete game. Of course, there was stuff we added, like the revive mechanic and stuff like that. In general, the core concepts from the Arma 3 game mode continued into the Battlegrounds game mode. It was finally my chance to... because I’d worked on this for a year, a year and a half, and gotten to a state where I believed this was the ultimate Battle Royale game mode. Finally getting that made into Battlegrounds and people enjoying it, it was a great feeling.
PCPP: What was it in particular about those pre-PUBG Battle Royale games you worked on that you felt were lacking and in need of addressing for Battlegrounds?
BG: For Battlegrounds, again, the game mode was there, the loot system, all of these various mechanics that didn’t carry in to, for example, H1[Z1], but they [Daybreak Game Company] wanted to do their own thing with the Battle Royale game mode, and of course it was their game, so I let them go ahead and do it. For me, Battlegrounds is just… it’s kind of a refinement of everything I’d done in Arma 3.
PCPP: Okay. For you, specifically, what is it about PUBG that you think has resonated so much with players, especially because, this is my understanding, that internal sales projections were comparatively conservative?
BG: Yeah, we weren’t getting our hopes up. [Check out the feature for more on this topic.] I have meet and greets and I meet families who tell me their parents are playing. I meet people from the age of 14 up to 50, 60, Grandpa Gaming on Twitch who plays our game quite consistently and kills a lot of people… it’s however you want to play it.
PCPP: Speaking of randomised elements, I only recently learnt and, correct me if I’m wrong, that the fully automatic weapons have randomised recoil beyond a certain point. Is that correct?
BG: To an extent. The way we designed our recoil system, there is an element of randomness to it, but it’s really to test… and it’s only towards the end of the recoil. So, it tends to go up, but it tends to go left or right sometimes, as well. It’s testing the players reflex and ability to understand it’s a random recoil, if that makes sense.
PCPP: Is it also, to a certain extent, deterring people from spray-and-pray patterns? I’m thinking specifically of games like Rainbow Six Siege or Counter-Strike where you see these pros who learn the exact muscle memory for the mouse movement to counter out all recoil so they can put 30 rounds within a tight circle.
BG: Oh, I know, exactly. We still want people to have that mechanical skill but, again, it’s trying to test players reaction speeds. You see players like BreaK, he sprays and he does it and he can keep it on target, even after a long-distance spray. Again, it’s to test the players reaction speeds, because every weapon will have a recoil feel, that it will go to a certain way left and right to a certain extent. We’re hoping to give our weapon this kind of feel, but also it’s continually testing the player’s reaction speed and not just knowing a pattern.
PCPP: Okay. When the new map comes out and, I’m assuming, more maps down the track, will there be a matchmaking option to pick your particular map, or are you more wanting players to not know what map they’re going into?
BG: I think eventually I would like that you don’t know what map you’re loading into. That’s what I would like. That’s what the original DayZ Battle Royale mod had in Arma 2, we had four maps, and they were randomly chosen. But right now, we hope to showcase it in 1.0, but we think right now we’re going to let you choose. We want players to experience the new map and play in it, because it’s going to be a large volume of them who want to play the new map. Some of them may not like it and go back to Erangel. But we want to give people the chance to experience it, and we also need people testing that map. Once it’s released and showcased, we still need months and months of testing and feedback from players about holes in the map, because there’s only so much testing we can do internally for proper big maps, like, 8x8 maps take time. Eight, nine months to really get it to a shape where you really show it off and start… not even show it off, consider it sort of finished.
PCPP: Speaking of the matchmaking, I was curious about what factors does the matchmaking take into account currently outside of regional preferences?
BG: We have an Elo ranking system in the background. It’s what drives the leaderboard. And we have our matchmaking based off, say, kill rankings and win rankings, so there is some basic matchmaking there. We’re continually working to try and improve that, but we just haven’t had time because we’re trying to stabilise server performance, and platform team is quite limited at the moment, so really trying to do… that’s all of the work they have to do, so there’s quite a backlog. These are all things that we do want to add and improve on. We do want proper Elo-based rankings and ranks and levels and all of this kind of stuff that we just haven’t had time to do yet.
PCPP: Why is there an option to select regions? I’m asking specifically because if you go onto Reddit, and I’m sure you’ve seen it, there’s an outcry about players from other regions playing on servers that aren’t in their region and there’s this argument that they’re getting an advantage because of their higher latency. So, I was just curious, what is the design philosophy behind letting players select their own region for starters?
BG: Because I have friends all over the world. It is the case that you want to play with friends from other regions, and if you had a proper, actual hard ping restrictions that would prevent that. We want to ensure that everyone plays on the servers that are best for them, but right now, we want to focus on stabilising. Going forward, we’ll look at different methods to try to give people the fairest play possible, and especially on ranked servers for leaderboards, we’ll look at that even more, but it’s just the focus on getting everything stable. We have to make sure that we have a really stable platform for people to play on before we start worrying about these other factors.
PCPP: Does that mean you’re considering things like tweaks to the lag compensation, I’m thinking of games like Battlefield 1, which take into account…
BG: Oh, for sure. This is it, there are all these other multiplayer games that have dealt with this before, and we can look and learn from them. We want to do it, but we’re just limited by resources right now. We didn’t expect to be having 2.2 million CCU after six months, so we really are playing catch-up when it comes to the platform side of things, because it’s just something we designed and we spent a good six months ramping up to EA launch, that we’ve been building this platform, but we only ever envisioned 1 million CCU. In our wildest dreams, that was like, ‘Okay, we can build for this. We’re not going to pass 1 million CCU,’ and then within six months we’re at 2 [million]. That’s why now is really a game of catch-up, and especially developing a new platform for Live on Live, because you can’t really test it that well internally when you put 2 million people into it. All kinds of bugs and issues arise.
For more quotes from PlayerUnknown, and the full six-page feature on one of the hottest games of the year, be sure to read the feature in the PC PowerPlay issue that’s on sale right now.