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The untold story of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

Image used with permission by copyright holder

You probably know Brendan Greene better by his moniker, PlayerUnknown. Greene’s game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, has hundreds of millions of players and a history dating back years. The game was built on the back of five years creating a “battle royale” mod for the military shooter Arma 3.

While the game’s success caught most of the gaming world off-guard, Greene himself was unsurprised. By bringing his community into the fold, and keeping them there, understanding the progression of game development, and keeping a clear timeline and singular focus, PlayerUnknown knew exactly what was coming — which is why Battlegrounds is dominated the PC gaming space for years. Fortnite may have dented its popularity, but it has in no way supplanted it. But what do you really know about PUBG? Here’s the untold story of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds — from the creator himself.

From humble beginnings

For the last five years, PlayerUnknown has been a key player in growing what players call “Battle Royale” games. Like the 2000 Japanese movie of the same name, players are dropped onto a deserted island, and forced to fight until only one player is left standing. In each round of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, 100 real, live people jump out of a plane onto a 64-kilometer abandoned island with one goal: Find weapons and kill each other. Though, Battlegrounds is the most well known by far, a number of games have continuously popped up in the genre, and Greene has had his hands in several of them.

“We have a lot of players that were just passionate about me getting to make my own ‘battle royale’ game,” Greene told Digital Trends. “Some of them have been with me from the ARMA 2 days. I’ve very rarely asked for donations. I paid for the servers myself, and I never asked for anything, I just gave them a good mod to play.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

That self-sufficient, selfless attitude has permeated into Greene’s development style. His focus lies squarely on the game, and the experience, and not with how it will make money. That’s a change of pace, especially in PC Gaming, where the rise of DLC and free-to-play games have forced designers to consider their monetization strategy from the word “go.”

“I really believe that’s what you should do, I just want to make a good game,” Greene said “It’s the same thing with PUBG, we just want a well made game, get it out, performing well for everyone, that’s our goal here. Monetization, that will come later, when the game’s stable. Our priority is getting a good experience for everyone.”

Making the transition

Of course, bringing that mentality to an existing publisher like Korean Bluehole Inc. was easier said than done. Switching over from handling the mod as a one-man project to a complete game has brought its own set of unique challenges.

“When I was starting at the mod I did most of the things myself. Even today on the github when they’re changing some of the original code it says ‘warning: original code, very messy’ because I can’t code to save my life. I can, but not very well.”

That led us to a burning question regarding a PlayerUnkown’s BattleGrounds urban legend: Vehicles spawn randomly on the map each round, but players have noted that, at least most of the time, vehicles spawn facing east. For those who believe it, the quirk has become a tactical consideration: Players will look at which way a car is facing to see if someone has driven the vehicle, which means they might be lurking nearby.

“That’s probably true,” Greene laughs. “There’s probably something in the code that does that, but we can fix that. There are a lot of these systems that we’ve added that are not complete yet, that cause these little things that people notice. That’s why we have early access, so we get three million people playing and giving feedback.”

The game’s unpolished coding has helped define the game’s aesthetic, and created a competitive world with its own own unique appeal. Being part of a larger development process also meant changing the way he laid out his vision, and how much he put in other developers’ hands. As a lot of new modders-turned-developers learned, that isn’t always the easiest transition.

“From doing that and implementing everything to being creative director where it’s my vision, and I lay out the vision and I have teams of people, that was tough at the start, because I was trying to micro-manage everything. That’s just bad to do, you have to leave the teams to do their work, and trust them. And now that I do, it’s amazing. They’re really great at what they do.”

After placing his trust in the team at Bluehole Inc., Greene found it easier to move forward with the project in clearer ways, allowing for a more succinct development timeline, and more ingrained new features, like jumping and vaulting.

A steady stream

Greene sees PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds as more than just a single game mode in a vacuum. As a devout modder, he sees the potential in a community to create something far greater than the developers could even imagine.

“That’s why we have early access, so we get three million people playing and giving feedback.”

“We’re trying to build a platform for game modes. We give them lots of assets, with zombies, the two new maps, and weapons we’re adding, they’re then free to create whatever they want, he said. “Those aspects won’t be limited to streaming partners for much longer, as the team hopes to continue to roll out the extra settings and custom game modes in a more meaningful way soon, while still providing bonuses to those who build content outside the game.

Greene’s development and marketing philosophy goes beyond just wanting streamers to share his game with the world, it’s about building a better game for the fans who love it. “I think this is important for [Battlegrounds‘] longevity. We’re not providing a game, we’re providing a platform for many things — not just battle royale.”

Still listening

With his name right on box, you might expect Greene to shrink back and limit his exposure to the flood of user reports and suggestions, but he’s done quite the opposite. “We have a super active user community, because they want to see this be the best version of battle royale. Through me they have a direct conduit. I’ll say to all the people who follow me on twitter and tweet stuff at us. Although we don’t reply to everyone, I read everything. I see all the tweets and all the suggestions.”

Green says that open ear extends to everyone who plays the game. “People go ‘oh they won’t listen to us because we’re not a big streamer’ and that’s so far from the truth. If it’s a good idea, or it’s a bug, I just copy and paste the tweet into our internal Slack. When I don’t respond, people think I’m not listening, but the truth is, my fingers can only do so much in one day.”

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Brad Bourque
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Brad Bourque is a native Portlander, devout nerd, and craft beer enthusiast. He studied creative writing at Willamette…
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