PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, despite having a mouthful of a title, is undoubtedly the biggest game of 2017, which is even more impressive when you consider it’s not even finished yet.
Released via Steam‘s early access platform back in March, the game’s popularity has soared, breaking records for the most concurrent users on a steam title and surpassing 13 million copies sold.
I was lucky enough to sit down with the game’s creator, Brendan Greene, to chat about the total whirlwind the last 6 months has been for him. I turned up just after he finished eating a chicken dinner, which tickled me way more than it should have.
For those who think I’m a weirdo for laughing at chicken, when you achieve first place in a match, the phrase “WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER” appears at the top of the screen. The ultimate pat on the back for your efforts. While it sounds like there’d be a funny backstory to why the phrase was included, it’s all just a bit of fun.
“It was a phrase I always kinda liked,” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV. “It’s become an iconic thing.” And it totally has, no one ever wins a game of PUBG, you simply eat a chicken dinner, or you don’t. Greene says he can’t even post pictures of other foods without being questioned about why it’s not chicken.
“Anytime I post any food I’m eating it’s like, ‘why is it not chicken?’ Because I like eating other food as well,” he said. OK, enough about the chicken, more about how the crazy levels of success Greene and the Bluehole team have achieved must feel.
“It’s very surreal,” he said. “I feel really blessed because the team we have, they don’t let success get to their heads.”
But what is it that makes the game so damn fun to play? The PUBG secret sauce, if you will. According to Greene, it’s the perfect combination of a few different things.
“It combines elements of games people like – it’s a good shooter, it’s got that looting element that people like for survival games, and I think it’s just the freedom,” he said. “We just provide a very detailed world and very simple rules: land, loot and survive.”
It also taps into the idea of “easy to learn, difficult to master”, which he says was definitely intentional. “Drop into school and you’ll figure out very fast how to play the game,” he joked. Fucking YEP.
Another powerful drawing point is the freedom to create your own story. No matter how many matches you play, it’ll be different every single time, whether it’s finding a stash of powerful weapons, the play zone appearing at the opposite end of the fucking map (ugh), or simply the unpredictable events that come with throwing 100 different players into a single game.
That idea that every game has its own story not only makes it incredibly fun to play, it also makes it fun to watch. Greene says it was similar games actually drew him back to gaming, something he wasn’t hugely into in the first place.
“I was never a big gamer,” he said. “I was a DJ, photographer and designer, and that’s what I did. Music and photography were my kind of passions and gaming was something I did on the side.”
After playing the military sim ARMA II and its zombie survival mod DayZ, the idea of being left to tell your own story within a game stuck with him through the development process.
“It’s the same with Battlegrounds, you can run around in your underwear with a frying pan if you want to.” I think we can all admit to doing this at least once.
The idea that the game is massively shareable certainly isn’t lost on Greene, who says fans are always approaching him at conventions and summits to share their own adventures, something he says he’ll never get tired of.
The team have plans to make that shareability even deeper in the form of in-game playback for entire matches, but it’s been a tough trot to implement.
“That’s really technically challenging because to record everything in the game, it takes about 600MB and with the amount of games we have on any given day, that’s huge amounts of data storage,” he said.
“And I want this feature to be really fully-featured, because I see it as a way for content creators to create their own movies using our game. So you’ll be able to watch your whole game back in the engine.”
While the game was created by him and the Bluehole team as a whole, it’s interesting to see Greene emerge as a kind of rockstar developer – a single person attributed to the entire game. While he’s incredibly humble about that fact, it’s something he doesn’t quite get.
“I guess I am a bit of a rockstar game dev, but I really don’t want to be. I like my anonymity, that’s why I am PlayerUnknown,” he said. “I don’t publicly do a lot of stuff, but now I have to and I’m now Player VeryWellKnown, and that’s fine.”
“It comes with the territory.”
Interestingly, that territory also comes with signing frying pans. “When I was in Russia last week a few people brought actual proper frying pans in for me to sign,” he said. Absolute vibes.
We can’t wait to see the game become an even bigger phenomenon once it’s hits the Xbox One later this year, including it’s emergence as a full-blown eSport. But Greene stresses it’s going to take some time to get to that point.
“For us, you know, we’re running events now but it’s more to support the growing pro player base, but also to kind of test the event format,” he said.
Until then, you can get PUBG on Steam right now, or on Xbox One later this year. See you in Pochinki, suckers.