PUBG is in a strange position. It is still incredibly popular and widely played; it’s still the biggest game on Steam yet it’s slowly becoming something of a loser.
Provided (let’s go straight to the point talking about the elephant in the room) sounds like a threat not only to PUBG’s dominance, but also to Brendan Greene’s crown as king of battle royale. But there is enough room within a genre for two games, and in fact PUBG actually has another serious threat to contend with: from the outside, at times, it seems like the game lacks a clear direction.
Bluehole and PUBG Corp. have always been very open about what’s coming. When players feel the stench of uncertainty they ask for a ‘roadmap’, but the question regarding those roadmaps is that while they say a lot about the upcoming changes, they often don’t explain why.
With a demand to keep PUBG Corp.’s legal battles out of the conversation, I sat down at the table with Brendan for a long chat, hoping to understand what his vision for PUBG is, what will come and if, amid all the resulting pressures. from both players and competition, and still the battle royale he had in mind at the beginning.
I want to start by talking about the Roadmap. It seemed to be a pretty important moment for you and the team at a crucial stage … how long did it take you personally?
Brendan Greene: At this point I’m mostly supervising and because I have to travel a lot I don’t spend much time with the team in Korea. But you know, I trust : even without me needing to intervene directly, they are doing a great job. This is because I’m traveling a lot and that’s what you get when you put your name on a game. This however is the vision I outlined to them last year, they know what I want from PUBG. I don’t need to put my hand to it because they came up with a lot of ideas this year and it was like ?? Yup! Yup!?? So although I don’t work on it directly, I’m overseeing a lot of things.
I think that roadmap gives us a great idea of the grosser stuff, which I don’t intend to go into in detail, but it has left me some doubts as to what the big picture is for PUBG. What is the long-term vision?
Brendan Greene: We already said we intended to make this game as a service. We want to structure it as a platform for various game modes, not just for battle royale, but for any mode that we can add to the event server or that can come to the community through Custom games. We want to bring this kind of game to even more people this year and start really fine-tuning the system. So for us it is about creating a platform and a stable base for a possible export or even just for a platform with different game modes.
Where do you see PUBG in six months or in a year or three years so, how do you think it will evolve and where will it go?
Brendan Greene: This year we are investing heavily in shaping an export infrastructure; we are building a worldwide esports team, across the US, Europe and Asia, and we are really trying to develop the tools we need to support esports organizations and players in order to build a solid foundation. Here’s where I want to see it in three years: I want to see it considered an esport with events that take place in big stadiums and with leagues that last a whole year. It has always been my dream for battle royale and that’s where I want us to head. Taking a look at what we are doing this year, I see it as a great opportunity.
Brendan Greene with SamaGame’s Aoife Wilson at the BAFTA Game Awards.
Do you think you could have done more to make players understand this long-term view?
Brendan Greene:Ah, absolutely. After we launched the game we went into radio silence because we had to think carefully about what we wanted to do this year. Now that we have announced the roadmap, we are looking to open up again and are starting to see the fruits of it: we gave Savage players much earlier than we did with Erangel, when the game was just announced and we only had one prototype in pre- alpha. We did the same with Savage, we wanted to feed a first version so people could test it. We want to continue that kind of open development. As I said, we have been a bit silent but we were growing as a company and we were creating a new corporate culture trying to expand around the world; it is a job that has fully involved us, we wanted to hire the right people and growing a company is not easy. In some areas we have not worked well and this year we want to make up for it and start talking openly with the community again.
Can you tell us how big the company has become?
We are just over 300. The bulk of our workforce is in Korea and we now have small studios in Madison, Santa Monica and Amsterdam as well as small offices in China and Tokyo. It’s great to see, it really is.
Do you think that sudden growth has subsided a little now?
Brendan Greene: We’re getting there. We opened the new office in Amsterdam because it is difficult to hire qualified developers to pack up and go to Korea; it is difficult for many people. But Amsterdam is much more reasonable, many speak English there, it’s more familiar. We are still expanding, we have not stopped. As I said, this year we intend to expand into esports so we need to form an international team. Yay! We are still growing.
Narrowing the map to a third of its size is a big change to the formula.
You are reacting a little faster to user feedback, and in general, your changes happen more often. What do you respond to people who say this is a sign that you are becoming too reactive?
Brendan Greene:We have always done this from day one, it was immediately an open development together with the community. PUBG is a multiplayer game that relies on users and therefore their feedback is crucial. Yes, there are some very strong voices out there, but we have a good data analytics team and a good team looking after the community – we don’t just rely on those who raise their voices. We evaluate all the data through the various forums and the excellent analyzes, like PDFs that show us what is the feeling online about a certain thing and which are the words that are used most often; so it’s nothing impulsive, we look at the data and sometimes it’s in sync with what the community wants and other times it’s what we think is best for the game. We want to listen to the community: we know that there is subjective feedback and
So if someone wants something more extreme, for example there has been a lot of talk about removing the red zone, if that becomes a predominant voice …
Brendan Greene:It is already a predominant voice! While people say it doesn’t make sense, it offers radio coverage and is really nice when you fight inside. And really, you shouldn’t die in the red zone. If you die in the red zone, then, I’m sorry, but you’re not a good player. You know there is a safe area of hundreds of square meters around the border, if you stay in a building the chances of getting hit are minimal; it’s there for a reason, it’s really beautiful and it creates tension. If you get trapped in a fight in the red zone, that’s exhilarating! People say there is no reason but there is. It’s there for a very specific reason: it provides radio coverage, and even when it’s a bit distant, it offers enough coverage to run, so there are very good reasons. That said, there was a
Nothing is ever excluded. We recently removed the clothing spawn system from the loot system. People were asking ?? ah, how can I take it off ??? because they thought I would never remove it. Users sometimes think I wouldn’t remove anything from the game because it’s my baby or my ego is huge, but we’re listening to the community. If we really think we are better off without some things, then we change them. We truly believe in open development and listening to community feedback and how to implement it in the game.
Has the arrival of competition made it more difficult not to be impulsive? Doesn’t it make you think ?? ah, do I really have to follow the community or we lose it ???
Brendan Greene:No. As I said earlier we went into radio silence for a while but, I’ll explain again, only because we were expanding all over the world. We had to focus on hiring the right people and that took a long time. So we’re not trying to be impulsive. It was funny when we introduced emotes and people said ?? ah, are you copying Fortnite ??. Well, no. We recorded the emotes in Prague last year, before Fornite was announced. We had always had the idea of putting non-verbal communication into the game because we know that there are people with the microphone and others without, so offering a way for them to communicate with their teammates seemed essential and fundamental to the strategies. So it was a plan we came up with last year. Sometimes these are things that other games do, while other times they are different, but it’s not a reaction. It’s not trying to copy someone else. We have our own schedules and sometimes they synchronize with those of others.
The new emotes have worried some players, afraid that PUBG wants to become more ‘casual’.
Do you have some goals in mind to improve your communication? Can you think of other games that do it well and that you would like to emulate?
Brendan Greene: We were very good at communication last year, then we got overwhelmed as we tried to consolidate the company. We’ve now hired Billy Shibley as social manager and have a new head of communications, so our marketing and community teams have key figures to guide the relationship with the community more closely. And you can see it in a tangible way: our Twitter profile is much more active in talking to people and the same goes for our forums on Reddit; we are trying to get back to talking actively with the community. I think the new figures are doing a great job in this regard.
Battle royale has moved from being a single game to becoming a genre in its own right. How do you intend to distinguish PUBG? You mentioned esports, right? The extra weapon of PUBG is that it also works as an export?
Brendan Greene:It’s a question I was asked several times when PUBG was catching on. It’s not so much about standing out but about creating a good game and a realistic battle royale, and that’s our intention. It’s about fine-tuning what we have and even though we’re introducing new content, we still have several teams working on bugs. Some of these take a long time to correct. Last year we covered shadow caching, which improved shadows across all layers. It took the rendering team three months to write the code. Some bugs take an incredible amount of time to track down and fix. We are focusing on this but also on creating new content. This year, however, we want to fix everything and improve what already exists,
You referred to the bugs. In a way, they are part of the soul of the game, sometimes they are part of the fun …
Brendan Greene: I love the PUBG Rocket Program, it’s a great space race …
So if PUBG were a super clean game with no bugs, would it lose something?
Brendan Greene: I’m sure he’d lose something but users would love us. We really want it to become a great esport and there can be no bugs. That said, there aren’t many bugs that spoil the game and few users die from the bugs. And I can tell you, internally, there was a competition in Korea a few weeks ago which led to a change in the competitive settings due to a certain problem that occurred, but the team was very quick to tell ?? ok, we can fix it, let’s fix it ??. I like that for things like this the team is very responsive: if we see something, we try and spend hours fixing it, so it doesn’t happen again.
Let’s go back to the battle royale and the birth of other competitors: does this competition affect your work in any way? I know you said you always wanted to get back to having better communication and so on, but doesn’t it make you think about everything or influence whatever you do?
Brendan Greene:No. I mean, we have learned a lot in these two years, things that we are developing now. PUBG Corp. is still a new company, so we’re spending a lot of time building the correct culture internally. We continue to follow our CEO Kim’s idea, that is, “reiterate”, keep reiterating new ideas, not be intimidated by trying new things. And we will not be afraid. We really want to keep evolving and trying new things. We have our Test Server, we now also have the Experimental Test Server so that we can test the new features even earlier. And it’s really about using our community’s feedback as soon as possible so we can keep testing and moving forward. So we’re refining the process we started last year and we’re moving into the future.
We touched on this before talking about the roadmap, but I would like to return to it: how much time do you dedicate directly to working on the game?
Brendan Greene: The fact is, we live in 2018. Between OneNote or Confluence or emails, I can stay up to date on everything. But as I said I trust the team we put together in Korea, I know I don’t need to work directly because I know they understand the vision for the game, I know what I want from them and they know what I want from the game, there is no you need to reiterate it. When I’m in Amsterdam or I’m back in Seoul, we have long conversations and they understand right away. What I like is that I don’t need to intervene directly because the team understands. And I really appreciate the freedom to come and speak to the press and make public appearances.
I had a chance to meet Dara O’Brian a few nights ago and she said she would like me to help him in Ireland on some things about science, technology, engineering and math, Talk to the kids at school, and things like that. If I was completely into the game, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do it and be able to inspire kids and people to get closer to video game development, and helping them out is a really important thing I can do besides making a game. It’s great to have a great team so I don’t have to worry about the game.
Is the PUBG of now, with event modes, emotes and new modes, what you had in mind when you started working on it?
Brendan Greene: More or less! I wanted to make a platform for game modes, something we have, I wanted to make a big, realistic battle royale. It has grown more than I expected. Some ideas, like the resurrection system, came internally, from the team, and proved to be very successful. So it has grown more than I expected, but it’s the game I wanted to make.
Do you ever think that some temporary modes, like War mode, can become permanent?
Brendan Greene: I don’t know. I honestly can’t confirm or deny it. I would love to see other game modes and I think the event server is great because it allows us to test this kind of thing, and if the audience totally loved some of our ideas, maybe we would think about adding it full time. The idea behind the event mode is to try some of these modes, maybe some will be included and some maybe not. This year we want to give other people access to the Custom game server, and the same goes for the preset zombie mode or other of these modes, even the ones that come to players’ minds, and maybe add them to the game. We want this, we want to expand and we want people to fight in Battlegrounds in any way they want.
Other battle royale modes or other games are likely to come – it is rumored that Black Ops 4 will have a battle royale mode and so will Battlefield. Do you think that expanding the breath of your game with new modes is the way you can confront them?
Brendan Greene: Oh, definitely. I want Battlegrounds to be not just a battle royale, but a great platform for people to create their own games. With the custom game server, I want to provide precise control of what can be managed in the game and do it through an interface that resembles modding, although I don’t know if we will ever be able to allow full modding due to some privacy aspects. and safety that must be taken into consideration. With ?? light modding ?? in Custom Games, I want to give people a platform to create their own battle royale styles or even game modes that have nothing to do with battle royale.
You talked about how much work you delegate to the team. Your name is on the cover – is it really your game?
Brendan Greene: Ah, no, it’s our game: both for the team and for the community. Yes, on the cover there is my name but it is their game, they put their heart and soul into it. I always say that I have to thank the team when I accept awards. It is the team that I thank. They invest hours in it. I outline the vision and in the beginning I had to spend many, many months just to make the game understand what I wanted, but now they understand faster. And they work long hours not because I ask them but because they want to, they want to do the best job they can because they love the game. Every week we play in the office and every time it’s great fun, when there are two people left and the rest of the group is behind them cheering for their favorite. Seeing that kind of passion for the game is wonderful.
Okay, a couple more questions. These are lighter so you can relax. For one thing, I spend a lot of time writing PUBG guides for SamaGame, which means I spend a lot of time reading those mega spreadsheets with all the damage stats and rate of fire. I am convinced that the Uzi are the best guns in the game, but no one in the office believes me.
Brendan Greene: You ‘re close enough, yeah.
The Uzi reign.
Yay! So can you officially confirm that the Uzi are objectively the best guns in the game? I want to go back to the office and tell everyone.
Brendan Greene: For you? No, I mean … technically they have the highest rate of fire. We tried to replicate the actual rate of fire, which is kind of 900 rounds per minute or something , so it’s incredibly high and we wanted them to be as realistic as possible. So, you are close to it. Answering your question I would say the Uzi or the Glock. The Glock-18 in automatic mode is beastly but the Uzi are damn powerful.