I caught up with PlayerUnknown, Brendan Greene, at Tokyo Game Show 2017 to chat about the gaming juggernaut that is PUBG. We talked about a wide range of topics from the upcoming 1.0 release to his past life as a DJ. Check out this video interview as well as the full transcript below.
Shacknews: Is this your first TGS?
PlayerUnknown: It is. Yes, yes. A bit crazy right? I haven’t had a chance to go inside yet, but I’ve heard that it is a little crazy in there.
SN: I fear for you because now people know who you are they are going to want pictures and all sorts of stuff. There’s a lot of people in there taking photos, I imagine it is kind of a madhouse around you.
PU: It is. I’m still somewhat unknown. I keep introducing myself as Brenden so people don’t really know who I am yet. That’s probably going to change over the next year or so, but I love meeting the fans. You know? It is a special moment for them to meet me. I was at the Twitch party last night, and I was taking pictures for most of the night with the players and stuff like that. I love that.
SN: You just had a massive milestone last week, with over 1.3 million concurrent gamers playing your game on Steam. More than Dota 2 and CS:GO combined, how does that feel?
PU: Uh, surreal. Really, when we first started this I thought H1 is our obvious competitor, right? And then we blew by H1 and then CS:GO, and internally we were like Dota? And then we flew by Dota. It’s been surreal. You know, I’m just happy people enjoy the game.
SN: It’s really becoming quite a phenomenon.
PU: It really is. I mean, we seem to have captured lightning in a bottle so to speak. We’re still trying to figure out exactly why people love the game as much as they do. But, again, I set out to make a good game and I’m just happy that people think it’s a good game.
SN: Let’s talk about the game a little. You have some experience developing other games. You were working on the ARMA platform before PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds. I dunno, do you call it PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds or PUBG at this point?
PU: In interviews, I just call it Battlegrounds. But, PUBG is what I refer to it online.
SN: Can you talk about the differences between developing on the ARMA platform and Unreal Engine 4? Can you talk about the advantages of using UE4 versus the ARMA platform or what you learned from developing the ARMA games that you brought to Battlegrounds?
PU: Yes, so in ARMA I was a modder essentially. So all I did was essentially write a set of rules using their platform. And it’s great to start off to experiment with game modes on ARMA because you have all the assets, you have the platform there, and you just write some rules. Whereas Unreal, we have full source control over everything. So we can make changes to network code, all that kind of stuff, whereas a modder you are kind of reliant on Bohemia to make changes to the game you want done. That sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t, but with Unreal we’ve got full control and that’s great. We can do so much more in Unreal that as a modder I couldn’t do on ARMA.
SN: That’s right, and the game is still in Steam Early Access, you’re still iterating upon it. 90% of my Steam friends list are playing your game most of the time. We have a daily thread about someone who is excited about winning chicken dinner on our Chatty forum. What are you taking from the success in Early Access and putting back into the game? What are your priorities right now? What do you feel you need to do to make the game even better than it is right now?
PU: Again, we’re really just using Early Access to get feedback from real players. You know? Because this is basically a multiplayer game, having feedback on how our weapons work, how the round feels time-wise, how the blue zones move. We’re taking all this feedback from all the players to really try to polish the game and get it into a great state when we release later this year.
SN: So you are going to release later this year?
PU: Oh yes. Yes.
SN: Well that’s awesome news. We have thousands of people on our Chatty forum, your game is based around one hundred people in an instance. We do these things called Shackbattles where Shackers get together and battle. One thing that is being requested from our forum is a custom game mode. Is that something in the realm of possibility in the game?
PU: Well we have custom games already for our partners. It’s like modding-lite almost. So they can mess with the loot distribution. They can mess with the blue zone and red zone timings. Frequency of care packages. If you want a machete and shotgun round, you can do it. We even added a zombie mode. Some Korean streamers, when we released our initial custom game model, they were just basically allowing four people to have weapons. So we took that and said this would be really cool to let players play as zombies and battle against smaller teams. It’s proven to be really successful, but our custom games we want to expand and sort of give our partners and people in the future a way to create their own game modes without having to dive deep into trying to mod a game. Kind of like modding by UI. Because when I first started modding, I found it quite hard to get to grips with code and I am not a good coder. My code when I first started was terrible. I see some of the ARMA poll requests and they are like “this is original BR code, it’s very messy.” I didn’t really understand how the code worked, but I got it to work. So I wanted to give people that want to break into modding a way to do something that doesn’t require much knowledge of the game engine. They can just kind of click some buttons, and create their own spin on our game mode.
SN: One of the biggest news events in gaming this year was that Xbox secured Battlegrounds for an exclusive release. Not that Xbox One is weak, but it’s not a hardcore gamer’s PC. What kind of work is being done to make sure the netcode is going to work on Xbox Live and the game will play well with a gamepad along with other console-specific design concerns?
PU: Publishing on Microsoft just gives us all the resources to really help us optimize the game on Xbox and make it the best version possible. Because they’re Microsoft, they also make the other major platform we work on. Windows! Using Unreal, which is essentially cross-platform, anything that benefits the Xbox version can be brought over to the PC version to help us there. We have a lot of work to do, but people are happy with the builds that they have been playing already. They’re happy with how it feels. The controller feels good. We still have work to do, and that’s why we’re doing Xbox Game Preview. Because, like Early Access, we can work with real players and we can find out how the game feels for them and improve it based on their feedback.
SN: A game that I am a big fan of and has been pushing towards cross-play is Rocket League. You mentioned how cross-platform development may be easy between Windows and Xbox One. Would cross-play multiplayer be something that you would want to bring to Battlegrounds in the future with Xbox One and PC players?
PU: Oh, for sure! We want to get the same experience on both versions of the game and we think cross-play would be great. We want to get both sets of player bases battling against each other. How we do though is something we are still heavily discussing. Whether it’s controller vs controller, or mouse and keyboard vs mouse and keyboard, we don’t know yet. There’s technical challenges there regarding matchmaking and all of that, but it is something we're looking into.
SN: I reached out to our Shacknews Chatty community for questions. Some of the questions were, “Why does it take so long to make a map? Are we going to get more maps soon?” Is it something with how you guys are looking at map design that requires some iteration before you push it? Is that what is causing somewhat of a lag?
PU: No, it’s the scale. With most multiplayer games, they’re very small maps. Even with games like Battlefield, maybe one kilometer by one kilometer, or that kind of scale. We have eight kilometers by eight kilometers, and that just takes a long time to get right. Add to that we need many many play tests to make sure it fits the Battle Royale game mode and also trying to get it to feel real. You have to tell a story with the map and that just takes time because there’s asset production and planning of terrain, where you wants towns and cities to be. I’d love to rush it out the door quicker, but we want to give a good map when we release them. The new desert map we’re working on we hope to showcase that on the 1.0 release later this year, but maps just take time. Our last map we’re still improving to this day, they take time, but bear with us.
SN: Character models are another thing people are asking about. Is that something before 1.0 launches that you might take another look at or are we seeing what 1.0 will look like?
PU: The thing is that once we reach 1.0, we’re not finished. You know? We’ll get the feature set that we would into 1.0 and after we’re going to keep developing. We’re building this out as a game-as-a-service rather than just a standalone game. We want to over the next five to ten years to keep adding new stuff. To keep improving. To maybe go back in a year or two’s time and just take the first map and just redo it and make it even better. It’s this idea, that we’ll be kind of almost in permanent beta. We constantly keep improving and keep improving over the years.
SN: You made a little bit of news the past week talking about some of the competitors coming at you with, as we call it on Shacknews, PUBG mode. How are you going to stay ahead of these people with your development process to make sure that you are the freshest Battle Royale game? You may not have invented it, but you certainly have popularized it. How are you going to stay ahead of your competitors that are coming for you right now?
PU: When you say we didn’t invent it, like I created the original Battle Royale mode back in DayZ Battle Royale four years ago. From the plane flying across the island, to people parachuting out. These are all concepts I came up with. For us, we try not to worry about what other games are doing. I would hope that anyone else making a Battle Royale game, which I think is a great idea, we’re not trying to say that we own the Battle Royale format, we’d hope that they’d make their own spin on it, try their own concept of a last man standing rather just doing a carbon copy of everything we do, you know? We want to concentrate on making our game great and I don’t look at other games, really. Let’s focus on making our game a good game and whatever the others do, the others do.
SN: Like in horse racing, they put blinders on them so they don’t even pay attention to their competitors.
PU: Exactly! We have a great product, and we have a fantastic team. I keep saying that I feel like the luckiest man in gaming to meet the team I have. Every single one of them loves the game and every single one of them pours their hearts into making it. I’m the face, but they’re the heart and soul. They just want to make this the best version of a Battle Royale we can.
SN: I imagine you’re pretty busy, but I am just kind of curious. If you do have time to play other games, what games are you playing these days?
PU: I don’t play whole lot of games. I’m playing Battlefield 1. I really like that game. I’m like an old sniper. I played Delta Force: Black Hawk Down. That was my first online game. I was the one that camped a kilometer away and tried to get to land those insane shots. That’s the kind of game that I like to play. Same with Battlefield, I’m the one who camps at the very last spawn point and tries to get seven to eight hundred meter kills. You miss ninety percent of your shots, but I just like that. I just don’t get time to play. I’d love to play PUBG more, but once I play one game I want to play ten games and there goes productivity out the window.
SN: You’re busy these days. When you were a teenager, or back in 90’s, were you influenced by FPS games? Did you play Duke Nukem 3D? Were you a Quake fan? What were your shooter influences? Clearly this game is influenced by a long history of shooters, and its encapsulating that same competitive feel. It may not be the same kind of game, but it feels like a Quake or a Quake Live. What games were you playing that may have informed some of your design decisions?
PU: I’ve had quite a bit of time to sort of reflect on my history in gaming because of doing panels and stuff like that. The first multiplayer game that I played for hours, days, years was Delta Force: Black Hawk Down. I loved the fact that there were custom-made maps. There was real weapon ballistics and custom-made modes. It wasn’t just what the company provided. And then I dug a lot of time into the America’s Army series. I loved the fact that when you died in that, you died. You had to wait until the next round. That sort of idea that if you made a stupid decision, you die and you have to wait. So they really heavily influenced me moving into a Battle Royale type game. I kind of came back to gaming because I was a photographer, designer and a DJ for many years and played games in my spare time. I wasn’t like what I would consider a serious gamer and then I was in Brazil and I discovered the DayZ mod and that reignited my passion for gaming. Because there were no rules. It was the rules of the world, and whatever you wanted to do, you could do. That really influenced me for the Battle Royale game mode because I wanted to give a game that we had some pretty basic rules. You land, you live, and you survive. There was an endgame in place and how you played the game was up to you and if you made mistakes and died you have to wait and start again. I guess they were two (games) that really heavily influenced me.
SN: I’m kind of interested to hear that you were a DJ. What kind of music were you spinning?
PU: House, like Deep House, Disco Arieto, I started twenty something years ago.
SN: So, vinyl?
SN: High Five!
PU: It’s funny. I look back now, I bought my DDJ-SX2, which I love. Definitely use sync, still mix, but I remember going to parties in London with two big boxes of vinyl and breaking my back doing it. And now you can go literally with a pen drive that holds more music than I could ever carry. It’s one of my loves. I love being behind the decks. I love even just one person dancing. Sharing music with people is something I really enjoy.
SN: I actually produce electronic music, myself. Performing live music is addictive.
PU: It really is. One of my more memorable occasions was two guys just having a slow waltz in front of the decks by themselves after something kind of bad happened to them. It was just a lovely moment, you know what I mean? I love just inspiring happiness in people.
SN: Well, I think you are still doing that with the game. So it works out.
PU: Yea, as I said, what makes me so happy is that people just enjoy the game. I started this to make a game that I wanted to play and the fact that other people enjoy it too makes me very happy.
SN: How are you staying grounded? The game is wildly successful at this point. There have been other game developers that have kind of let it go to their head. You seem very level-headed. Are you not going on Twitter and seeing the hate? Is there not much hate coming at you? Do you not read Reddit? How are you staying so chill right now?
PU: I get told to kill myself on a daily basis. But again, I’ve been on the net since way back when I was using IRC and being an op in channels so I am quite used to this anonymous hate you get. You can’t take it seriously. I like to picture them as spotty fourteen year-olds in their mom’s basement and that helps. Really, because I was involved in music and entertainment for years I got to see the divas. I got to see these guys that kind of got too big for their boots. I hated that and I never want to be that person myself. I think, as well, because I am a little bit older. I am forty-one now. That’s kind of tempered me. I’m quite a simple guy. I try not to let things go to my head because, as I said, I’ve seen other people do it and I don’t like that. So I think that is what keeps me somewhat with my feet on the ground.
SN: Going back to Battlegrounds, people on our Chatty forum have mentioned that there’s lots of scopes and ways to look out into the distance, but there aren’t any binoculars. Is that something that you’ve thought about adding to the game?
PU: Oh for sure. We want to add binoculars in, but we’ve honestly haven’t had time. We have such a tight deadline and we have so much to add into the game. We really want to focus on what we are doing at the moment and get that kind of polished. And as I said, we are not stopping development at 1.0. We’ll keep adding stuff and more assets as we go forward, so of course binoculars will come eventually.
SN: I have to ask some more ridiculous questions real quick. UE4 happens to run on Nintendo Switch, do you think it’s possible that Battlegrounds would run on Switch? Do you have a Switch?
PU: I don’t, I am a PC gamer. Listen, I mean I don’t know. Technically, I honestly don’t know. I’ve seen that Doom runs on a Switch so I have to believe it’s possible, but it’s not something we’ve looked into at all.
SN: With the Xbox One X coming out later this year, that seems like the right platform for you guys to take a hardcore PC game and put it on console.
PU: Oh yeah, I’ve already seen the Xbox One build run at Gamescom and apart from the view distance being a little bit shorter, up close the game looks pretty close to what you’re playing on PC. Xbox One X will just increase that experience. I can’t wait to see how the game looks when we finally get it polished off.
SN: What’s coming up soon that you can talk about? The maps? I know you just released fog. Are there other things you are looking at? Other weather effects? Other things that you are thinking about to increase the longevity of this game?
PU: Oh for sure, as I said, we have a map coming up in the 1.0 release. We’ve already announced that we have another map planned which is based in the Adriatic. It’s a more European-based map. We’re working on a night mode as well. There's been a lot of requests for night mode. I want to be careful with night mode because I have seen it in other games and people don’t like it, but what they’ve shown me internally is almost like a cinematic night. It’s dark, but it's not pitch black. You can still see stuff, but it has that feeling of night time. We want to keep doing this going forward. Looking at new ways to expand the experience.
SN: One way that would to expand the experience for Shacknews, would be to get a Shacknews shirt in the game. Do you think that is in the realm of possibility?
PU: Maybe someday, but we really want to be careful about adding too many kinds of brands into the game as I feel it kind of breaks immersion. We kind of want to keep the feel we have at the moment, which is kind of realistic and cinematic realism.
SN: So you don’t want Monster Energy drinks and Mickey Mouse hats or anything rolling around just yet?
PU: No, exactly. If we put a Mickey Mouse hat in, I think Disney might have a word.
SN: Congratulations on your success. I think it is really cool that you are a very small team and it's gone from an Early Access title to the largest game on Steam. Can you talk about how Steam Early Access has helped in this whole process? How it’s built a community around you guys? Between that, Twitch and the games community in general, how they’re all kind of rallying around guys.
PU: Yea, we’ve have a really strong community ever since almost DayZ Battle Royale. The Battle Royale community, be it from ARMA 3 or H1Z1 and now Battlegrounds, love the game mode. They’re really passionate and they’re very vocal about what they like and what they don’t like. That’s proven invaluable to development because it really gives us real player feedback which will only make the game better. Not all the feedback we can put into action, but we really try to figure out what the majority of people want from a game and we try to do it.
SN: It’s really refreshing to hear, you mentioned this earlier, that this is going to be a game-as-a-service and you are talking about a five year roadmap. There are no plans for a Battlegrounds 2?
PU: No. The way I look at it is like the game you see now look at CS 1.6 and then in 15 years we’ll have CS:GO. The improvement from there to there. That’s the way I like to look at Battlegrounds is that the game now compared to the game in five years are going to be completely different. Well, not completely different. The same game, but just looking and feeling even better than it is today.
SN: It’s a break from the AAA philosophy these days. Because every year, not throwing shade to COD, but we get a COD every year. We get a Battlefield every other year, and I feel like there is a sequelitis. I just interviewed the Rocket League guys a few weeks ago at PAX West and they said they aren't going to do a Rocket League 2, they’re just going to keep making Rocket League great. It’s refreshing to hear indie devs say that. I think it’s a difference in profit motive, but it is also maybe because you guys aren’t publicly traded and there is not someone over your head saying that.
PU: It could be. I just finished an interview where we were talking about how some of the more successful games in the last ten years have come from mods. Dota, CS:GO, almost Rocket league and all these they came from mods basically and I think it kind of shows the difference that with the bigger companies you have almost higher-ups saying “well we need this or we need this.” With a mod, you get to do what you love. You don’t have to answer to anyone. You just get to make the game that you want to make. In my case, I wanted a game to play and people loved it. I think it was the same with CS:GO and the same with Dota. People just fell in love with someone’s idea. It speaks a lot about the power of modding.
SN: It also speaks to your motivation. You just said it. It’s something that Steve Jobs once said. If you’re not doing something you love to do, you’re not going to do a great job. Clearly you love Battlegrounds.
PU: Oh yea! I spend ten to twelve hour days in the office and I do it because I love doing it. I don’t feel like its work. I’m getting to make a game. I’m getting to make something that I love and that’s so important to me. All through my life, I never really stayed at a job that I didn’t love doing. You know, sometimes to my detriment but with this I’m getting to do something that honestly I love to do. The opportunities that Bluehole have given me, honestly it is a once in a lifetime thing, so there’s a large part of me that really doesn’t want to f*ck it up.