Since its launch in March, Playerunknown's Battlegrounds has been a dominant force on Steam, where it's routinely one of the platform's three most-played games. Although it's a distant third behind goliaths like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, it far outpaces the number of players seen by Steam's other top games, such as Team Fortress 2, Ark: Survival Evolved, and Grand Theft Auto V. It's only two months old, but with upwards of 2.8 million copies sold according to Steam Spy, it's looking increasingly likely that it's more than a mere flash in the pan.
On a day like today, it's comfortably ahead in player count (a peak of over 170k) compared with H1Z1: King of the Kill (115k), a game that Battlegrounds strongly resembles. Both feature the Battle Royale-style game mode that was created by Brendan Greene--the titular Playerunknown. But taking on that game--or his earlier Battle Royale mods for the Arma series--was never Greene's goal.
"I didn't intend to build a game to directly compete with either title," he tells GameSpot, referring to H1Z1 and his Arma mod. "I wanted to create a game that fell somewhere in the space between them. Our game has what I think are the best elements of both, while remaining true to my original vision for a Battle Royale type game."
H1Z1, which licensed the Battle Royale concept from Greene, made a major change last year when it split into two games, H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill. Greene believes this was a "good move," as it allowed developer DayBreak Games to "focus on each game." But his desire to move on to his own project stemmed from a desire to fulfill his vision. "I decided to move onto making my own game as the version of Battle Royale implemented in H1Z1 was not what I wanted from a standalone game," he says.
On the surface, Battlegrounds appears intimidating--competitive elements aside, a quick glimpse at someone managing their weapons or inventory doesn't suggest it will be an easy experience to jump into. But Greene says a "core tenant" of developer Bluehole is the oft-heard "easy to learn, but hard to master" mentality. "While we do have a somewhat complex loot, weapon and attachment system," he says, "the game itself is at its core a simple idea: land, loot, survive."
One hurdle new players face when joining the game is the level of abuse they encounter from other players. Before the start of a multiplayer match, players are corralled together in a waiting room of sorts known as the spawn island. This, in particular, can become a particularly toxic location, which has led some to disable communications altogether. Greene says that Bluehole does have some plans to address this, but they won't extend to the entire game.
"On the spawn island, we will be adding a new spawn room that is completely quiet so when players load into the game, they will not be subject to the current barrage of noise," he explains. "As for what people do outside this room, I leave that up to them."
In an age where seemingly every game has a progression system, Battlegrounds is somewhat unusual in that it does not. Greene believes the key to keeping players hooked lies in the wide variety of ways that any given match can play out.
"With the Battle Royale game mode, every game a player experiences is somewhat different, from what weapons and attachments they find to the endgame location," he says. "Along with this, we have different parts of the game that a player must learn to master: boost and health systems, tactical movement, and movement planning. All this combined with the inherent tension felt in a Battle Royale game allows players to keep coming back and having new and better experiences every time they play the game."
Battlegrounds remains in Early Access on Steam, with no specific date set for a full release. Part of the process involves refining the game--whether by fixing nagging issues with aiming or introducing a motorcycle--but there are also extensive plans for adding new content.
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"We have a plan to add a new weapon with each monthly update during Early Access," Greene explains. "We are also working on two new maps for the game and have new game modes planned. Our Custom Game feature has proven to be very successful, and we will be including some of the more popular modes created by our partners as default Custom Game modes in the future."
Beyond PC, Bluehole intends to eventually bring Battlegrounds to consoles as well. However, at least publicly, Greene says there's no date yet for how soon we may see those.
Another item on Bluehole's to-do list are cosmetics and a loot box system. Charging money for something like that when other areas of the game are still in need of attention could turn players off; as a result, it's not something planned for the immediate future.
"We will only fully monetize the loot box system when the game leaves early access," he says. "We may, however, need to add the system to the game shortly before this happens in order to test it. For us, performance and optimization of the game is our top priority during early access, and while we have players asking us daily when we will add new skins to the game, right now we want to make sure the game is stable and performs well for everyone before we move onto cosmetics."
We also couldn't resist asking Greene about that black trenchcoat--if you've played, you know the one--the origins of which apparently date back to the game's early days. "This was part of our first character model, and has remained in the game since!" Greene says.
Battlegrounds, which has received consistent updates since its launch earlier this year, is available on Steam now for $30 in Early Access.