Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene has had quite the year. He launched his survival shooter, Battlegrounds, in Early Access on Steam, and it has gone on to become the breakout success of 2017, setting concurrent player records on Steam, taking over Twitch, and dominating discussions around gaming.
At E3, Greene announced that his game would make its console debut on Xbox One and, at Paris Games Week, the developer announced a release date for the console version. And as part of promoting the game, he's traveled around the world to various events. We caught up with him at Paris Games Week and decided to ask him about his whirlwind year, as well as a few other questions that'd help us understand the man behind the game.
GameSpot: Hello, Brendan, how's it going?
PlayerUnknown: Pretty good! It's been a busy few days, we finally let loose the release date for Xbox One and we're really excited about that.
Yes, so you've got a console version coming and last month you broke records on Steam. How did that feel, Brendan?
It was amazing. The number of people that are playing is unreal, I never imagined that in my wildest dreams. It's been great. Everything seems to be coming together now, since we have the Steam 1.0 release coming at the end of the year and the Xbox Preview Program version. It feels like the last year and a half is coming to a head. It's really starting to come together.
With over a million players now, Brendan, at what point do you stop calling yourself PlayerUnknown?
[Laughs] I would sooner change to PlayerLeaveMeTheF**kAlone. No, but really, that's my handle. It's a bit ironic now given the success of the game but…
I think you should change it to Brendan's Battlegrounds. It has a nice, kid playing war in the garden vibe.
Oh nooooo. If we renamed it you wouldn't have the cool PUBG moniker.
You're introducing a bunch of new features, most notably vaulting. It must be so stressful to mess with something as popular as PUBG is now.
It is quite stressful. We want to improve how the blue zone works, we want to add vaulting and balance the core gameplay and gunplay mechanics. Of course, with a big player base, that's a risky thing to do and it's something we have to do carefully--almost in baby steps--to make sure that people are informed about what we're doing and we're communicating it well. For us it's about making a great game, and sometimes you have to change stuff to make them better. Some players don't like change--a lot of people in the world don't like change--but sometimes in order to make the game better you have to do these things. We constantly listen to the community anyway, so if we make changes they really don't like, we have rolled them back before and we will do in the future. This is a community effort and while we have a clear vision for what we want we still have to make sure players are happy with what we're doing.
Do you worry that PUBG could lose its popularity as quickly as it gained it?
Of course that's a concern. But it's not something we're too focused on since we've never really focused on our player numbers. We're more focused on making a good game. It's been my belief since making Arma 2 mods that it's not about the fame or concurrent users, it's about making a good game. All the way through my mod career, I was just focused on polishing the game, and it's the same with PUBG because we want to continue this over five, 10, 20 years. We want to continually upgrade and improve.
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So let's say you had to pack it in a … Fortnite … from now…
Very subtle [Laughs].
Thanks. What would you do next?
Make another game. If it dies, what can we do? But we hope that because we have new maps coming, environments coming, and we want to keep adding to the game to give more interesting battlegrounds to keep fighting on.
Have you played Super Mario Odyssey?
Do you want to play it?
No. It's not my type of game…
Because you don't like fun?
[Laughs] I like realistic shooters. I don't mind fun, but shooters are just my bag. I don't get time to play unfortunately. I would want to play it with friends and I don't get time to play with friends. Maybe when I get time off in a few years…
This is making me sad, Brendan.
No don't worry, I get to work on my dream. I work long hours and I travel a lot, I don't get to see my friends very often, I have a daughter back in Ireland that I get to see infrequently--I Facetime with her a lot--but it's ok because I'm doing something that'll last quite some time and it's worth putting in the time now. I'm willing to sacrifice some things because I'm getting to live my dream.
Are you playing anything else right now?
You should try Mario. It's joyful.
I really should. I'll get a controller and see what happens.
PUBG is currently dealing with server issues, lag, and cheating. What are you doing to combat this and what would you say to people who have become disheartened by it? Streamers, for example, are starting to look for experiences elsewhere now.
We always expected that; it's just the nature of streaming. But for us, we're committed to solving these problems. The server issues are just because of our exponential growth--we wrote the system to deal with a million concurrent users. We thought we'd never reach that, so it was a good ceiling to put on our system. Now we're reaching 2.3 million. We ran out of cloud servers in Asia because there were no physical servers left for us. It's just growth pains, essentially.
With cheating, it's the same. We're expanding quite rapidly in China and there's quite a large section of cheat providers that are very smart there. I mean, they're going in via the Windows kernel to attack the game. But we're rolling out new systems and updating the game with more server-side fixes. We're committed, but we're only seven months into live development, and it takes time to write these systems. We've been banning up to 20,000 cheaters a day and we're now able to build profiles on what a cheater looks like [in-game]. We'll be using that--a lot more statistical analysis--to really beef up our anti-cheat measures and catch people that do manage to bypass them.
As I said, this is a long-term project for us. It's a marathon, not a sprint. So my message to players that get disheartened is, "Bear with us, we're not abandoning the game, this is not a pump and dump by any means." We have a plan to keep going until this is honestly the best version of the game it can be.
Have you tried throwing money at it?
[Laughs] As per player suggestions, we have tried throwing money at servers but it doesn't seem to fix them.
Why don't you talk about the mobile version of the game? The players there seem to be very neglected.
Mobile version? We don't have a mobile version.
What? But I got Ultimate Fortnite Battle Royale-Grand Battleground from the Google Play Store and…
[Laughs] That's not us.
What about Players Unknown Battle Grand?
Grand Battle Royale?
BATTLE GAME ROYALE?
Oh, I am very confused.
We haven't made a mobile version of the game. Man, there's so many [clones]. I had some friends say, "Oh my god your game is on my phone," and I am like, "We don't have a game on the phone right now…"
How do you feel about seeing so many clones and also not being able to stop that from happening? They could impact your reputation, right?
It's to be expected. Look at any movie that comes out, you just get a bunch of knock-off games. I want this genre to grow; it's a new, fledgling genre in gaming and one that I helped father, so I want to see it grow. All that I ask from developers is to put your own spin on it. That makes it more interesting, the genre grows. If everyone is just copying there's no growth and it's just the same thing over and over. That's boring and a bit lazy. I want to see more Battle Royale games, but let's try and put some unique spins on them and not the same thing over and over again.
Where does Fortnite fall within that thinking? Does it put enough of a spin on the formula?
Not really, no. So many of the mechanics in the game are similar to the stuff I concepted way back in Arma 3. Even the UI is a little bit similar to ours. And it's not really the case that we're annoyed with Fornite, it's because of conflicts of interest with Epic and that was our point to the press, it wasn't really communicated well. I just feel that Fortnite: Battle Royale is a bit lazy to me. They could have had a great game because Fortnite is amazing and they could have put some unique, interesting building [systems] in there, almost like a tower defense Battle Royale, but they just didn't.
But what can you do? It's going to happen. It's the nature of business I guess.
Is the Blue Zone a metaphor for life in that failure is always closing in on you and you've just got to hope it gets everyone else around you first?
[Laughs] I look at Battle Royale the game type as a metaphor for life: It's really f**king hard and you're going to get f**ked nine times out of ten, so yes, that is a good way to look at it.
For a lot of people, their knowledge of weapons comes from games. I learned about M4s and P90s through Counter-Strike. So with that in mind, do you think you're setting unrealistic expectations for what a frying pan is capable of?
Oh my god. [Laughs] Yes, I think I am.
Is that something you feel a responsibility to address?
No, the frying pan will always be the frying pan.
We do want to add new features to it like bullet penetration, for example, so you might start seeing holes in that frying pan. Some of those videos of 50 people shooting at one frying pan and it's protecting them are ... [Laughs]
Would you like to take this opportunity to put out a PSA about frying pans in real life?
Yes. Frying pans should only be used in self-defense.
Thank you, I think that's sensible. Have you thought about introducing a vegetarian alternative to "Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner"?
I can guarantee you that our virtual chicken contains almost no meat.
It seems like it'd be pretty easy to just have an option for "Winner, Winner, Salad Spinner."
[Laughs] That is a very nice idea. That could be very good for the veg-eating audience.
I think they'd appreciate it.
So you went outside for a smoke earlier…
Do you vape?
Of course I do.
What you vaping?
At the moment, it's Lemon Frosted Doughnut.
That sounds amazing.
It's very nice.
What PG/VG ratio are we talking?
Usually more VG, so 60/40.
Trying to go zero. I'm trying to ween myself off smoking, so vaping and then having a cigarette now and then.
How's that going?
Y'know, I'm getting there.
That's great. The creator of one of the most popular video games in the world right now vapes. So maybe people should lay off the vapers a bit?
Vape Naysh, Brendan.
Seriously though, as a Vaper, I hate those f**king idiots that are always filling the room with a cloud. It's like, "Chill the f**k out."
I agree. Whenever I go to my local store to get a bit of liquid there's always a guy trying to start a smoke tornado with his hands and he looks like a right knob.
Have you actually seen Battle Royale?
Of course! It's one of my favourite movies. I just love the idea of starting with nothing and having to fight for survival. It becomes a human interest story, a real look into how people react and behave in unusual situations.
Do you like anime?
I liked Akira.
I like you.
You should check out Hunter X Hunter. I think you might be into it, given your love of survival. It has similar themes to PUBG.
I'll check it out. I also read Lone Wolf and Cub, which was wonderful. It's f**king amazing.
It's being adapted into a movie now.
Really? That's cool. I love that story.