SXSW Gaming: ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ developer Brendan Greene on being king (with chicken dinner) of battle royals

Posted March 16th, 2018

What’s the easiest way to go from being a small-time programmer to the developer of a game with over 30 million players?

Don’t ask Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene, as he didn’t have a strong answer for the secret to the success of his hit multiplayer battle royal shooter, "PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds," better known as "PUBG." Greene joked with interviewer and Rooster Teeth host Ashley Jenkins during his SXSW Gaming featured session, titled “From Mod Creator to Creative Developer," “Maybe I got lucky.”

Maybe Greene was giving fans of competitive shooters a new game style that resonated with how the majority of gamers play these days: online, with friends and in front of the world on live-streaming sites such as Twitch. He noted that there’s a dedication among "PUBG" fans that fuels everything his development company, PUBG Corporation, attempts to put in place.

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“I think over half our player-base has played over 100 hours or something. There’s a dedication to playing that’s astounding,” Green said, right before Jenkins asked the crowd for a show of hands for who had played that many hours of "PUBG."

A lot of hands went up inside the filled Austin Convention Center conference room. 

Bluehole, Inc."PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" is a battle-royal shooter game with about 30 million players.

Jenkins mentioned the lack of productivity among her co-workers thanks to the “just one more match” nature of "PUBG," a game in which 100 players parachute onto a militarized island to scour for maps and supplies, all while trying to be the last player standing. Greene agreed. “Other developers have told me that they’ve banned the game from being played at the office. People would go to lunch and never come back," he said.

Success wasn’t always a guarantee for Greene, as his early work modifying games such as "America’s Army" and "H1Z1" was less about making money than it was toying with the games he loved. In 2014 he soon found himself creating an iteration of what would become the battle royal genre within H1Z1, known as “King of the Kill.”

Greene moved on to working with a Korean company, Bluehole Ginno Games, in 2015 to work on the game that became "PUBG." He detailed this history of how fast everything moved once their game hit early access — when a game is released and sold early but still updated, until it becomes finalized. 

“We were running out of cloud services,” he said. He didn't expect that the player base would grow as quickly as it did. “It’s a great problem, but also a terrible problem to have.” 

In the wake of the emergence of "PUBG," Greene and his team aren’t ready to sit back and coast on their success. Last week, the team detailed in a blog post their plans moving forward, calling it a roadmap through 2018. Their plans aren’t set in stone, as they don’t want to make any promises they cannot keep. Greene is also cognizant of fierce competition within the genre, with Epic Games own battle royal shooter called "Fortnite" stealing the spotlight as of late from "PUBG." He said his company can't have a knee jerk reaction to the competition since development just doesn’t move that fast. 

“If we reacted now it would still take us six months,” he laughed. He wryly added “Well, we’ve added emotes in the March update and we were obviously copying ‘Fortnite,’ right?"

Only time will tell if the laugh he gave was a sign of worry about his role in the genre he redefined or if this too, will pass. “A game is a service. We want this game to run for the next 10 to 15 years and keep polishing what we have," Greene said. "You guys make the game. Without all of you we wouldn't be here.”