Not so long ago, PlayerUnknown was just that; now, Brendan Greene (the man behind the enigmatic handle) is the head of the PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds empire. It’s an empire that found fame and glory on PC, and recently made the jump to Xbox One, even presented as the console’s big win during last year’s E3 conference.
It can’t always have been easy presiding over an ever-evolving online battle royale game, or a community as vocal and demanding as the PUBG faithful, but Brendan Greene explained to us – from South Korea, where he had a quick break before heading back out on the road to PAX – that he still loves the game he built because it’s what he wanted to play.
GamesRadar+: You just brought the game to Xbox – did it feel like starting over?
Brendan Greene: Honestly, it didn’t feel all that different. We use Unreal Engine and that’s multiplatform, so we were able to get a build of the game up and running on Xbox pretty quickly. The challenge was really getting it running well, so we had an excellent partner in Microsoft. They’ve been sending some of their best people over here to work with us in the months leading up to the launch last December. And we’re not done yet. We chose Xbox because of the Game Preview program, which allows us to do a similar thing to what we did on PC: develop the game with the community and work on their feedback and getting the game running the way they want.
We saw on PC that using early access was a really great way to work with the community. We get real player feedback. Especially for a multiplayer shooter, we believe it’s really important to build it with the community, and build it with players who’ve been with battle royale since all the way back in ARMA 2. There are really passionate players out there who want to give their feedback. And it’s the same on Xbox. We understand that a shooter on Xbox has to be tuned correctly. You really have to listen to the players and how they want the game to run. So with the Game Preview program, we just saw that it was a great opportunity as the same thing as we had done on PC.
Are Xbox players any different in the kind of things they want?
No, not really. They want the great battle royale experience. That’s what they all want across every platform, so that’s what we’re committed to delivering. They’ve been really great in giving their feedback on the forums, and our community has been doing tremendous work in terms of filtering that feedback, then getting that into a digestible format for the team here. But I’m really happy with the community – that this is something that they really can be involved in.
How has your day changed from, say, when you were first launching the game on PC to now?
I’ve been doing a lot of traveling. This is the first time I’ve been back in the office since, I would say, nearly September. Even before that, I was on the road quite a bit. I’m lucky to have an amazing team here – all the different department heads, from our art director to our game design lead to the tech director. They all understand the vision.
We’ve had quite a long time to discuss this here, and it’s great because that’s allowed me to travel, and then do more of the press thing. But now, I’m back here [in South Korea] for a few weeks, so it’s going back to being in the office and working with the team. You know what? As much as I like being on the road, you kind of want to be back here. You want to get your hands dirty, and it’s great to be back. That said, I’m off to PAX South tomorrow. But then I come back. It just never stops.
Did making the change from developing in a small team to travelling and appearing at shows ever feel difficult, or does that just fit with your personality anyway?
No, I’m Irish, I like to talk, but it’s been a bit of an adjustment now that I’m a public figure. It’s almost like, even from day one, when I started like the mod way back in Arma 2, I’ve always been careful to what I say online. It’s just a sensible way to be when you’re online because the internet never forgets. But I really enjoy meeting the fans. I’m comfortable doing that, and I try to get to as many conventions as I can, just so I’m giving some fans the opportunity to meet me, tell me to fix my game, or tell me what they think. And I’ve met so many of them and they’re just super passionate about the game.
What was your ‘oh shit’ moment when you realized, ‘This is going to do really well, this is going to be big – this is a thing now’?
Oh God, I don’t know. It all happened so quickly, from launch to reaching a million copies sold in 16 days. Just seeing the numbers not stopping, like we’re up to three million CCU [concurrent users] at the moment. Insane numbers. That whole last year was really, like since March, for me was a big oh shit moment. It was just one big kind of “Oh my God.”
We never expected the game to take off the way that it did, and last year we broke seven Guinness world records for what the game achieved, which is just crazy to me. I just wanted to deliver a good game that people enjoyed, and we were thinking of conservatively, “Oh, we’d sell five million in the first year.” Now we’re past something like 26 million [players] on PC; around 30 million across all platforms. It’s been kind of crazy. Yeah, so many, many oh shit moments.
Do you enjoy watching people streaming the game?
I love it. It’s the best bug-finding tool you can use. It’s a wonderful tool for seeing what streamers and the chat think of your game, and you’re anonymous, so you really hear what they think. And it’s a really valuable tool to find out exactly what the community thinks of new updates or new things we’re trying out. I love watching Twitch.
The Twitch world was instrumental in getting the battle royale genre off the ground. I’m very thankful to all the content creators across all platforms, because they really help show the game off to a lot more people than we could do with marketing.
Were there any decisions that you made earlier on for PUBG that felt like a risk but really paid off?
Our current CEO, suggested that we put in a revive system, and that’s not something we had in the Arma 3 and H1Z1. I was a little bit skeptical about the revive system. I didn’t really know if we should add it. And I was also very fixed with the game mode I designed and very skeptical about adding stuff to it, just in case that thing would [make the game] lose its appeal. But once we released the [ability to revive] the players loved it. And I happily ate my words.
That was the big one for me. Apart from that, everything for the battle royale game mode has been in planning for me for four years, five years now. All the way through the mod and through H1Z1, I got a chance to really refine and look at what worked and what didn’t work.
Does playing the game feel like work now?
No, not at all. I don’t get a chance to play it all that often, just because I’m on the road so much – but when I finally get back here, I try to get some games in. The problem is, I play one-on-one. I’ll play ten, so it’s not very good for a productive day. [laughs] It just feels like a fresh game every time. The connectivity, the weapons – every game’s going to be different, and that’s why I love playing it, because it challenges me every time. You never know what’s going to happen. And I love playing it, so that’s yeah, I don’t think it will ever get boring for me.
How does it feel to see so many – and I’ll be very diplomatic here – ‘homages’ to PUBG popping up on different platforms?
I think it’s great stuff. There’s so many homages coming out. I just hope that anyone releasing new battle royale games puts their own spin on this, and tries to come up with something unique, because that’s the way a genre grows. If everyone is just copying everyone else, it just gets boring and it’s the same game that everyone’s releasing. I’m really hoping that we’re going to see some new and interesting spins on the battle royale game mode going forward.
What is it about either gamers now or the game itself that’s made it such a hit with people?
I honestly think it’s because you start with nothing every time, and it’s a hard game to win. It’s very unforgiving. You make any mistakes and you’ll die – and you start again. It harks back to the old-school games that I grew up with, like Doom. They were really hard, and you spent days if not weeks trying to beat the final bosses.
I think a lot of modern games are starting to lose that. I just want to make a hard game. I want a game that challenges me, and I think that’s what battle royale especially brings to the table: it’s hard to win. I think only one in 6,000 people win on their first attempt. That means you’re twice as likely to get struck by lighting as you are to win your first game.
That makes me feel a lot better about my first couple of games.
It’s a hard game, and because it’s a different game every time. It’s not predictable. You don’t know where it’s going to end. You don’t know what weapons you’re going to get, so I think that’s the draw – it’s unique every time, it’s different every time, and it’s always a challenge.
What will PUBG look like in, say, 10 years’ time?
We have a great game design team led by JC. He’s such a smart man, and he’s really detailed in everything he does. He really puts a lot of research into everything. He’s very mindful of the fact that we have millions of people playing the game every day. He has to be very careful about changes that we roll out and changes to systems in the game, because you want to do it gradually so you’re not shocking players and changing everything they know about the game. We also feel that there are areas of the game that need improvement, and we’re not going to be shy about changing them.
This is a long-term project for us and it’s something that we want to continually upgrade. I keep referring to CS:GO as the kind of model that I look at to emulate. It’s just constantly improving, constantly upgrading, and constantly chewing the game over the coming years and hopefully decades. We really want to support this, and add new content, add new aspects, and just continually upgrade and improve the game.
What kind of gaming innovation would you like to see that would support PUBG?
Honestly, the first time I saw Magic Leap, I was like, “Oh my God.”It made me think of a battle royale match taking place in your local town, with your friends. You would look down at your hand and you’ve got big ass gun in it. Having that kind of battle royale with your friends on the streets of your town, I think that would be really cool.
It will also look really weird with people like finger gunning each other around town with weird glasses and all, but that’s the kind of stuff that I think could be very interesting: bringing a battle royale game mode into the AR or mixed reality space. I’m not quite sure if it could quite work in VR, but I was definitely excited when I saw Magic Leap, because I thought, “Ok, this could be really interesting when it comes to playing shooter games like that in real space.”
Where will PUBG need to be before you feel like you can start working on a different project?
I really don’t know what to say. My dream for battle royale has been esports. When I first started this four years ago, I always felt that the battle royale game mode would be great for creating some kind of spectacle within esports. That’s kind of where I’m at at the moment: working with the team here and trying to come up with a good way to move forward on that. It’s going to take time.
For me, I really think when we see our first PUBG major on the scale of a CS:GO major or something like that, that’s when I’ll think, “Ok, it’s now firmly planted as an esport, and I can think about other things.” I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to do a survival game, but that’s about all I’ve thought about. I really want to get battle royale on Battlegrounds kind of finished – well, not finished, but to a stage where I can say, “Ok, this is what I’ve always dreamt of. This is what I’ve always dreamt for the battle royale game mode.” So right now, that’s where I’m at.
I have a really firm belief that you shouldn’t rush. That like, yes, another game would be great – but right now, I want to get this one done first, and for me, it’s about delivering a good game. And we’re getting there. We had a pretty good launch, and now, I want to see PUBG built out as a proper platform for a possible esport.
I feel like the community really wants that happen, and that’s kind of how esports work, right?
We have some absolutely amazing organizations that are using our custom game servers to run weekly and monthly competitions already. There’s massive interest from both the community and pro players, so I’m very optimistic about how we can build this out. But again, it’s going to take time, and it’s not something we want to rush – because if you rush your foundations, you’re going to end up with a really unstable house. So we really want to take the time to make sure that all the tools and the systems we put in place are both competitive and feel good for esports.
Is there anything you bought as your, “Things are good now, and I’m treating myself to this” moment? Do you have, like, a giant 4K TV? Do you have the most amazing rig?
Honestly, I really don’t buy things for myself. I don’t see the need in buying a flashy car or something like that. I mean, I think the most expensive thing I bought for myself was a bottle of wine. I was in London for some awards, and I went for dinner with a friend at the Goring Hotel. They have a lovely restaurant, and we were getting to the main course, and there was a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which is a beautiful red wine – but it cost two-and-half thousand. I think that was the most expensive thing I bought, which my brother texted me about after I had said this on a podcast, going “Two-and-a-half grand on a bottle of wine, are you mad?” It was just amazing.
I think it was definitely worth the money even though many people may disagree, but that’s where I kind of treat myself. I might get a nice bottle of wine now and again, but I’m not an extravagant person. I have a daughter and I have a family, and I want to make sure that they’re looked after first. Me, I don’t care about many things. As long as I’ve got a bed to sleep in, I’m happy.
What does your family think of your success?
My parents, they understand. They see that I’m successful, but I don’t think they quite get [PUBG]. I don’t think they quite understand about gaming, but they’re both hitting 70 now, so I try to explain. And my dad kind of gets it. He’s pretty tech-savvy, but they’re just happy I’m successful. My daughter, she does get it, and then she asks me questions every now and again. She says “Oh, people in school tell me you’re doing this or doing that.” But she gets it. [My family are] just proud of me, and I’m just happy that I’m able to sort of help them out now that they’re getting on in life.