It is impossible to overstate the impact Brendan Greene has had on the PC gaming landscape over the past few years. Not even the mind-boggling sales numbers of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds do his relatively short career in the gaming industry justice. 26 million players in nine months, concurrent player records not so much broken as atomised – but it is not all positive for Greene.
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Experiencing such success before your game has even officially released comes with plenty of pressure, and while PUBG retains the limelight for popularising the battle royale genre, copycats are springing up all around it to capitalise on its popularity.
We spoke to Brendan Greene, PUBG’s creative director, about the journey to 1.0, copyright protection in videogames, and the future of battle royale.
PCGamesN: Last time we spoke you had just released on Early Access, how have things been?
Brendan Greene: Yeah, it has been a pretty wild year so now we get to come out of Early Access today. Things are good.
What does 1.0 mean for the future of PUBG?
1.0 was a milestone for the team more than anything else. We believe the game now is relatively, in terms of gameplay, feature complete. We have added everything we said we would, but we have still got work to do. I said in a tweet yesterday that this is the end of the beginning – we have a relatively stable game and now we just need to work on polish, balance, and just continually upgrade moving forward. There are going to be problems: this is a multiplayer game. This is a marathon for us and over the next year and years we plan to keep adding to and upgrading the game.
What features are on the horizon after 1.0?
We have talked about this before. We plan to add new assets such as maps, vehicles, and weapons in order to give new and interesting battlegrounds to play in.
And what about more minor features?
With the game that we have now we really want to start working toward improving the systems that we have. For example, with custom games we really want to give more granular control over what you can do in a custom game. The same goes for the 3D replay system where we have already seen a massive number of machinima created from the system we released, and we want to keep improving this and adding to it to give the content creator more chances to experiment within the game. So we have all the systems in place, we just want to give more fine-grained control over it, flesh it out, and make it a really polished game.
Can we expect the 1.0 build to be the same as what is currently on test servers?
Yeah, pretty much. We have worked hard on the test servers trying to get everything up to spec. There are still some issues there, but the team back in Korea are working very hard to resolve them.
There has been a lot of discussion over whether PUBG should be included in GOTY lists due to its Early Access status – what do you think about that?
We were honoured just to be included in some of those categories, you know, up against Zelda, which is a true masterpiece of storytelling, and Horizon: Zero Dawn, which took seven years to create. To even be nominated besides those games is an honour, whether we should or not, that is a question for other people.
Are you happy with the current crate system?
I have always said that a cosmetics system is good for the game in the long run because we need to support the game over the coming years. We are not going to be selling millions of copies every week anymore, so you have to think in the long term: how are we going to support the servers or how are we going to pay our staff?
I honestly think the cosmetic boxes, what you see in CS:GO and with our crates at Gamescom, I think they work. They do not affect gameplay, they are a purely optional system. We will talk more about this going forward, but right now we are really focusing on 1.0 and the stability of the game. We have never really concerned ourselves too much about cosmetic items and stuff like that, it has been more about getting a stable game in place.
So nothing will be changing when 1.0 goes live?
Exactly, we looked at what happened during Gamescom, looked at the data, and tweaked it a little bit, but we will announce more about cosmetic items in the future.
How was the reaction to the Gamescom Invitational Crates?
It was great. People really enjoy making themselves look unique, and we saw a great response to that crate.
The Xbox version of PUBG has come under a lot of criticism for performance issues – will you ever hold back or limit development of the PC version so that new content will run on the Xbox version?
I don’t believe so, I do not think we have ever discussed that. We want to eventually keep the roadmaps together, right now the two versions are on slightly different roadmaps because the development timings are different. We want to deliver the same experiences on both, we don’t believe in holding one build above the other.
So now you have launched Miramar, is there anything you can tell us about the third map?
Not really. Right now we just want to focus on getting Miramar out the door. We really haven’t looked at any other maps right now – maps take a really long time to make. Miramar has been in development now for three months total, and there is still a lot of work to do in order to make it really shine. It is the same with Erangel, too – making these terrains is an ongoing process, and while I would love to talk about what else we have planned for the future we don’t have anything to share at the moment.
Going back to 1.0, are there any big changes that perhaps players will not notice?
There are lots of different bug fixes that you will see in our patch notes, just lots of niggling things that people have complained about. But really it is about the stability, that is what we are really aiming at – internally, our build is king. We are trying to create a stable platform for people to play battle royale on. A lot of the stuff we do isn’t flashy or shiny, it is just purely that we said we will do it, so we are doing it. So yeah, there are lots of little things like holding ADS to scope instead of clicking mouse to ADS. There are lots of things like that where the community has asked for them and we have put them in.
What is your next priority after 1.0?
Moving forward we are still going to have problems which we are going to want to fix, and in 2018 we will meeting and discussing what our plans will be, but really it is to continue to improve and upgrade Battlegrounds in order to make it really competitive for people to play in. Once we have that locked down then we can look into providing tools for proper esports. We are nowhere near esports ready yet but maybe next year we can get the game to a state where we can work with organisations to start building a battle royale scene.
How will that esports scene look from a grassroots perspective?
Well, we already have that. If you look at custom games, from Japan to China, to Russia and the US, there are weekly and monthly leagues running, and most of the professional teams for PUBG are participating in these leagues. So there is already a grassroots scene forming and that was our intention. We said we would only move forward with esports if our community wanted it – with our custom game system and leagues we are really starting to see the fruits of that, and the community are picking up the ball and running with it. We hope to see more of that in 2018.
Is esports one of your main focuses going forward?
For sure. I have said before – 1.0 is a great milestone – but that when I started doing battle royale mods years ago I always thought it would make a great esport. For me, it’s like our first major in a big stadium or an event dedicated to Battlegrounds or battle royale. Now that the game is in a good state, that is what I had dreamed of four or five years ago. So that’s our focus now, getting the game to that state, and I’m really lucky with the team we have in Korea and around the world, they are just the best bunch of people – I have a vision and they really work to create it.
You spoke about copyright in games not long ago? What do you see as the difference between PUBG copycats and the titles you worked on like H1Z1?
OK, so the thing is Battle Royale and H1Z1 were my concoctions as well, and even the battle royale game mode I licensed to H1Z1 and I licensed to Bluehole. Our boss, CH Kim, was very respectful about this being my original idea, and people will say that The Hunger Games came up with it first or Battle Royale the movie came up with it first. The last man standing mode I claim no ownership of at all, but the very specific systems I had created for Arma 3 don’t exist in these movies and didn’t exist before that so I feel like, OK, these are unique things that I came up with.
So when I talked about that, and I want to keep this brief, we want to try and protect artists, games to me are very much art forms so when someone creates something unique and new there should be recourse to receive protection and there’s no framework for that now. That is what we would like to look into, or do a bit of research on, we’re not saying we want to do it or anything like that, it is just that these frameworks and systems exist in other mediums, so why do they not exist in games just yet? It’s something that I think we need to look into.
That must be especially frustrating when you see so many clones cropping up, or big games like Fortnite Battle Royale adopting the same mechanics…
Yeah and it’s going to happen anyway, but it would be nice if there was some sort of legal framework in place. And this doesn’t have to stifle creativity – I’ve seen this before, people saying this will stifle creativity. No, it won’t. I think it will encourage creativity because people will have to come up with new ideas instead of looking at us and going, oh, that’s a good idea, let’s just do that instead. That’s what we want to look into, trying to create some sort of framework. Whether or not we’ll be successful is another question, but we just want to look into it because it exists in other mediums and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t exist in games.
How does it feel to have the Chinese government discussing your game?
[Chuckles] It’s bizarre, man. Some of the stuff that’s happened, like in the Korean national assembly a politician arrived with a golden frying pan and held it up saying, ‘Do you know what this represents?’. That is mad to me, that stuff like this is happening because of a thing I created, it’s just surreal. And hearing that about the Chinese government mentioning our game, it’s just all surreal and I try to take it with a pinch of salt.
Going back to 1.0, did you approach Miramar in a different way to Erangel? What’s changed from a design perspective?
We just had a lot more experience from working with Erangel. The team had a lot of data from watching how people played the map and looking at what people wanted from the map – we have a great team, both in Korea and in Madison, Wisconsin. The guys in Madison, some of them are ex-COD devs and level designers and have a lot of experience creating these realistic worlds. The two teams work really well together and we just took everything we learned from last year when making Erangel and put it into Miramar. Having guys on the team that would spend their weekends reading books on the various trees from the region and stuff like that, to really get a sense of what that region is like. They have done a really good job in creating unique areas, but also in creating a massive map that feels a little more real than Erangel.
Can we expect Erangel to change in the future, too?
Sure, as I keep saying, this is not a sprint, this is a marathon, and 1.0 is not the end of development. We want to go back, and I’ll reference CS:GO in that Dust is in V3 now or something like that, and we would like in the future to go back and release an updated version of Erangel, or even an updated version of Miramar as the tech gets better, or as we discover improvements, or better art. This is a big journey for us, and this is a big start. We want to continue working on this over the next five or ten years and keep upgrading the game, so yeah it’s very possible that you could see Erangel V2 or V3 over the next few years.
How have players reacted to vaulting?
I think it’s been great. Looking at the test servers, it hasn’t impacted gameplay a huge amount, and yet it has. It allows a bit more verticality, it lets players get to places they previously wouldn’t have been able to, and then to get out which might have struggled with before due to lovely bugs. I think it has made the map a lot more accessible, and the feedback we have got on it from players has been awesome, there are no major bugs with it, people aren’t being sent into space – we’re very happy with how the system plays in the game.
I have been amazed by how seamless it is, clearly a lot of work has gone into it…
Oh, they have done such a great job and this was led by our content creator Marek. He created this dynamic system that sort of scans the geometry of PUBG, so that allows us, when it comes to creating maps, to design it however we want to, and we’re not restricted by having to build a wall a certain height, we can just build a map and then vaulting can be added to it.
Games like Rainbow Six Siege have encountered issues with potential data limits, is this something you are concerned about as you add more content going forward?
I don’t know, we haven’t really discussed that. If you talk about game sizes, look at GTA, what is that? Like 60GB? But we haven’t really looked at that, we have clearly been too focused on getting the game out. I mean, looking forward, we will find ways to optimise file sizes going forward and with a game with maps the size of ours then size might be an issue some day, but I don’t think we’re there right now.
Do you have a dream feature that you would love to see in PUBG?
My dream feature was the 3D replays. That’s what I wanted, I wanted people to be able to create content based on rounds and their kill, and we want to expand it out and make it a fully-featured cinematography tool where you can do all sorts of really interesting stuff in the 3D replays, to give people this alternative way to create content. That was my dream feature, and when I heard that it was possible using Unreal that really got me thinking, holy shit, this is awesome and we can create this whole new level of content. That was my dream feature to get in there so I’m happy now.