“PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is an asset flip.” The game that turned battle royale into a craze has suffered no shortage of insults since its meteoric rise in Early Access, though developer PUBG Corp finds that one especially grating. And after comments from Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene at E3, the team is defending itself in much greater detail.
An “asset flip” is a game built cheaply out of premade models purchased from the Unity Asset Store or another purveyor of digital objects. A proper asset flip is typically little more than some light interaction inside these pre-built environments, though the term is sometimes used as catch-all insult implying laziness on the part of any developer which makes use of pre-made assets.
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Greene spoke about the making of a PUBG map during an E3 Coliseum segment, and one segment in particular drew a lot of interest. “I see some comments that we’re an asset flip, and that kills me a little inside because I know we’re not. We work with artists like Carol in Russia who does most of our vehicles, most of our buildings are handmade by our artists - even foliage and stuff like that.
“Of course, listen, we use some props from marketplaces. We had to make a map within about nine months. You don’t do that without using the work of other artists. But for the most part, most of our stuff is made by hand. So I see these comments and I’m like ‘I want to kill you'.”
Greene laughs through that last comment, but it’s clearly something that bothers the development team. PUBG communications lead Ryan Rigney shared more info from the art team on Reddit after this clip started to get shared around.
“The first thing to understand is that if you’re just starting up a team,” Rigney says, “you’ve got to lean on asset store work because that's the only way you can spin up a game fast, and for a reasonable price, to quickly find the fun. Hiring an art team of 40 people to ‘try a game’ and ‘see if it's fun’ is simply not a smart way to work - this is what the asset store is for! It’s a great resource for teams that want to work smart.”
Erangel was built with “a combination of in-house work at our HQ in Korea, some direct purchasing of assets, and outsourced art work from a team based in the American Midwest. Basically, a few Americans built the Military Base on Erangel. That went so well that Korea decided to build a proper PUBG Corp studio in Madison, Wisconsin for an in-house art team.”
By the time Miramar was in development, the Madison team had begun doing more worldbuilding work, so that map was a collaboration between the US artists and those back at HQ in Korea. “As our in-house art teams built Miramar, they began to rely less on store-bought assets, although they continued to use them strategically, because it just doesn’t make sense to build everything in the game world yourself. We also re-used some things from Erangel in Miramar.”
As one of the company’s lead artists says, “Why should one of my artists spend two weeks on a generic sculpt if they could instead spend that two weeks adding real value for players elsewhere? How many times should a telephone booth be modeled? How many times do we gotta sculpt a cash register?”
As for Playerunknown's Battlegrounds' new maps, “Miramar used fewer external assets than Erangel,” Rigney says, “and Sanhok used fewer still.” The upcoming snow map will use even fewer, though Rigney adds “if we’re smart it’ll almost certainly still involve some mix of assets from different sources. This is a good thing.”