The online multiplayer battle royale genre hit the world of gaming like an ox in full throttle. Although PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds perhaps wasn't the first game to enter the scene, it revolutionized the genre and helped it spread all over the world. Multiple awards and millions of downloads later, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is as popular as ever. A meteoric rise almost unmatched, the history of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a modern love story between developers and gamers.
If you are not familiar to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, the battle royale genre or just need a quick reminder, here's a recap how it's played out: at the start of the game, you get parachuted of an airship together with up to 99 more players into a map of very large proportions. You can decide yourself which area on the map to land in, where you think is best suitable for your next step. After you've hit the ground, the objective is to be the last person/team standing. Through scavenging for the best weapons and gear possible, finding the most advantageous vantage points and best your opponents, the objective can be done.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a massive online multiplayer game in first- or third person perspective, where up to 100 players fights in a battle royale deathmatch to be the last player or team (you can play alone, a duo or up to 4 players in a team) alive. Weapons and gear is spread out in empty buildings, ghost towns, sheds, warehouses around the massive map. Vehicles are available to offer mobility. To keep the players moving, the playable area shrinks (in stages) towards a random location on the vast map. If players are caught outside the "safe zone", they take damage until they're dead or they're in the safe zone again. The game is over when one player or one team is the only one left alive.
Battle Royale enters the stage
Now when you know how the game is played out, let's talk about its history and development. The game developer, Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene, had previously designed the ARMA 2 mod DayZ: Battle Royale in the early 2010s, inspired by the 2000 Japanese movie "Battle Royale"; a movie where a class of Japanese students gets dropped off on an island and forced to kill one another until being the last person alive. Greene lived in Brazil at the time and played a lot of military-themed video games. Thinking that many existing online action games were to repetitive through easy memorization of small maps and unvaried gameplay, he wanted to create something with more randomization. A game with a high degree of replayability.
The Battle Royale genre revolves around survival, exploration, scavenging and action and has quickly become one of the most popular gaming genres in the last couple of years. A concept since the Japanese movie Battle Royale, but it really rose as a subgenre when the Hunger Games movies hit the screen. Early game adaptations were seen in mods in games like Minecraft and ARMA 2. However, it was not until the releases of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite in 2017 that the genre became a cultural phenomenon. Open-world maps and heavy randomization seemed to be what many gamers wanted.
Brendan Greene's mod DayZ: Battle Royale to ARMA 2 initially caught some interest from curious fans, but the interest soon vaned. However, Sony Online Entertainment had been monitoring Greene's work and, clearly impressed, offered him a job as a consultant to their new battle royale-themed game H1Z1. In 2016, H1Z1 split into two separate games: H1Z1: King of the Hill and H1Z1: Just Survive, focusing on different aspects of the genre. Greene's consultation period with Sony was at an end at the time of the split - but he wasn't done with the genre. Not in the slightest.
In an other part of the world, South Korean video game developer Chang-han Kim wanted his games to reach global fame. A genre he saw potential in had begun to attract a small following in the West, although South Koreans reception only was of lukewarm interest so far. The genre was Battle Royale. After having played DayZ, Kim reached out to its developer, a certain Brendan Greene, which would eventually result in Kim offering Greene a job as Creative Director at Kim's company Bluehole. Kim's vision was to, together with Greene, develop a new Battle Royale concept. And guess what that concept would turn in to?
A new concept takes over the world
You're right! PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was underway. The development of the game began in 2016 and was scheduled to be finished a year later, in 2017. According to Greene, the game was a passion-project for Bluehole as himself and his co-developers put in multiple extra hours to make it as good as it could be. As news of the development hit the gaming world, hype and interest began to show, which enabled the studio to hire more and more developers.
An early access beta was released in March 2017. The popularity increased even further after this. Players had not seen a similar type of game - and they loved it intensely. The growth of interest can partly be explained by the popularity amongst influencers and streamers, who saw it as a perfect game for their Let's Play videos. Realizing just how massive the game could be, Bluehole shifted all their attention to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, even renaming the studio to PUBG Corporation. The rapid growth of interest demanded it. The game was fully released in December 2017 on PC, and it was an instant success. It would eventually be released on consoles (Xbox One and PS4) and mobile devices (Android and iOS) the following year.
Even after PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds exceeded expectations with the early access beta-version, the newly renamed PUBG Corporation were shocked by the influx of players. The modern marketing strategy of letting Let’s Players, streamers and influencers via Twitch and other social platforms play the game had paid off. Big time. After approximately a month after the release of the early access, over a million copies of the game had been sold. After three months over five million players had bought a copy. And by the time of the release of the full game, over 30 million gamers were playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – making it one of the highest-grossing games of all time. Mind. Blowned.
The free-to-play version PUBG Lite on mobile devices proved to be a homerun as well. As of 2020, the game has been downloaded over 600 million times (with a majority of the downloads in China and India). Crazy, crazy figures.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has since its early access release, skyrocketed. Both in terms of numbers of players and innovation. It made the Battle Royale genre what it is today and has influenced thousands of video game developers. It has been awarded with “Best Multiplayer Game”, “Best Ongoing Game” and “Game of the year” amongst a bunch of laurels. Even though it differs from many other esports, it has found a place in international competitions and tournaments. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is equally fun for amateurs and for pros due to its randomization, user-friendliness and replay value. Since the meeting of Kim and Greene it wasn’t really any doubt: PUBG was always going to be something new and original, rewarding and enjoyable: a modern classic.