'PUBG' Creator Talks Game Launch, eSports, IP Protection

In Asia, five matches of 'PUBG' start every second.

It’s been nothing less than a wild year for Brendan Greene, the eponymous mind behind Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, the shock smash-hit shooter of 2017. With the game finally emerging from the murk and controversy of Early Access on Thursday - fulfilling one of developer PUBG Corp's core promises to the game’s mammoth community, which numbers in the tens of millions - it’s easy to see how Greene might feel on top of the world. Still, though he describes the milestone as “the end of the beginning” for PUBG, he acknowledges that the game has a long way to go.

The full release of PUBG brings a handful of new changes, chief among them a much-discussed desert map, Miramar, a sun-baked wasteland dotted with debris to dart behind and ditches to lose yourself in. To hear Greene tell it, designing a new environment to complement the post-Soviet island hellscape that made the game famous - known as Erangel - proved to be one of the stiffest challenges that his team has yet to face. “When we started off, we had very little experience with realistic terrain,” he explains. “Now that we have a little more experience, we have a better idea of how far to space out the houses and the like. We wanted to make the terrain feel more dynamic than Erangel, where it’s sometimes just a lot of trees. Maybe we’ll even update that at some point.”

As the most visible example of the burgeoning battle royale genre - which casts you in a last-man-standing deathmatch where you must scramble for guns, armor, and other resources before battling ninety-some other ninnies for the title of sole survivor - PUBG has spawned a plethora of imitators who vie for its crown just as desperately as the bloodthirsty players who inhabit its servers. From Greene’s perspective, however, he sees these apparent intrusions into the market as a positive force. “I think people are being really innovative with new ideas,” he says. “When I see a battle royale game that looks really promising, I like to talk to the devs, encourage them. I’ve learned a lot over the past three years.”

Yet as PUBG has climbed past every echelon of success known in the gaming industry at an unprecedented clip - surpassing fellow run-and-gun icons like Call of Duty and even the immortal Counter-Strike - some have seen Greene as overplaying his hand. Earlier this month, he made headlines when he bemoaned what he views as the lack of sufficient copy protection in games, saying that certain developers profit by “ripping off” somebody else’s idea. Many saw this as a backhanded response to the deluge of big-budget me-toos like Epic’s Fortnite, with some going so far as accusing PUBG of simply copying the ramshackle zombie-flavored efforts that marked the origin of the genre, like DayZ and H1Z1 - both of which Greene himself had a hand in. To him, these charges ring hollow. “I wasn’t talking about any particular game when I made those comments,” he says, very measured in his tone. “It has absolutely nothing to do with PUBG or my work. I just feel that games don’t have the same IP protection as literature or music or movies, and I think that’s a shame. It makes it very difficult for developers to protect their intellectual property, and they have to act a certain way because of that.”

As for the allegations of PUBG copying other games, Greene made no effort to mince his words. “What exactly did I copy? Hunger Games and [2000 Japanese novel/film] Battle Royale don’t have a blue circle that gets smaller and smaller, or red zones that blow you up. I definitely had my inspirations at first, but we put a lot of effort into making PUBG unique from my previous games, and I think we succeeded... All the fiction that gave me the ideas for the battle royale genre have people in teams, or in pairs. I think the last-man-standing element is really an important distinction.”

Even setting aside the landmark release of the game, PUBG Corp. has experienced what Greene describes as a “crazy month,” with PUBG finally making its long-awaited debut on Xbox earlier in December. Described as a “preview” by PUBG Corp.and Microsoft - a distinction that the ads for the game seem to ignore entirely - PUBG’s console release has been a bit less-than-auspicious, with industry observers and superfans alike criticizing the port for its sluggish framerates and altogether subpar performance. To Greene, the preview is just that - a starting point for the game on console, and one that he regards as a priority moving forward. “As I’ve said, this is the end of the beginning,” he says. “We have a long way to go, and that’s one area that we’re definitely looking to improve on.”

Considering the sheer amount of cultural capital that the PlayerUnknown moniker now wields, it can be difficult to remember that PUBG has only been playable to the public for nine short months. To hear Greene tell it, though, the three years of making the game have flown by. “Sure, we had arguments in the beginning about the design of the game. Compared to every other shooter out there, the actual percentage of a player winning is incredibly low. People on the team thought it would limit the game. Now, obviously, not so much.”

With the bulk of early development now behind him, Greene finds himself focusing on the impossible dream for competitive shooters - convincing the gaming community that his mega game deserves to rank upon the tiny pantheon of eSports. While he’s not sure exactly what the format looks like yet, he’s convinced that it’s a serious possibility, even considering the game’s highly-randomized structure. “When you’re playing on the level that these guys play, you’re not just dropping School every time to shoot it out,” he says. “You play strategically. It evens out over time. It’s what makes the game what it is.”

Greene makes it clear just how thankful he is, both to his team at PUBG Corp. and the masses of fans who log into PUBG every day. “I saw the stats today, and every second in Asia, a match of PUBG starts. At peak time, it’s five matches a second. I just feel so lucky to be a part of this, to have such a huge community behind me. It’s not that hard, really. You just have to listen to them and be honest, and it seems to work out.”