Not many have achieved this much in this short time. Despite being of a somewhat “unpopular” genre called Battle Royale, the title has already sold millions; PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG) is about to expand its boundaries to Japan.
Bluehole has decided their publishing partner in Japan, and installed the PUBG DMM booth at the Tokyo Game Show quicker than expected, allowing many Japanese players to experience and enjoy the title. The title’s popularity was extraordinary, being nominated as one of the hottest games at the TGS.
Also, Brandan “Playerunknown” Greene, the original creator of the title, and Chang Han Kim, the producer, also visited Japan to commemorate the game’s presence at TGS 2017. We were able to have a direct interview on site with two PDs, who mentioned that they are learning quite a lot through their interviews with the Japanese press. Unfortunately, we had to bring up a question about the conflict with Epic Games, a company which they had maintained a good relationship with until a day before the interview.
Before beginning the interview, one of Bluehole’s related employees said, regarding the issue and announcement of Epic Games’ Fortnite Battle Royale mode, that the problem is not about similarity and originality, but about the relationship between Bluehole and Epic Games. “A company that has been partnering with and supporting indie games borrowed the idea of an indie product and released it in the paying market for free. This behavior is very disappointing.” Mr. Kim also mentioned that they are working on appropriate action regarding this matter.
As much as the title’s popularity is phenomenal, this issue became a sticking point. Other participating members of the press instead focused on the current situation, upcoming updates, eSports, console releases, and entrance to the Japanese market.
Expecting to release this year - the current situation of service in Japan and the development team
Q. The boom of PUBG is seriously no joke. You have achieved a phenomenal result in half of the year. What are your thoughts about this?
Mr. Greene: We are literally in a daze. It’s been about 6 months since the release of the title on Steam, and we never expected it to become No. 1.
Mr. Kim: Even in the development phase, we were confident that Battle Royale had the potential to become a new trend, but we were not certain when it would happen and who would make it a reality. We had faith in this genre, but never expected this much of a reaction. The title is still in early access, and we would like to concentrate on making the best Battle Royale.
Q. Even though the title is still in early access, you have contracted for domestic service in South Korea. Is there a roadmap?
Mr. Kim: We want to focus on launching the 1.0 version on Steam within this year, doing the Xbox game preview, and doing a proper start on domestic service even though it’s still in early access. PUBG is a packaged game, but the service is an online game format. This means that the service does not “end” at the time of the official release, but continues. It is just one of many milestones.
Mr. Greene: That’s right. We are looking for a long marathon, not a short sprint.
Q. We are curious as to whether devs are actually feeling the popularity right now. Also, how big is the size of the development team?
Mr. Greene: The popularity just exploded all of sudden, and it was so fast that I myself find it hard to believe. We are in a daze and can hardly realize that 12 million copies have been sold so far.
The same goes for our team members. And I think it’s better for them to not know. They are developing without getting affected by the popularity. We would like to focus on making a good game, just like how we wanted to do before the launch. I started PUBG because I wanted to make a game that I want to play, and it has become my motto to continuously make it good.
The team has about 120 members. There are around 100 people in South Korea, and 20 in the US. There’s one in Japan, and we need to hire more and are planning to do so. Although the development team is based in South Korea, we also have a partnered team in Spain as well.
Q. It’s been awhile since Mr. Greene joined the team and we would like to hear your current thoughts. Could you also tell us what mindset the team has while developing?
Mr. Greene: It has really been the best experience. I did have a couple of language and jet lag troubles, but I’ve been working on it for the past one year and have resolved those issues. The dev team is going really well internally as well. We have an interpreter in each team and the development process is shared smoothly by using programs such as OneNote. I think it’s bliss right now.
We didn’t have any major issue in the dev team. I’m not just saying it; it has been going really well. Although the deadlines are quite tightly set, the whole team just loves the game so much. They even stay late and often work on their jobs even if they are told to go home. I can feel that the whole team is loving PUBG.
Mr. Kim: PUBG was not made by a tight top-down development process. Its content has been developed based on spontaneousness. All team members take their own individual action, and we do have a couple of conflicts because of that. We respect each one’s opinion, so we discuss and mediate to resolve issues when they happen. I think the development process was done quickly because it was a distributed format.
Mr. Greene: I think that is how the dev team was able to dedicate even more effort. The spontaneousness gives one responsibility for what they are working on. It makes them feel like this game is theirs.
Mr. Kim: We did have conflicts, because people may think in different ways, and we adjust them via discussion or playtests. We develop the game in each team member’s own way until a conflict actually occurs. However, Brandan has the most abstract vision, the part that is the fundamental frame of the game, so we don’t really have any major problems.
Q. After visiting the TGS, we can see that the popularity of PUBG is extraordinary even in Japan. Some say that the number of Steam users increased thanks to PUBG. How do you feel?
Mr. Kim: Japan is considered to be one of the major countries in the gaming industry. We thought that our game would not be that prosperous in Japan. As a matter of fact, there were cases where games with global fame did not go over well in Japan. PUBG has also been developed targeting western players, so we were not certain if we’d have success in Asian regions. We were really surprised to see the title becoming popular in South Korea, China, and Japan, and came to Japan to find out the reason and learn for ourselves.
We learned a lot from our interviews with the Japanese press. Japan has a console market that is 10 times bigger than the PC, and the PC replacement period for individuals in Japan is relatively long. We are preparing the PUBG console version, and we feel that we need to contribute more to it.
Q. Have you received any partnership or collaboration offers with PUBG in Japan?
Mr. Kim: We are currently partnered with DMM. There’s a limit to the work we can do by ourselves in a foreign region. We are at a stage where we need to work with a partner. I believe that we will hear more about it as we begin many activities with DMM and other Japanese companies.
Update, map, killcam, and reaction to trolling
Q. The information about the new desert map has been constantly released. Around when will you update the map?
Mr. Greene: The new map will be introduced with the 1.0 version, and other maps are in the process of improvement along with other content. The desert map will also be done in the same way. We are planning to fix the bugs and find spots that are not good for PUBG gamers and improve them. The improvements will still be done with the community and player feedback.
Q. Many players talk about the optimization, and we would like to how it’s going. Also, will the climate, such as cold in the snowfield map and desert map, directly affect the gameplay?
Mr. Greene: The climate will not threaten your survival; you won’t die from the cold. The climate itself is merely an effect that does not have a direct impact on characters. There will only be some impact on the video and audio of the match.
In relation to the optimization, we have recently implemented “shadow caching”. It is a feature that allows the shadow to be applied even from a far distance. We are also improving terrain-related issues, and we have recently hired a Ukrainian engineer in order to improve some features. As I already mentioned before, PUBG will not be a short sprint, but a long marathon, and we are planning to make improvements for the next 5 years.
Q. There are many players requesting killcam. The killcam will be useful for detecting hacks and reducing indiscrete hacking reports. We would like to know if the killcam is in progress and when it will be implemented.
Mr. Greene: That’s right, the killcam is in progress. Although we have a prototype, it’s hard to decide when we need to implement this. Even if we add this to the game, it’ll only be applicable in solo-ranked, not duo or squad. This would heavily impact both duo and squad groups because it can literally tell other teammates where enemies are. It would directly impact the gameplay. On the other hand, when you die in solo, you will be able to see if it’s a hack or not, or learn something from the player who just killed you.
Mr. Kim: What we are preparing for the official launch to have a 3D replay feature. This will allow players to learn other players’ strategies, rather than just detecting hacks. I believe we can implement this with the official service. The problem is the size of 3D replays. That is the main issue here.
There are already too many plays due to an excessive number of players, and the size problem occurs when we try to save all of them and provide the replays. The replay system itself is nearly being finalized, but the size problem still drags our feet. However, the 3D replay will still be able to provide much more information, whereas the killcam is just a mere video recording.
Mr. Greene: I have implemented this system in 2D in ARMA 3 Battle Royale mode, and it was really good to track cheaters and also allows you to teleport.
Q. Trolling, such as team-kills when you play the game as a solo in a squad, has become quite problematic.
Mr. Greene: We are creating a tracking system for unfair plays such as teamkills, and it’s still in the early stage. The relevant team is working hard to make a fair play tracker.
Q. Players have a lot of thoughts about night maps; the gameplay seems to be more abundant with equipment such as night vision goggles.
Mr. Greene: In truth, we are preparing a prototype of the night map. Night vision won’t be necessary. It’s just a bit dark, but not dark enough to completely block vision. We would like to provide a cinematic feeling, as if you are in the movie. That’s the No. 1 objective for now.
It would be easier for you to understand it as us providing some different playstyle through this night map. It will make the gameplay tenser and force players to change tactics based on their surroundings. The core of the gameplay will revolve around what sort of excellent strategy you can come up with, not where items are located and what particular items are good. In that sense, I believe that the night map will be a good opportunity to test those kinds of strategies.
PUBG entering the console market
Q. What was the reason for choosing Xbox? Wouldn’t it be a bit disadvantageous when the PS4 version is released later?
Mr. Kim:The decision was based on the global player pool. To be honest, we are lacking experience on the console platform. Along with development, we are in a position to learn about the ins and outs of consoles, such as controllers, features of the community, and so on. There are often companies taking aggressive strategies by launching simultaneously on both consoles. In our case, we thought we lacked the potential and time to do so, but then Xbox actively made a proposal.
As we have become the second party, we can receive more than what a third party does. We are supported in all aspects including development and marketing, and we are maintaining a good partnership. I believe that we have obtained a good opportunity to learn about the console market. It won’t be too late to try another platform after we have enough experience.
Mr. Greene: Just like there is an early access for the PC, the Xbox game preview is one of the biggest benefits, and this is quite good to try out with console players. It’s really good in a sense that you can check a couple of things such as aiming and inventory in advance. It’s also good because we can receive feedback from console players through this method.
Q. It won’t be easy to play the survival game with a controller.
Mr. Greene: We introduced the Xbox build at Gamescom and EGX, and received favorable comments. The inventory control using a controller also received compliments this time, but the aiming and gunplay seemed to need a bit of modification. The reception, in general, was good, but I think we need to keep tuning features.
The aiming assist will be similar to that of Destiny. A player with good aiming skills will be able to deal more damage and unskilled players can still deal a certain amount of damage. We are still considering many options, but I personally think that Destiny’s aiming assist seems pretty good. We would like to use the feedback from players to enhance the gunplay to the same level that it is on PC.
Mr. Kim: We are continuously trying the aim assist internally. On the other hand, there are some hardcore console players requesting not to have the aim assist. We are considering whether this should be an option that you can choose.
Mr. Greene: The aim assist should be 10% helpful to the gameplay in my opinion.
Will you make the console version cross-playable with the PC?
Mr. Kim: We would love to do so, but that’s a long way off from now. There are many technical factors that need to be resolved. In particular, a controller would be slightly disadvantageous against a keyboard and a mouse. This will be difficult to adjust, so we need to extensively study different options, such as matchmaking controller players only with each other, or adding an option to match with PC players. Non-competitive games such as Minecraft are easy to cross-play, but it’s a quite sensitive matter in a competitive genre such as Battle Royale.
Q. Will Xbox One X players be able to play the game in 4K?
Mr. Kim: I was told that the specifications have been upgraded compared to the previous version. It will support 4K and I believe that we also need to prepare for it.
Mr. Greene: Our objective is to provide an excellent Battle Royale game regardless of what platform it is. In the case of the Xbox One X, I believe that we’ll be able to provide better experiences in terms of graphics.
The secret to popularity from the dev team’s point of view, and eSports
Q. What do you think is the secret to PUBG’s popularity?
Mr. Greene: The gameplay itself is easy, and the rules are simple. It’s easy to understand the concept. You just fall from a plane, loot items, and survive. That’s the whole gist. The rest is totally up to you. When I met a fan one day, I heard that the entire family was enjoying PUBG and had to purchase PCs for the parents. I believe that this understandability and intuition of the game is one of its main merits.
Mr. Kim: When we looked at the community, we realized one merit of the game is that it is less stressful than others. The existing teamplay PvP games are quite stressful and give players stress when they can’t play well and get cussed-out by others. However, PUBG’s chicken dinner gives you less stress if you fail the game in the middle. Usual players just “move on” even if they don’t win the chicken dinner. I think that’s one of the best qualities of the game: not being very disappointed when you fail. The chicken dinner would be hard to get, but you can retry. People who have already formed a team would not blame others just because they died too early.
Q. Will you provide any additional features besides gameplay? Such as a mobile application?
Mr. Greene: Ah, that’s possible. There might be good features, but we just don’t have enough time right now. I think that should be delayed until after the launch.
Q. There are many things to prepare in order to make PUBG an eSport, such as establishing official tournament regulations, equipping the observer system, and recruiting professional observers. What are the things you are currently preparing?
Mr. Kim: What’s important is whether people enjoy and consume this game’s video content, not whether we can make it an eSport or not. The tournament itself needs to be fun nonetheless. I admit that we want to make this into an eSport, but the Battle Royale is very different to most eSports formats, so we have studied extensively for that.
We are trying to learn by attempting Gamescom and other tournaments, and monitoring circumstances and competitions where major and minor events occur. We are still “researching” many factors, such as how the scoring needs to be done and in what way observers should be distributed.
Mr. Greene: From my perspective, it is nonsense to instantly decide that a game should be an eSport; it should be done gradually step by step. Something like from community events, semi-pro leagues, to pro leagues. For now, we are trying to learn by monitoring these community leagues and small-sized competitions. There is DONCUP being held in Japan, and I find it really fun and am watching it every week. We would like to provide official support to either individual parties or community event hosts.
We are at the stage where we’re still looking for the right eSports format. We would like to find the right format that is an appropriate approach to PUBG as an eSport. Gamescom was a great place to learn many things in that sense. We will keep learning and improving further.
Q. Is there any chance you will open a PUBG Invitational or a major tournament in South Korea?
Mr. Greene: Um, we will announce more detailed news next week. Stay tuned.
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