PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG).
It is the name of the game that became one of the biggest global phenomena. PUBG Corporation (PUBG Corp.), the developer of this game, has now become a company drawing attention worldwide. They transformed the somewhat niche Battle Royale genre into to the most popular one in the world. It is almost undeniable that their influence was huge.
The game was released as an Early Access on Steam on March 24, 2017. The number of copies sold reached up to 26 million on Steam even before the official launch on December 21. The number of concurrent players exceeded 3.1 million. It achieved 7 Guinness World Records related to Steam sales. Without a doubt, PUBG is not just another game.
Experts also reviewed it positively. The game won Best Multiplayer at the Game Awards 2017 in the US. The Metascore is also reasonably good at 87. Brendan Greene, the creative director, said that they will not cling to the Game of the Year award as “there are many titles better than our game,” but 3 foreign presses already nominated PUBG as the best game of this year.
They felt it was necessary to solidify the success they have achieved, and strove to make themselves much bigger than before. In the span of a year and a half, the team of around 20 people became a decent corporation with 200 staff member. They needed a bigger office in order to accommodate a bigger group, planning events, and more - so they moved out from Bluehole and set their new home in Seocho-gu.
So we took our camera and knocked on the door of PUBG Corporation. It was easy to see the staffs’ pride with the many global awards decorating the lobby. After a few moments of taking photos of the office, we were able to meet Chang Han Kim (CH Kim), the CEO of PUBG Corp.
More PUBG Read: PUBG exceeds 1 million copies sold on Xbox One
Inven: Congratulations on winning Best Multiplayer at the Game Awards. We were somewhat bewildered as the result of this category was announced a day after.
CH Kim: We thought it was going to be the other game. “Well, the wall of TGA really is high,” that’s what we thought. In fact, PUBG being nominated in the category was already controversial, as some proclaimed that an Early Access game cannot be on the list, but the outcome turned out to be even greater than we anticipated.
Inven: The game also won 3 GOTYs as at the 27th.
CH Kim: When we had interviews with the press, we told them that we are not looking for the GOTY as there are many AAA games such as the Legend of Zelda and Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s obvious that PUBG is not an AAA game. It’s true that many players love and enjoy playing it, but it’s not completed and there are still many bugs. I suppose that it would’ve been a complicated job for those who had to decide on the winner.
I assume that it’s probably because PUBG gave the gaming industry something to think about. A title developed by a small team in South Korea sold more than 20 million copies and has approximately 3 million concurrent players. I think that they acknowledged these points and appraised the title positively from that perspective.
Inven: The first review was by Polygon and they gave it a 10 out of 10. This is quite extraordinary and meaningful because reporters from Polygon are well known to have their own strong opinions and give points as cheap as Edge. In particular, the summary of the review was impressive. It says “imperfectly perfect”.
CH Kim: We were really touched by that review as well. Like I just said, many players enjoy our game even though it’s not perfect, and they captured the thoughts we had when we were making the game in a splendid sentence.
Along with that “imperfectly perfect”, one part of the review stated this: “We’ve already seen Battlegrounds’ first “cousin” in the form of Fortnite: Battle Royale. Expect to see more in the coming years, as every AAA publisher finds ways to put its brands, talent, and money into exploiting the language of the battle royale genre. But they will never capture the magic of first becoming fluent in this imperfectly perfect game.” Though we didn’t expect to have this kind of review when we were developing the game, it truly encouraged the dev team.
Inven: We heard that you are often gone for business trips overseas nowadays. What kind of businesses do you do?
CH Kim: They were usually about participating in events at first, but it is becoming more business focused. PUBG has two features - all regions except China are serviced solely by us, and the weight of Esports is great.
The direct service means having a branch in the designated country and offering the best management service. The game is played by players from all over the world, so it is extremely difficult to service them all from South Korea only. We now have offices in US, China, and Japan, and there will be another in the Netherlands in January next year.
Also, a company with a game that gives weight to Esports has many matters to establish with graphics card companies and CPU companies. As PUBG is PC-based, the number of players who are willing to upgrade their PC tend to increase if they live in a country where Esports is popular. That’s why I often have meetings with gaming hardware companies and PC component companies.
Inven: I once went to an internet cafe when I went to Japan for a business trip to TGS, and I was surprised that many Japanese and Chinese gamers were playing PUBG.
CH Kim: I had a chat with Japanese reporters, and they said that it’s such an incredible feat considering the title is PC based. However, as you know, the console market in Japan is 10 times bigger, and most of them are PlayStation gamers. I’m not certain if it’s because PUBG is being released exclusively on Xbox One, but I was told that the PC and Xbox One markets in Japan are growing significantly. They are also running out of Xbox One Xs, I heard.
Inven: How many copies of PUBG on Xbox One have been sold so far?
CH Kim: Just like Early Access on Steam, there’s Game Preview on Xbox One. We released the game’s Game Preview version, and sold 1 million copies in 2 days and have been selling considerably ever since. The outcome is much better than what we expected.
Inven: Many players also wonder when the PS version will be launched.
CH Kim: As it’s going to be an exclusive title on Xbox One for some time, we’d like to focus on completing the Xbox One PUBG for now. If we have the opportunity, the final goal would be to launch the title on every platform.
Early Access on Steam and Game Preview on Xbox One are like pre-release, so they don’t have a restriction on quality. However, PS is very strict about this. There were cases where a game took 6 months more to launch even when it was already completed. We are still in the stage of learning the console development environment and console gamers’ taste. We need to think about other platforms after evaluating and completing the Xbox One version first.
Inven: Then when will the Xbox One version be officially released?
CH Kim: It is hard to have an exact plan for the game development, and this is why we started off as Early Access on Steam. We promised in the early development phase that we would launch the game at the end of the year, and we barely managed to keep it even after sacrificing our holidays (laugh). The dev team is working really hard to also resolve the market issue that came up recently. The next goal is to complete the stabilized 1.0 version.
Inven: Today is the first time we visited the main office of PUBG Corp. and the welfare system is quite impressive. We did a bit of pre-research and also found out that the company is also interested in welfare related to business trips and after work.
CH Kim: The most important thing people need when working at the game company is passion. It is the part that is more crucial than anything else. There has been no Korean game that succeeded globally and began to have value as an Esport yet. The game took its first step in many aspects, and we have many staff members who are working so hard, dedicated to making PUBG a success. As the CEO of the group, my priority is to provide an environment where they can focus on their work.
Inven: You must have your own knowledge in regards to raising the morale of developers, as you used to be a developer yourself.
CH Kim: Like I mentioned before, offering an environment where people can bring out their passion is the top priority. Well, it’s easier said than done, because you encounter many disturbances when you work. If your work is restricted because of an unnecessary system, it’s a loss both for the staff and the company. If competition becomes more important than work efficiency, people think more about competing against each other. What management has to do is get rid of these issues. If we create an environment where they can focus on their job, and incentivize them based on their results, I think that’s the best we can have. The salary and incentive naturally follow depending on the level of your results.
Inven: Is the welfare in a branch similar to that in the office in Korea?
CH Kim: Almost, but things had to be adjusted according to regional laws and culture, so the details of them are slightly different. The compensation based on the objective evaluation of an employee’s outcome is the same at any office.
Inven: The industry is paying a considerable amount of attention to the size of incentive since PUBG became a huge success.
CH Kim: The incentive will be given based on Bluehole’s current system. Bluehole gives incentive after a year of the title’s first launch. The team will get it next April as PUBG was released last March. I believe
that it will be much bigger than other game companies’ incentives overall.
Of course, there will be separate incentives given yearly from PUBG Corp as well. Bluehole is doing its best to build the image of a reputable game developer and is, therefore, planning to launch many high-quality games in the market. But, PUBG Corp. does not take this course. We think that having the capability to service one game for a long time like Riot Games is our priority. That’s why the rate of service-related personnel is relatively high. The development and management cycle is fundamentally different from that of Bluehole, and therefore we need to have an additional incentive system in order to motivate our staff members.
Inven: There must be many resumes coming in from all over the world because of the game being such a big hit.
CH Kim: Surprisingly, we don’t get as many resumes to foreign branches as one would think. First off, we didn’t explain the welfare provided to employees well enough, and it seems that those who are seeking a place also don’t really understand what skills PUBG Corp. really wants.
Although foreigners do enjoy our game, it seems that they consider “working with Korean management” a different thing entirely. So, we meet each one of them and introduce the working conditions and our vision. I once went to the US branch and sat in on an interview, and the interviewers told me that they also consider “reference” an important factor when recruiting people. If you recruit one skilled person with many connections, that person will bring another skilled one in the future.
Also, we are not recruiting developers who will make a new game with us. We need people who will help PUBG grow, and establish the new gaming culture, including Esports. It means that we need an expert, not only in the gaming industry but in the whole IT service segment in general.
Inven: Would you please elaborate on that part? Which kind of work is PUBG trying to recruit for as soon as possible?
CH Kim: Engineer is the most scarce occupation in the whole IT industry. It’s the same story even in the Silicon Valley, US. They are expensive, and it’s very difficult to find them. Regardless of server or engine, we always lack engineers in a related category. One CEO of an IT company that I personally know of once said, “I invested in hundreds of engineers and I don’t know where they went off to.” (laugh) Just like he said, they may not be seen often, but they are one of the most important personnel as a matter of fact.
Inven: Is the company still recruiting?
CH Kim: We have around 200 employees in total, including ones in foreign branches. There are around 160 in the Korean office only, and we are planning to recruit more staff until the number reaches 300 in the end.
Inven: Tell us the reaction players had after PUBG was officially launched on Steam.
CH Kim: Both DAU and revenue increased. Although we had server performance and rubberbanding issues in the beginning, we are almost done fixing them. Their reaction is becoming positive again. The last thing we need to resolve is the likes and dislikes of the new desert map, and we are constantly tuning it based on the players’ feedback. There is a difference of opinions with the old players who have played on the test server and new players of the official launch, so we need to be extra careful about it.
Inven: The fog and rainy weather have been deleted recently. Please tell us the reasons why they were deleted, and whether it will have any impact on making the night map.
CH Kim: The retention of players in fog and rainy was too low and we had to take them out. There are relatively many players who leave the session if they think it’s inconvenient to play, as there’s no penalty for leaving as of now. Of course, we won’t discard them permanently, and we’ll release them once again after a number of studies and tweaks. We also plan to add a snow map in the future.
Also, we decided that it would be difficult to make a fair game if some players raise the brightness on their monitor or by using some graphics card software in the night map. We’ll have to think about a more appropriate timing and better way to implement it.
Inven: Many innocent players suffer from cheaters who almost seem to be conscienceless. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of hacks completely, but it’s also the developer’s duty to ban them as much as possible. How will you do so?
CH Kim: We had a talk about this with Tencent, the publisher of the service in China, and they said that it will be an everlasting fight. Like you said, it’s impossible to eliminate hacks completely. However, we’ve put so much effort into banning cheaters, and the number of cheaters after the launch of the 1.0 version has dropped significantly as a result. We can see the drop in the number of cheaters and we’ll share the data with the community in the near future.
We are currently running two anti-hack software simultaneously, and assigned staff for monitoring in the night time as well. We also run the encoding process in order to prevent any attack no the client. In addition to that, we’ll improve the death cam system so that players will be able to tell if the opponent really is a skilled person or a cheater.
Inven: Do you have anything to say to those who are willing to work at PUBG Corp?
CH Kim: It depends on whether the work you will be assigned to is limited to the service in Korea or global. Although I’ve also been in the gaming industry for some time, having this kind of opportunity was never easy. I’m quite sure that we’ve shown an unanticipated result thus far.
It is difficult to find such an opportunity in Korea. There isn’t even a proper guideline because there weren’t many similar cases in the past. That’s why the things we do from now on are crucial. I think that each step we take in the global market with the Korean game we have made will surely be a meaningful one. Of course, it won’t be easy, but anyone is welcome to join us at any time if they are willing to share the same vision and put forward their true passion.
Inven: Please tell us what kind of company you would like PUBG Corp to ultimately become.
CH Kim: I’d like PUBG to become a universal media franchise based on the game. We want to take part in diverse industries including Esports, movies, drama, cartoons, animation, and more. In fact, we received a couple of love calls from a number of developers in Hollywood and Netflix. Our dream is to build a new game-based culture through various ways like this, and have the lead of that culture.
The photos of PUBG Corp. office