Taking on the Mantle of Battle Royale: The PUBG Game Broke a Record
Record Breaking Streak
As you’ve probably noticed yourself, the gaming media outlets have been swamped with news of PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG) breaking all kinds of records lately. Built on Unreal Engine 4, this standalone Battle Royale game was released by Bluehole Studio Inc. as an Early Access title back in March 23rd, peaking at almost 68k concurrent players at the time. A month later, that peak became the average. Last month, in July, The PUBG Game broke the record for the highest peak player count of any non-Valve game, peaking at over 480k concurrent players. It was also the third highest peak, pushing Fallout 4’s longstanding 472k peak to fourth place.
As of August, the average concurrent number of PUBG players has grown 5.5 times (380K+). For a game just less than 4.5 months old, that’s an astounding rate of growth. The peak player count looks unreal as well, almost 880k concurrent players by the end of August, which was more than enough to beat CS:GO’s 850k record established in April 2016. The insane peak was significantly affected by the PUBG Gamescom Invitational tournament, which got hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch.
Overall, the game has experienced explosive growth within the first 4 months. The only thing left to beat right now is DOTA 2’s mythical almost 1.3 million peak players record from March 2016. A feat like that is entirely within the realm of possibility. With more than six million units sold already, who knows how far this thing can go.
Battle Royale: How It All Got Started
Before PUBG became the hot topic of all major news outlets, the Battle Royale genre had its first notable but humble beginnings in 2013. Brendan Greene, better known as PlayerUnknown, has launched his first iteration of Battle Royale as a separate Arma 2: DayZ mod in 2013. It generated decent interest and response from the survival gaming community back then, with a notable YouTuber FRANKIEonPC giving his unique take on it. It was reminiscent of The Hunger Games in the general way it was played.
Then, a year later (in 2014), PlayerUnknown released his Arma 3 Battle Royale mod. Shortly after that, he was invited to work on H1Z1’s early access Battle Royale mod when Daybreak Game Company was still SOE (Sony Online Entertainment). This gave the Battle Royale genre the first big push. SOE applied a tried and tested promotional approach, getting a bunch of popular Twitch streamers and YouTubers on board to try the game and promote it to their audiences. Naturally, they all hopped up on the bandwagon and gave the game lots of exposure. Although H1Z1 was supposed to be primarily about zombie survival back then, the Battle Royale mod emerged as the more popular mod within it.
Unfortunately, the company was going through a rough patch for a while. In early 2015, it changed ownership from Sony to Columbus Nova, an investment company under the umbrella of a Russian conglomerate Renova Group. The ownership changes resulted in the change of direction as well. Lots of people were laid off in the process, including some of the key people on the H1Z1 project. These issues caused a chunk of bad rep. Company President John Smedley was a victim of a harassment campaign. After the anonymous false bomb threat disturbed his plane trip, he decided to step down completely.
In such an environment, things had to take a radical turn. H1Z1 was split into 2 separate games at the beginning of 2015: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill (H1Z1 KotK. The latter was a standalone Battle Royale game, offering solo, duo and five-people team queues.
H1Z1: KotK was and still is an OK Battle Royale game, but it had its shortcomings. Lack of new and existing content variety was arguably the biggest, one that PUBG made sure to address. Emphasis on crates and skins instead of new game features never goes well with the crowds, which seems like the exact direction the Daybreak Game Company took with H1Z1: KotK. The slow development and mixed fan feedback presented an opportunity for a new game to take over. PUBG emerged as a viable alternative and took over as the undisputed leader of the emerging Battle Royale genre.
What to Expect in the Future?
Obviously, PUBG’s rapid growth was accompanied by a roller-coaster of issues, concerns, and backlash. Recently, there has been controversy around “stream sniping” and “harassment” bans. Apparently, Bluehole decided to ban a bunch of people for spying on popular PUBG streamers to gain competitive advantage or to just “harass” them. Many people claimed they got banned for honking their cars around popular streamers.
Bluehole’s decision to disregard their promise of no microtransactions in the Early Access phase received a vast amount of heat. Players expressed concerns that certain skins and other cosmetic items provided an unfair competitive advantage regarding stealth and overall visibility. True enough, certain outfits players choose to wear do help with making them less visible when standing next to the trees or hiding in the shadows. There’s an element of pay-to-win regarding PUBG’s microtransaction model.
With the drama and fallout, the game has received a slew of bad reviews on Steam in mid-August. However, it seems the brunt of the storm has now passed over. The game has received a server-melting influx of new players around the time of PUBG Gamescom Invitational. Now the developers need to ensure most of them stay.
One of the priorities Bluehole has to focus on in the immediate future is optimization. The game’s performance is, at best, sub-par. Bugs, glitches, exploits and frame drops are the early access defining features. However, for PUBG to keep all these new players, the process will have to be expedited. Bluehole is likely to continue their focus on promotion and marketing through popular Twitch streamers and gaming YouTubers. It has worked wonders so far for the game. All those Twitch viewers that almost religiously follow and copy their favorite streamers are likely to come back whenever a new update hits the servers.
Now that the game has breached into the top 3 most played Steam games ever, the game will be getting a steady stream of new players trying it out of pure curiosity. Obviously, not all of them will stick, but the sales will surely keep pouring in, adding up to Bluehole’s bottom line.
Lastly, unless something catastrophic happens, DOTA 2’s record is most likely going down as well. 1.3 million peak concurrent players is a hell of a record to break. Judging by PUBG’s current rate of growth, if Bluehole plays its cards right, count on it to be broken in the next 2-3 months!