A fireside chat with the creator of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds

Brendan Greene on what the future holds, and what he owes to the makers of DayZ

It was just a little over a year ago this month that I got an email from a PR firm representing Brendan “Playerunknown” Greene. It said that the mod maker, already famous in some circles for his work in Arma 3 and as a consultant on Daybreak’s H1Z1, had partnered with a global developer to make a new, standalone game.

I took the interview, of course, and I spoke with Greene and a representative from the developer, Bluehole. As I recall, I pushed on them pretty hard: Who did they think they were claiming that they could build something like that in little more than a year, and furthermore what use did the marketplace have for another early access survival shooter? I kept an eye on things, but in my mind I didn’t expect much to come of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.

Now, three months later, it’s one of the hottest games in the world. It’s sold more than three million copies on PC and the announcement of a console port featured prominently in Microsoft Xbox’s E3 press conference.

This all took me by surprise and, as it turns out, I’m not the only one.

Bluehole Inc.
Key art for Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.

“I expected us to have some success,” Greene told me during an interview last week at E3 in Los Angeles. “I had confidence in my game mode, but three million in three months? … I’m just happy it’s stable and people can play it. That’s the main thing.”

Battlegrounds has a simple concept. Players parachute onto a deserted island, scavenge for weapons, ammunition and other items and then hunt each other down. It’s a 30-minute battle to the death where the last person standing walks away with a cache of points and potentially the biggest dose of adrenaline in their entire gaming life. The game has only been in development for a little over a year, and both Greene and Bluehole have promised to exit early access in three months’ time. Success at this scale and at this speed is uncommon, to say the least.

“My main concern about going into early access was that we’d fall into the trap that so many other early access games did,” Greene said, referring to titles like DayZ and H1Z1 which are still in early access despite launching years ago. “But having our beta and alpha periods really helped to get us stable. And that last weekend, during the closed beta before our launch on Steam, I was watching people and I kind of had a sneaking suspicion that we’d be a success just because people were enjoying it. It was stable, and they were having fun.”

Now, Greene says, the goal is to expand the game methodically.

Step one are custom servers, which were launched quietly just last month. They were handed out to a number of high-profile streamers to create their own game modes. The results have been spectacular, including multiple variations on a zombie mode where a small group of players armed to the teeth hold out against swarms of player-controlled zombies.

But custom servers aren’t so much bullet points on the box. They’re intended to spur interest in the game among streamers and YouTubers. Their popularity has dovetailed nicely into the creation of new game modes, the first of which will be Greene’s own take on zombies.

“We don’t have any firm plans for it yet,” Greene cautioned. “We’re still only talking about it, but they will be player-controlled zombies … and by default you won’t be able to pick up anything. We’re talking about having some interesting sound design for zombies, so you can hear things better. Maybe you can see footsteps. We’re looking for the kind of stuff that will make the zombies interesting to play as. And they’re fast zombies — World War Z zombies, that type. I want people to see the zombies and run, not think to themselves, ‘Oh, I can fight these guys.’ It should be like, ‘Oh fuck.’”

Also on the table are additions to the game’s animation set that will let players climb over terrain and vault through windows. There’s also talk of a full 3D replay system and two new maps. All of this is coming alongside expansions to the team at Bluehole. The project started out with 35 developers, Greene said. Now they’re up to 70 and, with the addition of a new office in Madison, Wisconsin, will shortly hit 90.

“Bluehole has a plan now for the next five years,” Greene said.

It’s all been quite a wild ride for Greene, who first dreamed up the Battle Royale mod for Arma 3 when he was living in Brazil.

“I was saving to get back home to Ireland,” he told me. “I had married a Brazilian, divorced a few years later and then for the following four years I was kind of just living in Brazil. Because who doesn’t want to live in Brazil?

A masked character with cool sunglasses points a rifle off screen
The VSS is an integrally suppressed 9 mm sniper rifle with an 8x scope. It’s awful, unless you can place your shots extremely well.

“I was doing photography, design, DJ’ing. And then the last two years I was staying at home and saving to get home to Ireland. That’s when I started playing the DayZ mod. … Eventually I moved back to Ireland because the internet in Brazil would go out when it rains. When you’re managing servers, like in the early days of Battle Royale, I had to get stable internet. So I came home and that’s when it really took off.

Greene said that for a time he was paying server fees out of his welfare checks from the Irish government. But he admitted that he owes Bohemia Interactive, makers of Arma 3 and DayZ quite a lot. The relationship goes both ways, however. Much of the motion-capture work for Battlegrounds was done by BI’s team at their state-of-the-art facility in the Czech Republic.

“To this day I pay for the Arma 3 Battle Royale servers myself,” Greene said. “I don’t ask for donations. I spend maybe $2,000 a month on the Arma 3 servers just because that’s where I came from. I don’t ask for donations because I wouldn’t be here without that mod.

“I wouldn’t be here without their game. So I yeah. I owe a lot to them. They’ve been great to support us as well.”

Source: Polygon – Full


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