Three times during our 15-minute E3 interview, Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene was approached by awestruck fans. I get the sense this happens to him a lot nowadays.
Image credit: PUBG.
Once upon a time, Greene was just another modder of popular military sim series Arma. In 2014, his battle royale mod for Arma 3 blew up, and his life changed. He was brought on to help create a full-blown battle royale spin-off, King of the Kill, for Daybreak's multiplayer survival sandbox H1Z1, which quietly became one of the most popular games on Steam and Twitch. This paved the way for his own standalone game, based on his original Arma mod: PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Three months into its Steam Early Access tenure, PUBG has already sold four million copies. Where Greene was once the king (of the kill) of a small niche, he's now the chicken dinner winner of the 2017 race to the top of the charts.
These days, all eyes are on him — more so than many other game designers — not just because of the breakout success, but because his own dang name is in his game's title (the dev team did it that way for trademark reasons, Greene told me). During an interview at E3, moments after Greene had to politely dismiss yet another fan, he confessed to me that it can be a bit stifling.
"I liked being unknown!" he said. "Nobody knew who I was. Now it's like everybody does."
"I'm Player-Somewhat-More-Well-Known now," he added, letting out a sigh that transformed into a slight chuckle. "I miss having the anonymity. I liked being at conventions and hearing people talk about me while I was standing right next to them, saying, 'Yeah, that guy is a fucking arsehole.' I would wear a mask, but it would look cheesy."
Greene explained that he's still adjusting to life as an increasingly public figure. He told me about a recent time during an interview when he idly mused on adding a historical single-player campaign to PUBG, something he's dreamed of doing. This mention became headline news on multiple sites. Some sites reported it as an announcement, despite the fact that Greene was just thinking out loud. "That's not what I fuckin' said!" he laughed.
Greene has always been pretty cautious about how he portrays himself online, so he wasn't entirely unprepared for this burgeoning cult of personality. "I've always had my online persona," he said, explaining that he prefers to be "measured" in the statements he chooses to make. "I know that there's a way I deal with the internet, and that's how I am and act."
That's not to say that he zips his lips unless he's 100 per cent certain his words won't ruffle any feathers. When Greene speaks on social media, hundreds of thousands of people listen. That isn't something he takes lightly. He recently spoke up against Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, something he doesn't regret doing despite a replies section that quickly turned into its own sort of battleground.
"[I have to speak up about] things like climate change," Greene told me. "You have to raise your voice for equality and things like that. You have to say, 'Hey, I have a voice here. I don't care if half of you hate what I'm saying. I have to say what I believe in.'" He added that he received a similar torrent of rage when he publicly talked about marriage equality in Ireland. He doesn't regret that either. "Sometimes you've just gotta go, 'Fuck it,'" he said. "I have a voice, and sometimes I have to use it."
Greene might have notoriety and money now, but he hasn't lost sight of why he's threading his way through the deathtrap labyrinth that is the internet in the first place. PUBG is priority number one.
"The success is great, but apart from a few smiles around the office, we're not letting it get to our heads," he said. "I mean, I'm quite proud of what I've achieved over the past few years. I pioneered a genre in gaming. I'm glad, because I wanna be remembered, you know? But at the end of the day, I just wanna make a good game. That's all I've ever wanted to do."