It was a photo finish, but the team developing PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds made good on their promise and "launched" the game before the end of 2017. During an interview last week, I spoke to Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene about what's next.
Throughout our conversation, Greene repeatedly stressed that the team views 1.0 as "the end of the beginning." This means that the game's basic features are in, but Greene's not harboring any delusions that they're in tip-top shape just yet. Priority number one, then, is additional polish.
"It does have problems," Greene said over the phone. "There are crashes still. There's some rubberbanding. But these are problems we're working to fix. It's a marathon for us."
Rubberbanding, where the server suddenly slings you forward or back in defiance of the space-time continuum, is annoying for many players, and it exemplifies the sorts of issues the PUBG team is working to weed out. Greene explained that it's gonna "take time" to fully fix rubberbanding, as the team still isn't entirely sure what causes it. It seems to be "a core issue with Unreal's netcode," but that could mean a number of things. And so, while it might be tempting to look at PUBG's most pernicious problems and ask why Greene can't wave a magic wand to instantly banish them, they're often more complicated than they seem.
The PUBG team's other big 2018 priority is to kit the game out with a suite of out-of-match features that rival other popular shooters. For Greene, this means systems like character levelling and some sort of ranked play — things that "make you feel more connected to your character." The latter is actually something the team has already tested, albeit with subtle "backend" matchmaking rating systems during early access.
There'll also be a focus on gameplay balance with an eye toward getting the game "competitive" and potentially esports-ready. Greene said he feels that PUBG is "already pretty competitive," but with major systemic and polish concerns under control, the team can now "look at all that data again" and really hone the game balance.
Further out, Greene wants to give people more ways to play, but he told me those things are only in the planning stages at the moment. Most obviously, that will likely mean more maps. Desert map Miramar offers a very different experience from the game's first map, with an increased focus on verticality and structural variety. Greene hopes to continue diversifying the game's maps.
"We want to provide new and unique battlegrounds for our players to play on," he said. "We won't necessarily definitely go down the road of 'oh, this has to be different.' Wherever we get inspiration from or a thematic idea for a map, we'll consider it. But it is important to give players these kinds of new and interesting terrains to play on."
Greene also hopes to facilitate the creation of new battlegrounds (from players who are actually unknown), but despite his hopes of eventually fostering a mod scene that will birth the next PUBG, the game will probably only receive custom map functionality in the near future.
"To add actual modding to the game is a huge task," Greene said. "It means re-factoring a lot of the code base we have to make it mod-friendly. It means doing a lot of stuff to the game that we just don't have time to do right now. Until then, we want to let people mod lite with custom games. We want to give pretty fine grain control over what you can control in the game with a UI panel or what have you. So you can't really mess with the core code, but you can create your own game modes and make unique things using our game as a platform."
For now, though, Greene reiterated that the game needs to be fully functional and firing on all cylinders before any of that can happen. "We're trying to build a competitive game here for a future possible esport or a platform on which esports can happen," he said. "That's our priority here: to get the game competitive, stable, and crash-free."