PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds released on Steam early access on 23 March 2017. Since then, it has erupted into one of the largest games in the world and expanded with new features and maps. The road has been bumpy, with raucous highs and dire lows.
Created by Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene, Battlegrounds is a standalone battle royale game that took lessons Greene learned from his mod DayZ: Battle Royale. The concept was a hit that helped shape the direction of multiplayer games over the last year. Let's take a look back at the last 12 months.
- Releasing on 23 March 2017 for Steam early access, Battlegrounds quickly gained attention as a playground for creating highly personal stories. From players engaging in alliances that ended in tragic betrayal to hiding inside flipped cars, there was always something new happening in matches. By April, the game had sold over one million copies on Steam, turning creator Brendan Greene into one of the most well-known designers in the world despite his nickname.
- The game's first update arrived on April 14, looking to solve one of the game's biggest problems: Performance. From dipping frame rates to rubberbanding, Battlegrounds' memory leaking client and shaky servers frustrated many players. The update also brought some quality of life improvements and gave birth to the frying pan's ability to deflect bullets. The weapon's meme status grew to the point that winners of the game's first professional tournaments received pan trophies as rewards.
- Livestreaming the game for the first time, Kotaku won a chicken dinner. It was the most important moment in all of video game history.
- Uncertainty about game features plagued the game's early months. As the game continued development, Greene assured players that Battlegrounds would not implement paid loot crates and other paid microtransations, unlike competitors such as H1Z1. (Remember this because it's important for later.) Meanwhile, eager for new game modes, streamers such as jackfrags and StoneMountain began playing custom "zombie" matches. Within a month, the developers announced it would become an official mode.
- Vaulting became one of the most anticipated features after developers announced it was in the works. Seriously, people wanted to parkour the shit out of this game.
- Weather effects were announced at the same time, creating conditions such as sunsets and fog in addition to the rain effects. While sunsets and clear skies survived to the game's launch, fog and rain would later be removed in the game's 1.0 launch.
- Thousands of cheaters were banned from the game in an attempt to keep things fair. Over 25,000 players were reportedly banned by June for using cheats such as aimbots. Battlegrounds' Battleye anti-cheat service would continue to fight hackers up to and beyond launch, with a common community complaint being a supposed high influx of hackers from China.
- Dr Disrespect, blusterous Twitch streamer and fake moustache wearer, received a temporary suspension in July after killing a teammate intentionally while streaming. In a rare, candid display, Greene took to Twitter to explain the suspension and say that everyone playing the game would be required to behave - including the guy called Disrespect. "In my house, you follow the rules or you GTFO," Greene said.
- A small change to how cars worked altered how the game was played. Originally, cars always spawned facing East. This meant that players could tell if a car outside of a building was from a player or a spawn. A fresh update made cars face random directions, making it much harder to know if you were about to get into a fight.
- Microtransactions finally reared their head in July alongside the game's first invitational tournament at Gamescom. They took the form of limited time loot crates requiring special keys to open that were purchasable for $US2.50 ($3). Fans were less than pleased, calling the gesture "anti-consumer". Greene apologised to players, saying that the team was "testing" paid features prior to full implementation. Certain pieces of clothing from these sets sold for as much as $US500 ($651) on the Steam Marketplace and remain valuable to this day.
- First person-only servers came to the game in August. The promised feature locked the camera to a limited perspective, leading to less sneaky camping tactics and scarier gunfights. While third person servers remained popular, first person would become the go-to game mode for popular streamers.
- Battlegrounds worked to establish itself as an esport with mixed success. While the action at the Gamescom Invitational was exciting, the large scale made it difficult for camera operators and shoutcasters to keep track of everything. A supposed glitch with the leaderboards led to a sudden upset that lost one team $US12,000 ($15,636) in prize money.
- AFK players farming for in-game currency became a hot topic as developers admitted they weren't sure how to crack down on the problem. AFK farmers would spend time gathering currency to buy in-game items they they sold on the Steam Marketplace. The implemented solution eliminated battle point gains for idle players, essentially nuking the problem from orbit.
- In September, a new town was added to the forest map Erangel. The town of Kameshki rounded out the map's quieter northern end and featured a surprisingly good loot table. At the same time, the game added the Mini-14, a lightweight marksman rifle that players dubbed the "laser beam" for its fast-firing bullets and high accuracy.
- Fortnite Battle Royale arrived on the scene in September. The free-to-play battle royale mode's faster pace and building mechanics draw in a ton of players. Battlegrounds and Fortnite competed for which would dominate the genre, leading to a back and forth of player numbers until Fornite came out on top. Battlegrounds' continued stability problems and the presence of hackers led many popular streamers to focus more on Fortnite.
- A major update finally added vaulting to the game and altered bullet ballistics to make sniping from long distances more difficult by adding steeper bullet dropping. Players had a lot of fun with the former, while I lamented the loss of my highly accurate M16 plus 8x scope combination.
- In November Battlegrounds hosted its second major tournament in Oakland, California. While the gunplay was as exciting as ever, the presentation still suffered. Attending the event for Kotaku, writer Nathan Grayson noted that "it was surreal, like attending a golf tournament with the Super Bowl happening just across the street."
- Kill cams were added in late November. While it was pretty great to see your final moments and learn from your mistakes, shoddy implementation meant that replays didn't always match up to what happened. The feature would get more stable at official release.
- The long-teased desert map of Miramar was showcased at The Game Awards 2017 and went live on test servers the next day. The wide open desert location had many open areas for long range gun battles and added a breath of fresh air to the game. This initial honeymoon was fleeting, as players begn to delete the map's files to avoid playing it. After PUBG launched, a new patch added more buildings and increased weapon spawns to make things more lively.
- Battlegrounds released on Xbox One on December 12. The port captured the basic experience, but strange framerate drops and stiffer mechanics meant that thing were a little janky. Support for the Xbox One version continues to lag behind the PC version.
- Players noticed that female character models were sporting some hardcore cameltoe after a test server update. Shortly after, the character model was changed, and Battlegrounds' labia content got seriously nerfed. Presumably, a character modeller gets a scolding for being weird.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is straightforward. Dump 100 players onto a map, tell them that only one person can win, and watch them tear each other apart. It is brutal and base, violent and wonderful. It's a game that could only be made in 2017, for better or worse.
- PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds officially left early access on December 20. The 1.0 launch was plagued by server issues, but the official implementation of features such as an improved replay mode helped the game shine. In my review, I noted that "Battlegrounds is exactly what it wants to be and, love it or hate it, that honesty makes for a remarkable game that changed multiplayer forever." The developers pledged to focus on making the game "crash-free". As time passed after launch, players worry about the game's longevity, but in spite of the anxiety, the game kept kicking.
- A new map was announced in March, which is much smaller than anything that came before it. The map, codenamed "Savage", will be a smaller tropical island that is only a 4x4 grid compared to the normal 8x8. The developers announce a small test period for the map starting in April.
- The numbers game between Fornite Battle Royale and Battlegrounds presses on, though Fornite has become the top dog of battle royale games, even if Battlegrounds helped bring them to the masses. Battlegrounds retains a strong player base regardless, many of whom appreciate the slower, more deliberate pace.
- PUBG Mobile released in March, and it's pretty good. It even has features that the main game needs. However, new players report getting miraculous first time chicken dinners and braindead opponents, leading many to suspect that the game is populated with bots. Crafty mouse and keyboard users, playing via emulators, dominate the competition. It's a popular game but, like its forefather, it struggles to keep pace with Fornite's mobile port, which is so popular that it's killing school Wi-Fi networks.
- Event Mode came to the PC game in March, offering map variations like eight man squads and a flare gun mode where players can call in supply drops. These modes are fun, but it feels like they could be so much more if they take some more risks.
And that's where things are at. The new map, Savage, goes live tomorrow for a limited test period. The game continues to struggle with performance issues and hackers. The codifier of the battle royale genre has fallen to second place behind Fortnite as it struggles to cut down on issues and release new weapons, maps, and modes.
And yet, underneath all the jankiness is a tense game that demands players think smart and keep calm under extreme pressure. The core of Battlegrounds is as solid as it has been from day one - getting into the final ten of a match is one of gaming's most exciting and terrifying experiences. Battlegrounds isn't going anywhere, and players eager for chicken dinner will hopefully enjoy new features and locations to battle each other in. But things have certainly changed since early access, and if Battlegrounds wants to take back the top spot, it's going to have to fight for it.