PUBG Is Struggling To Find Its Place In A Battle Royale World

A declining player base. Multiple public-relations gaffes. And gameplay that still feels unfinished. Can PUBG turn its fortunes around, or will the game that launched a whole genre be remembered as just a flash in the frying pan?

Last year, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds single-handedly caused the "battle royale" genre to explode in popularity. But Fortnite overtook it just as explosively, and by the end of the year, the rest of gaming's triple-A shooter makers will be in on the action, too. PUBG has struggled to retain players, but as initiatives like the new event pass aren't leaving them satisfied , the future of the game that launched a genre looks increasingly uncertain.

Since the start of 2018, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has been battling a decreasing player count. Steam Charts, a website that tracks a game's concurrent players, shows PUBG losing players ever since February, dropping from an average of over one million players in that month down to around 800,000 in June.

It feels like PUBG is losing its sense of identity in a market quickly filling with more battle royale games.

One of PUBG's reactions to the inrush of competitors has been to attempt to sue those competitors for copying its idea. Earlier this year, it sued developer NetEase over its games Rules of Survival and Knives Out.

It also went after the biggest chicken dinner of them all when it filed suit against Fortnite maker Epic Games — which also makes Unreal Engine middleware that powers PUBG.

PUBG Corporation has now dropped that case. However, the action has left players less than enamoured with PUBG, adding to a perception that PUBG Corp is overly litigious.

Ironically, it's PUBG that is now starting to feel more and more like Fortnite. It recently added an "Event Pass" alongside the final release of its latest map, Sanhok. The $US9.99 ($14) pass allows players to complete certain challenges in exchange for cosmetic rewards, a system comparable to the successful "Battle Pass" in Fortnite.

It's not the only change to the game that's seen as reacting to the popularity of Fortnite, which offers a faster experience full of jetpacks, bounce pads, and punchy shotguns. Fortnite's shorter matches are partially a result of its smaller in-game map. Following the icy reception of the massive desert map Miramar, which was so disliked that players deleted files from their game to avoid playing it, PUBG's next map Sanhok was considerably smaller.

The result was a map that was the community has largely embraced, full of gunfights and a quicker mid-game.

But whereas Sanhok's emulation of Fortnite's faster playstyle was well received, the Event Pass has flopped. Cosmetics don't seem to matter as much in PUBG as they do in Fortnite. The rewards of the Event Pass include a handful of new clothing items and some in-game currency, but it doesn't offer the sort of limited bragging-rights rewards as Fortnite's battle pass.

The Event Pass' addition of specific challenges for players to attempt might alter play in fun ways, but players are bristling at the fact that this progression system is tied to a $US10 ($14) charge, considering that the base game is not free-to-play like Fortnite.

"We have supported this game since early access," a Reddit post with over 61,000 upvotes states. "PUBG has made over $US730 ($989) million dollars. Yet, it's still not optimised, cheaters are rampant, crates are locked behind keys. Even after charging $US30 ($41) for the game, they now introduce this $US9.99 ($14) Event Pass."

The implementation of systems meant to increase revenue has rubbed many players the wrong way. It's easy to see the appeal from the publisher's perspective. A study reported on by gamesindustry.biz notes that 69% of Fortnite players surveyed had spent money on the game, averaging $US84.67 ($115) per person.

Battle passes have been well-received other places they have been tried. Variety reports that PUBG Mobile saw a 365 per cent revenue increase after implementing its own $US9.99 ($14) Royale Pass.

But those games are free. It's harder to ask that players buy passes when the rewards are less than exciting and they have already paid upfront for their game. In this light, PUBG's Event Pass was always a gamble, one that seems to be going poorly for the time being.

These PR missteps distract from the fact that PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a good game. The more methodical, position-focused metagame might be slower than games like Fortnite or Realm Royale, but PUBG appeals to players who yearn for something more tactical and less frantic. PUBG has retained an identity as a more deliberate and serious battle royale.

But while that might have been enough when the market was young, it remains to be seen if being "the original battle royale" is enough.

Tencent is already investing in Rings of Elysium, a PUBG clone that is nearly indistinguishable in gameplay but much less prone to technical breakdowns. And then there's the looming specter of battle royale modes in upcoming AAA games, such as Battlefield V's "Royale" and Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4's "Blackout," also leaves PUBG in a tricky position.

It might have been the first, but if someone can offer a similarly tactical but technically superior experience, PUBG could be in even more trouble than Fortnite is already causing it.

Meanwhile, there's a sense from players that the core gameplay is getting, if anything, worse with time. "It definitely feels like performance has dipped significantly," says major YouTuber jackfrags says in a recent video titled PUBG Performance Anxiety. "Perhaps this is just me, but over the past few months but my experience has been worse and worse."

The perception that PUBG is less playable than its competitors has been a mainstay of player complaints on social sites like Reddit. PUBG's massive success has not helped the game overcome technical hurdles. Players are quick to note these continued problems, pointing to them as the chief cause of the falling population.

"We could put up with all the bugs, glitches, cheaters and other nonsense at the start when it was still legitimately in early access," one Redditor said. "We had hope that the devs would make good on their promises to keep moulding the game into something awesome. Well, that never happened."

For their part, PUBG Corporation seems dedicated to solving this issue, even if it is not at the rate the community hopes for.

"We have seen a lot of great feedback from players following the recent improvements the team has made to game optimisation, removing cheaters and hackers, and server stability," a PUBG Corporation representative told Kotaku via email.

"We are tirelessly continuing to add fixes and improvements into the game with even more coming throughout the next month, and beyond, that should make things better."

Players have heard similar things before, and have yet to see the improvements they'd like. A lack of optimisation might be the final straw for players previously willing to wait it out. Smaller features like map selection have been rolled back, and while special events like a crossbow-only or massive "war" mode held attention for a brief time, they have lost their novelty.

PUBG keeps experimenting with new features, but they all tend to fizzle out. Strong gameplay should retain a small cadre of fans, but PUBG's challenge as the battle royale market gets more and more crowded will be to find a new identity other than "we did it first."


Comments

    I had a 6 month gap in playing PUBG, half due to fatigue, half due to being sick of glitches, crashes etc. Jumped on the other day after the new map came out, and it seems somehow worse than I remember. Had rubberbanding ping on the AU servers, shots clipping onto invisible landscape, and buildings etc loading in randomly while driving. Game is a fucking mess.

    PUBG introduced my to the genre, and I smashed it with 3 friends in squads for about 4 months straight. Had an absolute ball. Warning alarms went off when Brendan Greene decided he owns the Battle Royale genre. Also the game being littered with obnoxious ESL branding at one point - all over buildings - despite being an incomplete game. 'PUBG Corporation'. Are you serious? Talk about putting your eggs in one basket. The whole thing reeked of an arrogant cashgrab.

    Then came the hackers. Literally 70-80% of games I was being killed by aimbotters/hacks. I put up with it for 2-3 weeks and I couldn't handle it anymore. I quit, and haven't gone back except to play the new map - Sakhan or whatever it is. Played one match and was already bored.

    People wanted geoblocking, but to me that wasn't the issue. It was a circular cycle caused by the sale of ingame items. Hackers play games, get BP/loot, sell until they get banned, use proceeds to buy a new copy. Rinse and repeat. Yes, 90% of the hackers were Chinese, but the primary issue was ingame item sales.

    I honestly believe they had no interest in stopping that cycle because it made them money and inflated their numbers. It also stopped them killing 50% of their playerbase because they were hackers. They wanted them back.

    Then they start dropping a Battle Pass, onto an incomplete game still rife with hackers and bugs, whilst maintaining loot boxes with keys. Just stop.

    They're just taking the piss at this point - where did the money go? Don't even get me started on the Xbox version.

    I went to Fortnite and haven't looked back. Fortnite is far from perfect either, but the model is infintely more palatable. Free to play, Battle Pass for fun. The ever evolving map, straight up fun guns/characters/emotes. Crossplay, it's got so much more going for it.

    Poor Optimisation is what killed the game for me.

    PUBG still can't fix its combat. I detest fortnite, but the lack of hit registry, and far too many 'insta kill' weapons in the game ruin it for me.

    As someone who put 400 hours into the game only to see the performance get actually worse, I will go on the record stating this game will die soon.

    The way the game developers have treated the game as well as it's player base has been a complete and utter mess. It is a shame it will be remembered as a blip on the battle royal radar when it had the chance to be something truly amazing. If it doesn't completely bankrupt the developers I hope they can learn from their mistakes when it comes to their next title.

    Somehow I doubt it will though....

      The trailer for their next title looked like the game ran at about 20fps lol.

    This is just everything that stupid BlueHole has ever done all over again. Sue everyone and lose, get sued and lose as well because your devs stole code from a competitor.

    God... Heather is always such a negative blip on my day. If it isn't whinging about one thing, its another.

    Bluehole initiated legal action because they literally developed the game WITH Epic. Epic was aware of what Bluehole was doing right from the very beginning. Is it not fishy that Fortnite was able to get their clone out faster than anyone else?

    I'm not sure how much commercial experience anyone here has (considering the general maturity of these boards, probably quite a bit) - but this sot of thing raises some serious red flags. When you're paying for the right to use another companies game engine, and working closely with their developers during the formation of your work, and then they turn around and copy a bunch of your gameplay ideas and solidify themselves as your top competitor? Yeah - that's pretty rubbish.

    How about doing some actual investigative journalism instead of the typical dear diary rubbish?

    The pile-on against PUBG is ridiculous but predictable. It's easy to discount the fact that it does some great stuff too; like multiple vehicles, FPP, TPP, three unique maps... lets just focus on the fact that free-to-play Fortnite, built by the much larger Epic, has more "moar-players" by tapping into the Minecraft generation.

    Anyway, see you all next year when both games are still incredibly popular, all the "AAA" battle royales have already hemorrhaged most of their players on PC, and this article is long forgotten.

      Eh, I don't think the BR genre engenders any real brand loyalty. It'll only take one game that improves on PUBG's 'realistic' BR and features for the community to move on.

      You are correct. Heather is a punish. Glad I’m not the only one who thinks so.

        Ditto. Surprised is wasn't an article about how it fosters a toxic culture of unfair competitiveness based on the systemic privilege of landing near good loot.

        Between Heather and Gita, Kotaku US is a trainwreck.

      Can't copyright ideas in software so your claim about commercial experience should be directed at yourself and add to the fact that there never was a non-compete disclosure agreement so Epic could, would and did what any business will do and commercialise on an opportunity. As to your ridiculous argument about how quickly they got their clone out they have been developing the game, engine, code base, and assets for the 5-7 years for fortnite so adding some extra elements is only going to take a few months at best, which it did.

      You seem very naive and young to not understand that there is nothing malicious, illegal, or underhanded in what Epic did more too the point Blie Hole years of a head start and squandered it, take a step back and realise that Blue Hole is not an agile company and that is why they failed.

    Will PUBG be 'MySpace' to Fortnite's 'Facebook'?

      But who will be the Twitter. Just as good as Facebook but for other reasons. Blops maybe!

    Due to PC breaking down and not being able to afford a repair job for a few months, I've weaned myself off PUBG, but had been doing so before then anyway.

    The amount of cheaters and hackers put me off and I enjoyed playing the game, with it's wide range of issues. Performance and the like. But the lack of doing anything to deter the cheats and hacks just killed it for me.

    But now being able to play again and coming back to the insane amount of loot boxes and event passes and anything that needs money, even though you don't need to purchase them. That sour taste in my mouth became a lot more sour.

    Earning those sweet BP to cash in for a box and have nothing but locked boxes that need a key which requires money. No thanks. Try fixing/maintaining a lot of things before I'm ready to throw some money over again.

    I initially enjoyed PUBG, reasons I stopped playing it include - never having an English speaking team, RAMPANT cheating (like 3/4 games) and poor performance. Besides that i did find quite a bit to enjoy, but I did it in spite of the game itself. I don’t have an urge to go back though, I don’t know if I will play it again...

      Me too my friend. Always laugh at the people on reddit "600 hours never seen a cheater!".

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