PUBG: Lessons from the Downfall
Within a year, the question in the gaming community changes from “Why is everyone playing PUBG?” to simply “Where is PUBG?”
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is the reinvention of the Battle Royale game genre. In this genre, players take on the role of survivors in a limited world and fight to be the last man standing in each match.
Upon its early release in April 2017, PUBG had one of the most improbable routes to stardom for an independently produced game in the 21st century. Within months, PUBG achieved sales figures better than those of Minecraft, hit 1.5 million monthly average players on Steam (highest on the platform), and sold 1 million Xbox One copies within its first three days of official release. On Twitch, a popular online streaming platform, it only took PUBG 6 months to overcome League of Legends as the most-watched game, an honor that League of Legends has held onto for nearly three years. Just to grasp how revolutionary the game is, PUBG received accolades and nominations for numerous awards before releasing the official version. Being dubbed as “era-defining”, PUBG’s downfall is as spectacular as its rise. By December 2018, PUBG players fell to just a third of its peak, with its viewing figures far below its competitor Fortnite and a trajectory unlikely to change any time soon.
What Went Wrong?
As much as all the stars aligned for PUBG's initial success, whatever could go wrong went wrong for this much anticipated game.
For every successful hit, there are surely some imitators. For PUBG, it is Fortnite, a game with a similar concept but different graphic designs and changes in gameplay. There are many allegations about how Fortnite ripped off PUBG, including lawsuit threats from PUBG developers themselves. Unfortunately, as much as the idea of uniqueness is extremely subjective, games borrowing tropes from each other are as old as time. The real hard truth that PUBG has to live with is the fact that while PUBG comes with a $30 price tag, Fortnite is free to play. Simple supply and demand law suggests that PUBG will have an uphill battle to fight to attract players, and the reality is that it sure does.
Lack of foresight
As with games or any types of businesses, balancing short-term and long-term interests is a daunting task. For PUBG, its developers seemed to concentrate all of their efforts on the former while forgetting about the latter altogether. Instead of focusing on streamlining the game for better performance, PUBG jumped into in-game transactions, where virtual items in the game are available for players to purchase. While there is nothing inherently wrong with commercializing a hugely successful product, the unbalanced focus between the game itself and the commodities relating to the game rightfully creates some community backlash.
This lack of long-term investment has some serious ramifications for the game itself. Lack of updates means a reduction in the game’s replayability and subsequently a loss in number of players.
Branding and hacking
Similar to any game, PUBG also faces the age-old problems of cheaters and hacking. For honest gamers, dealing with hacking is simply inevitable, and the developers are by no means at fault for certain individuals trying to spoil everyone's fun. However, failure to take immediate actions does mean that many players are put off from committing to the games.
PUBG became popular, partially for having numerous popular personalities who played it, such as gaming leaders Shroud and Dr. Disrespect. As these streamers start to take a break from PUBG—mostly due to its hacking issues—it also pulls away a large part of the fanbase to other games that these personalities are playing.
The tragedy of PUBG is that plenty of games encounter one or two of these problems and still maintain their popularity and relevance. Dota 2 and League of Legends are two hugely similar games in terms of genre and gameplay, yet the constant effort of their developers to improve and streamline the games help them build a loyal player base. Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) has long been targeted by the community for its lack of improvement and hacking issues, yet its absence of competition equates continued relevance.
Of course, PUBG is yet to be a lost cause, and steps taken to address these three issues could possibly bring the game back into orbit. However, the issues encountered by PUBG serve as an important reminder that at any time, a game’s fortune could change at a blink of an eye.