PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: A Korean Success Story

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If you’re gaming online at all right now, you know a least something about PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the multiplayer battle-royale shooter that became ubiquitous in 2017. While Fortnite has maybe stolen its crown for the moment, the game remains a comfortable global success and a huge moneymaker for its company. But where did it come from? To go into that story, we need to start with a Korean software development company called Bluehole.

Bluehole

Founded in Seoul in 2007, Bluehole started their career by developing a 2011 MMORPG called TERA (also known as The Exiled Realm of Arboria). The game is an ambitious, lush fantasy experience that proved popular in east Asian countries like South Korea, China, and Japan.

Ever since there have been multiplayer online games, South Korea has been at their forefront. The proliferation of internet cafes in the country contributed to this, as well the country’s excellent internet infrastructure, meaning quick connect times and no lag. The country has more of a culture related to online gaming than perhaps any other, save for perhaps China.

TERA was well-received and remains popular and well-played game to this day -- Bluehole, meanwhile, started looking for their next project.

They found it in a fantasy-themed follow-up known as Devilian. The thing about any kind of multiplayer-only game is that the game’s lifespan is wholly dependent on a player-base. If the players don’t come, the game can’t continue.

And, unfortunately, that’s what happened to Devilian. The game launched in 2015 to some good notices, but interest dried up, and the game was discontinued in early 2018. Bluehole needed something else, and they’d turn to both a rival company and online star developer to experiment with their new direction.

 

PlayerUnknown and Ginno Games

 

PlayerUnknown is the online handle of Brendan Greene, who in the early-2010s was a games modder and developer who had created a massively popular mod for the game ARMA 2 called DayZ: Battle Royale. The mod itself was an offshoot of another popular mod, DayZ, but this mod integrated the gameplay of DayZ with the plot of the classic Japanese manga and film Battle Royale, in which teenagers are pitted against in a fight to the death in a dystopian future. The mod was a hit when it was released in 2013.

However, DayZ took the route many mods take and became its game, launching as an open world survival game in late 2013. Greene went to work on some other mods, attracting the attention and interest of various game studios along the way, including Sony, who hired him to assist in the development of their of their games H1Z1: Just Survive, and the more familiar-seeming H1Z1: King of the Hill.

Around the same time, Bluehole acquired Ginno Games, another Korean company known for their innovative work with MMORPGs as well as mobile games, bringing a distinctly more modern look at the genre and its integration with social media platforms like Twitch and even Facebook than Bluehole had been used to.

And here, the stars aligned. The newly-christened Bluehole Ginno Games hired Brendan Greene just as he was leaving Sony, and offered him a chance to develop his own battle-royale game. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegroundi was born.

 

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

 

After an arduous but by most accounts not horrific development cycle, the game was finished and ready for early access in March of 2017, being released on PCs only. The finished game was released worldwide on PC and Xbox One in December of 2017, with mobile ports coming early in 2018.

And it was a smash! Critics generally liked it, though some found it a little buggy and rough around the edges, but audiences flocked to it. The game was a massive success worldwide, smashing multiplayer game records and becoming one of the most popular games in the world. And Bluehole Ginno Games? Their net worth doubled five times while the game was still in early access.

Is it a good game? Yeah, I gotta say it absolutely is. Even as someone who’s never found multiplayer shooters too compelling, the battle-royale aspect combined with careful, deliberate resource acquisition and stealth make this anything but a tired arena shooter. And the fact it somehow got such a great port to mobile devices only shows the amazing potential of mobile gaming in the future.

So, that’s the story of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds! Now if you’ll excuse me, it may be time to see if I can get a chicken dinner...