PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was not the first game to take to the battle royale genre, but it was the experience that kick-started this genre into unheard-of fame. When PUBG first made its debut back in 2017, it instantly took the gaming world by storm, both casual and competitive, and that's in no small part due to its incredible realism and intricate combat mechanics.
Why PUBG continues to dominate the battle royale genre
When PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds first launched, it offered one map and an addictive new competitive experience. Since its release, the online game has evolved tremendously while staying true to its original vision, including new maps, vehicles, weapon types, and even exciting crossovers with other major properties.
Since 2017, PUBG has changed immensely but one that hasn't changed is the team's dedication to detail and providing a realistic experience both in terms of gameplay and appearance. From taking to the snowy peaks of Vikendi to dominating the Russian island of Erangel, PUBG has continued to add variation to the core experience without removing what made this battle royale journey so special.
New weapons also helped continue PlayerUnknown's massive popularity, improving upon the selection that players have access to while also making sure that the combat itself felt natural and realistic. The ability to not only choose a weapon itself but also which categories players feel most comfortable with is a pro-gamer-choice mechanic that allows all types of players to tailor their experience. It's because of that mechanic that each match feels fresh, competitive, and like a total victory when that Chicken Dinner status is achieved.
From launch on, the team behind PUBG has made hundreds of updates to ensure that the game feels exciting. Player feedback was key in this evolution, but also true is their focused vision. A common mistake many battle royale games make, and why some have failed completely, is that their vision for the experience is scattered and unfocused. Because of that, the play experience seems 'fine' but nothing to write home about. PUBG combated this pit by being open to changing how the game feels without changing the game itself. No matter which map players find themselves on or which loadout they choose, at the end of the day PUBG will always feel like PUBG.
PUBG gunplay programmer Marek Krasowski recently opened up more on how they maintained realism throughout their entire developmental process. A self-proclaimed "purist," Krasowski knew the vision going in when looking at gunplay, and at the heart of that vision was ballistics. When developing the in-game ballistics system, Krasowski mentioned in a recent PUBG Blog post that the key behind the success was that they didn't overcomplicate the ballistics system. "We look at the weapon, then I go to a ballistics calculator and calculate how it behaves in real life. We use very close data to the real ballistic behavior, tuned up or down a little for balance, but we’d rather look for a weapon that fits the balance and we can maintain realistic ballistics.”
He also added that a part of their magic is that they use gravity and air resistance to replicate a realistic feel, but not in real-time. As to why they decided to veer away from real-time, Krasowski used the example of twin shots: "two identical shots will land within a millimeter of each other." This was a technical decision made by the team to maintain the integrity of cheat detection and a key design choice as to why they opted out of features like the imposed wind. According to the gunplay designer, adding in factors like the wind would overcomplicate cheat detection, which would negatively impact the game experience and take away the necessary control devs have over the game and its viability.
As far as air resistance goes, the PUBG dev mentioned, “In early release, we didn’t have air drag—we only had gravity. This made our huge maps feel really small. If the bullet doesn’t ‘slow down’, a shot at 200 meters might only be twice as hard as a shot at 100 meters, when, in reality, it’s exponentially more difficult.” After the game launched, feedback on the in-game ballistics was mixed, but it was that feedback that ultimately ended in a more perfected gameplay experience.
While realism is PUBG's true strength, Krasowski mentioned that it was important to play with that realism a bit, instead of relying wholely on this philosophy at the risk of player enjoyment. Instead, the team played with how ballistics change from weapon type to wepon type, including the example of how shotgun pellets spread once dislodged from the muzzle and effectively-becoming "enlarging balls" with the more distance traveled. "Shotguns in early access were useless over distance because the chance of hitting someone was very low,” he added. “Using this method, we could increase their effective range.”
Because shooting is a "visceral experience," constantly tweaking how the game plays and weapons react was key, especially early on. This adaptive philosophy also allowed for players to have fun with the devotion to realism, depending on what was both believable and enjoyable. According to Kraswoski, “Our recoil is more game-y than realistic,” he explained. “Some games might solve this using bullet spread rather than recoil.” The PUBG crew chose differently to force players to think about the pacing of their shots versus just mindlessly popping off.
With player choice being key and feedback being crucial, Krasowki also revealed that the team has meeting often about the data shown from in-game matches. “We usually have a balance meeting once a month,” he mentioned. These meetings include pulling data from each patch so that they can analyze player behavior. “Every time a player picks up a weapon or drops it, that’s logged, so we look at millions of data points,” Krasowski added. “It’s important, too, not just to look at the data, but to understand the anomalies.”
While some weapons in-game firmly hold to tactical reasonings, the gunplay dev also mentioned that sometimes they just like to have fun with weapons. A good example of a "fun" weapon is the in-game crossbow. This particular weapon doesn't have the best stats and it's certainly not balanced, something Krasowski was very quick to add, but it's enjoyable and it tailors to a unique playstyle of those chaotic neutral players out there just looking to have a good time.
The PUBG team is constantly tailoring the battle royale experience, and those changes will include new weapons and guns on the horizon. From pistols to machine guns, the sky is the limit when it comes to where PUBG can go to next from here. One thing is for sure, though: PUBG isn't going anywhere anytime soon and that's no mistake. The team listens to fans, they pay close attention to detail in terms of the exact experience they want to offer, but they also allow player freedom for how they want to take to each match.
To learn more about the design decisions and mechanical reasonsings behind PUBG, you can check out the "Getting a Sense of PUBG" article on the game's official website right here.