For the first time ever since the public availability of Steam Charts, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) has bested Valve’s DOTA 2 while both games’ playerbases were more or less at their usual peak. Reasons for this can be complex, though at first sight a few remarks can be made.
1. Jumping on the eSports train
While eSports has been around for years and its significant yearly growth has all but faltered, there hasn’t been a true eSports shooter since the golden age of Unreal Tournament, Quake, etc. aside Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch. (The first will make a comeback (next) year, definitely leaving their mark on the eSports scene due to a dedicated community and improved environment compared to the 1990’s and 2000’s.)
The eSports scene really emerged thanks to Starcraft II’s rise to power in Korea combined with Twitch as the conductor, spreading enthusiasm for insane gaming skills all over the world. While this indeed means gaming has evolved from a local to a global scale, the industry is still very complex and limited to the corporate organizations willing and able (which is important – financially) to organize the eSport events themselves.
For a game to launch successfully is one thing. For the same game to have its own ESL tournament while still in early access with a mere 350.000 US dollars as a prize pool, is a whole other level of marketing.
That’s the golden ticket (quite literally) allowing PUBG to jump on the eSports train, which brings me to…
2. Sales and marketing
In what seems to be one of the most successful launches of a game in history, the lead designer Brendan Greene (“PlayersUnknown”) plays a crucial role. He understood the potential of this “Battle Royale” concept.
“When I created Battle Royale, what I wanted was to create a random game, where you never knew what you might find and how it was going to end. I think that’s what gives it its replayability. It’s a different game every time for the players.”
– Brendan “Playersunknown” Greene
Brendan already made a name for himself within this very potential community that did not yet ‘choose’ a game like many other eSports gamers do. Using this “Battle Royale” concept as the most defining characteristic of PUBG attracted a lot of attention, definitely thanks to the failing development of DayZ (‘Re-defining the superlative of “early access”…’ – quoting a random Steam reviewer). He already launched this “Battle Royale” game mode on both Arma II and III as wel as on H1Z1, harvesting immense popularity.
“We’ve been in Arma 3 since April, and I guess we’ve had over 200,000 downloads of the mod and in any given month we have about 50,000 active players.”
– Brendan “Playersunknown” Greene (21 January, 2015)
This created a content gap. You had the potential of DayZ turned into a disaster, combined with the not-that-enthusiastic-but-not-that-bad-either response of the target audience in regards to H1Z1. At that point, Brendan (very popular with the target audience as he was the founder of the Battle Royale concept in gaming) made it clear he was going to focus on combining his initial concepts of a true Battle Royale game with neatly executed mechanics and solid gameplay. Basically, he announced his very own game; Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.
In short, he jumped in the content gap initially caused by the deterioration of DayZ and the lack of sales of H1Z1, creating the one thing the target audience really wanted; a solid standalone Battle Royale game with a dedicated developer team behind it with a clear vision.
And oh they loved it.
In only a couple of months, sales spiked in the millions, followed by the Twitch community that adored it. It offered a way more satisfying “narrative” for the Twitch viewers to follow, making it more attractive for both the streamer and the viewer.
Even if you adore games, not everyone can get into CS:GO. As mentioned before, the hardcore FPS is only matched by games like Quake and Unreal Tournament. PUBG offers a healthy break from that. Not only that, but the whole genre is basically invented by the developers. It offers an authentic experience matched only by the next game. And the game after that. And that is exactly what this jewel means to everyone playing it on a regular base; replayability. This, coupled with the perfectly executed co-op mode (Duo and Squad, which offers co-op up to 4 players) guarantees a dedicated playerbase for a long time to come with the trusty Twitch tv by its side.
Combine the above with the current Twitch popularity, the Steam charts data and the upcoming eSport leagues and you realize that this genres potential is only scratching the surface.
“It offers an authentic experience matched only by the next game. And the game after that. Its potential is only scratching the surface.”
It can be said; the content gap is filled.