From mods to millions: How Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds took over the world

From mods to millions: How Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds took over the world

One of this year’s most talked-about games is undoubtedly Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.

The battle royale title, which sees teams of players fighting for survival in an increasingly smaller combat arena, has been a phenomenon, dominating the games conversation on social media.

Not only that; Battlegrounds has sold well over 4m copies since its release, netting developer and publisher Bluehole in excess of $100m in the process.

This project is the brainchild of modder Brendan Greene and Chang Han Kim of Korean games firm Bluehole. A battle royale title was something that Kim had wanted to do for almost ten years and in Greene he found someone who was going to help him achieve this goal. Greene had been making these kinds of games for years.

"I started off in ARMA 2 and I modded the DayZ mod, so that was a mod of a mod,” Greene explains.

“It was more to make a game mode I wanted to play. I made that, moved it to ARMA 3 and refined it a bit more. Then I licensed my idea to Daybreak Game Company for H1Z1. It was their baby so they did their own thing with it.

“Ultimately, I never got the chance to make my vision of a game and make money off it as well. You don't make money off doing a mod in ARMA 3, you don't get into modding to make money. Finally getting Battlegrounds out of the door, this was finally my vision for a battle royale game that came to fruition.”

Prior to launch, Greene was very confident about Battlegrounds, even insisting that the title would easily shift a million copies in its first month.

“When I first in Korea, I was talking to the CEO, the executive director and the heads of the company at Bluehole, they asked me how many copies I expected to sell. I said we'd do a million month one,” he says.

“Now, that was me being a bit confident in my own game, but I have confidence in the battle royale genre. The ones I made in ARMA 3 and for H1Z1 showed how popular they could be. I just thought something closer to the ARMA 3 mod with the depth of loot and so on would do well. I didn't expect it to do as well as it did.

“It captured people's imaginations to some extent. It's taken us all aback a little. We're not celebrating too much; we're just into Early Access and have another four months development to get out of that and get the game finished.”

When I was first in Korea, I was asked how many copies I expected to sell. I said we'd do a million month one. I had confidence in the battle royale game
Brendan Greene

As mentioned earlier, the game has sold over four million copies. This is more impressive considering that Battlegrounds isn’t even finished, launching into Steam Early Access.

Public perception of the programme has changed somewhat in the last few years; where Early Access was once praised for helping developers create their projects – aiding the likes of DayZ and Rust – now that reputation has soured, and the scheme has sadly become known for buggy projects that may never exit development.

Even Greene was apprehensive about using this to release.

“I wasn't sure about releasing into Early Access because I thought it was a little bit of a poisoned pill,” he explains.

“You would have to have your prepared answers for questions that come with entering Early Access these days. 'Will you ever get out of Early Access?' and so on. We had long discussions. But at the end of the day, Early Access for a game like ours is great. It gives us the freedom to work with a huge body of players and get a lot of feedback and data on how they play the game. For a multiplayer-only game, that's super important to get all the systems really polished and competitive and everything just feeling good when you play the game. Having that user base to help you get feedback is valuable.

“Early Access has had a bit of a hard go of it recently. There have been a lot of games that have entered it and not come out of it, then there are games that are in it that people expect not to come out of it but I know they will. That's why we've been so open about our development because as a consumer, knowing how games are made is like magic. Giving an insight into how games are made for the consumer is something that I've wanted to do and we have done since we started development of Battlegrounds. People have this lack of understanding about how long it takes to make games; titles like DayZ and H1Z1 where they're working with their own proprietary engines. It takes so much longer to do things than us because we use Unreal which is super flexible and powerful.”

I want to find the next guy who uses my game to make their mod that gets them their game. Why not become a platform for that?
Brendan Greene

As said earlier, Greene sees Battlegrounds becoming something of a platform for the creativity of other people. In fact – having modded the DayZ mod of ARMA 2 – he wants to pass on the baton to the next generation of modders.

"I want to find the next guy who uses my game to make their mod that gets them their game,” he says. “Why not become a platform for that? ARMA is and it's great, and I want to do the same. It's nice to be able to help people that love games and make them for the passion they have inside of them.”

He continues: “We just want to make a great platform for custom game mods, for the battle royale game mode as a competitive platform. That's what our focus is, especially over the next six months. We'll be really making battle royale as competitive as we can make it and making it stable and suitable for any possible eSport that the community might want to create out of it.

"Our custom games are modding-lite at the moment – we give player a lot of settings that they can change via the UI. It's not modding in its truest sense, but it allows people to create. We have our zombie game mode; it's still in its very early stages but it's seen that creativity that our content creators and partners have. Over the next twelve months, that's what we want to focus on.

Greene concludes: “We want to provide a great platform for all these people.”

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.