Brendan Greene will always be the "PlayerUnknown" of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, but going forward, the game will no longer be under his creative direction.
Instead, following Greene's move to the Krafton Special Projects team, he's handing off the creative director role officially to Dave Curd, a former art director with Raven Software and Shiver Entertainment who's been with the studio since 2017 beginning as a principal artist, and more recently as the PUBG Madison studio director.
Though Brendan Greene's name is forever tied to PUBG's creation, speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Curd says he doesn't feel any particular pressure to leave his own dramatic mark on the game or fill Greene's shoes.
"When they do my annual review next year, the first line on the checklist is, 'Did you break PUBG?'" he says. "And hopefully we can check 'No.'"
"My own expectations are to get PUBG in more hands, make it easier for novices to transition to veterans, and honor what really works about PUBG"
"My job now is ultimately: How does the game feel on the sticks? When you sit down to play, from the user experience to the actual process of being in a survival game, to the out game: how do we make this experience even better than it already is? I obviously have metrics of things where I think there are easy gains or big opportunities for PUBG to get better. But my own expectations are to get PUBG in more hands, make it easier for novices to transition to veterans, and honor what really works about PUBG.
"We don't want to lose the magic of why it's a hit. I just want to reinforce the things it does well and boost us in ways where we could be deficient."
Curd affirms that his role as creative director will be less about innovating the game or taking it new directions, and more of a gentle evolution of what's already there. He politely dismisses multiple questions about the many other battle royales on the market right now and whether PUBG would ever take cues from them, saying: "You don't want to get into the habit of trying to make a diet Fortnite or a low-cal Warzone."
Rather, he counters, he wants PUBG to "graduate or evolve to the best possible version of PUBG."
"It would be a critical mistake to pull it in a very new, very different direction in order to get my thumbprints on it. I think that would be a very, very toxic choice, to be candid... I don't think a lot is going to change other than the vision is going to be a little bit more unified."
"It would be a critical mistake to pull it in a very different direction in order to get my thumbprints on it. I think that would be a very toxic choice"
As for what that unified vision entails, Curd breaks it down into three major elements. The first is that PUBG must respect its core values, with Curd specificalling calling out that PUBG is a survival game.
"It's not a very big deathmatch," he says. "It's not a giant looter shooter. It's survival, and survival means everything from gunplay to exploration to vehicles to tactics to interesting choices."
The second is that he wants PUBG to settle more into larger worlds, pointing out the game's mix of tension during firefights, and downtime where players can explore.
"You're exploring with your friends, you're driving motorcycles, you're getting into shenanigans, and boom -- a gunfight out of nowhere," Curd says. "And it's scary and it's intense. Larger worlds is how you get that done -- the 8x8 Erangel size, maybe even larger. That's the kind of stuff we're looking to in the future."
"[The gameplay right now] is gunplay complex, survival phase shallow. But if you look at time spent in PUBG, most of your time is surviving and wandering around"
The third key element is interesting gameplay. Curd feels the game is already "complicated in a good way" in terms of weapons, weapon attachments, and combat. But on the exploration and survival side, he thinks there's room to grow.
"If you look at the survival phase, it's like, 'Press F to open door. Press F to get into a vehicle.' It's relatively straightforward. So looking at the survival phase, it seems like there's a lot of room for new, interesting choices and diverse stories. [The gameplay right now] is gunplay complex, survival phase shallow. But if you look at time spent in PUBG, you could invert it. Most of your time is surviving and wandering around. 90% of the time is probably just in the wilderness, with 10% being actual gunfights. To me that says that there's 90% of the match that we could enrich."
Curd can't give much more detail as to what the plans are for that enrichment, though he emphasizes the importance of improving the game's ability to spark emergent narratives.
He's similarly quiet when asked about the influence of PUBG Mobile. He affirms that his team doesn't have to make any allowances for mobile development, as Tencent has that handled. But he does suggest that the mobile team has inspired the creative direction of PUBG proper in some way, and that there is "something cool that the team has glommed onto" that's planned for 2021.
He's feeling less inspired by next-gen technological advancements. In response to being asked whether any of the new console tech has sparked new ideas or direction for PUBG, Curd points out that throughout gaming history, whenever there's a new console jump, there are always one or two titles designed to show off the new features specifically. He calls it the "Justify The Purchase To Your Mom Game."
"The reality is that all of this tech has to be in service of good, solid ideas"
But PUBG isn't that, he continues. It's a live service game.
"Developers are always looking at what's next and [asking], 'How do we fold this into what we're doing?' But the reality is that all of this tech has to be in service of good, solid ideas. And until I think of, like, the best use of cloth sim, we're just not going to do cloth sim. But if there is a reason to use new tech to deliver a story we couldn't previously do, we'd absolutely be looking at that."
This year has seen a number of games suddenly become social spaces for players worldwide as the pandemic drove them indoors and into isolation. Curd says that the vision of PUBG as a social space for emergent narratives existed long before COVID-19 hit, and that not much changed for the development team's work process as a result of the global pandemic.
"2020 was a year of experimentation and play," he says. "We focused on tiny maps so that we could quickly try big, weird new features that didn't previously exist in PUBG... And even though it's been COVID times, and obviously North America has been hit especially hard, the team has really rallied and executed on vision. We're thankful and grateful that we work in an industry where as long as we have a good computer and a good internet connection, we can still do our jobs."
And looking ahead, Curd hopes that the future of PUBG is more PUBG -- but bigger, better, and more popular than ever before.
"It would be amazing to see what PUBG looks like ten years from now: the sizes of the worlds the amounts of players, the depth of systems that future tech will allow us," he says. "That's what gets me out of bed every morning. You wake up and you want to push the game to the next level. I've been here three and a half years, and every year the game is clearly better and evolved and different than the year before. Just Google PUBG 2017, if you want a refresher. It's a very different product. So I fully believe and anticipate the game continuing to grow and evolve."