Brendan Greene, also known as PLAYERUNKNOWN, is the creator of the Battle Royale mod that started in the DayZ mod for Arma 2. Recently, Battle Royale has been licensed by SOE and made an official game mode in H1Z1, with Greene joining the team as a consultant. We caught up with Greene to talk about the mod's origins, why SOE went through him, and the future of Battle Royale both in and out of H1Z1.
For those who don’t know, what is the original Battle Royale?
Battle Royale started way back in the DayZ mod. It started out with me basically trying to see if I could make a mod, and I thought the idea of last man standing game mode was one that hadn’t really been done before and I really wanted to see if I could do it. DayZ Battle Royale was hugely popular. Right up until the DayZ standalone [release], we were probably one of the more popular DayZ mod variations.
Then, once Arma 3 came out of alpha in April, we went and moved across to Arma 3 because it’s just a better engine, and because zombies in the DayZ mod were, at the best of times, a little bit glitchy. I didn’t feel it was fair to have something that would cause quite random deaths sometimes. So 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.
Wow. When we spoke briefly at SOE last week, you mentioned that there were a lot of people playing it competitively, right? Or, there were lots of squads?
Yeah, so we have a squad battle league, which we haven’t started yet because I feel the Arma 3 engine isn’t good enough in a multiplayer setting to have a competitive league. We’ve done a few events; we did one for Extra Life before Christmas where we had like 55,000 people watching. We were the second most popular channel on Twitch during that. I am setting up a squad battle league, but I just don’t think it’s fair to have a competitive league where prizes are involved when the Arma 3 engine—you know, you get de-sync and lag a lot. I just don’t feel it’s fair, but we have something like 3,000 squads signed up with about 2,000 of those being two-man squads and 1,000 being four-man squads, so that’s in-and-around 8,000 people. But, again, I’m just waiting for their multiplayer performance just to up a bit before I really kick that into gear.
Are there plans to take that squad battle league and move it over to H1Z1 Battle Royale, or is it simply too early in the game’s life for that?
I think it’s definitely a possibility. It’s something that we discussed very briefly here, but at the moment were just focused on getting the game mode in H1Z1 really working well and having it at that state where people are really happy to play it.
How similar or different is the mode going to be in H1Z1 compared to the mod?
For me, I’ve got the opinion of “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” We’re trying to carry over essentially everything we have in the Arma 3 version into the H1Z1 version. The main difference is the toxic fog we have. In Arma 3, we don’t have the ability to create a wall of fog, essentially, and it was always an idea I had that we had some kind of physical presence that would close the zone in. We have now this toxic wall of fog that basically closes in the zones over time. Apart from that, we have our care packages, we have our bomb runs, we will have our bombing areas on the map as well, or the red zones as we call them. We’re really trying to keep it as similar as we can.
We will be introducing a hardcore mode with zombies. The initial version of Battle Royale ... has to be looked at as 'early access Battle Royale' because it’s working, but we still have to put in some work to get it to where I’m happy with it. Because, again, we only started doing this just before Christmas. That’s when I got the call from SOE, so it’s been quite a hectic month. But we’re trying to keep it as similar as possible because I feel what we have already works, so why mess with it?
How did SOE approach you about licensing Battle Royale?
I was watching [a stream]—they did a big team meeting there before Christmas and I think it was John [Smedley] that said “I really like what the Battle Royale guys are doing” and stuff like that, and I thought, “Oh, that’s cool. Name checking me, that’s great.” Then, the next day they were talking about the event servers having Battle Royale and I was thinking “OK, maybe I should try charging them for using my name.” [Laughs.]
About two days later, I got a DM from John saying, “We should talk. I’m John Smedley, President of SOE,” and I didn’t sleep for about two days. So then he just rang me and we talked and he said he’d love to license my idea to put into H1Z1, which blew me away because it could have been so easy for them to do their own version and not even contact me. I’m eternally grateful to them for that.
Why do you think they didn’t? As you said, although the concept of last man standing was missing from Day Z, it’s by no means a unique idea.
You know, I’m still to this day wondering that. I’m thankful they didn’t. I think they want to do the right thing. I think if they went ahead and just did their own Battle Royale—you know, they could have done it, but really I think they just liked what I did. That’s what John told me, he really liked what I’ve done. I worked on Battle Royale essentially for no pay for about a year and a half. Because of the way Bohemia works with their mods you’re not allowed to earn money, and I don’t really like pushing for donations all that much. So I’ve been doing this for a year and a half as a project of passion because I really believe what I’m doing could be something great. So I think they just wanted to do the right thing and after meeting the team here, they're just such a good group of guys.
We also spoke at SOE about the concept of how well this game mode works as an eSport. Why do you think the Battle Royale format is so tuned for eSports?
For me, why I first set it up was games like CS:GO and any of the other twitch shooters really rely on you having a very quick trigger finger, and it’s down to pixel perfect accuracy. The older you get, the less you’re able to do that. And as well with games like CS:GO, the map has been around for 15 years. Dust for example, it’s a small map, same with Call of Duty, same with Battlefield. They’re relatively small maps and that doesn’t really challenge me as a player. So I really wanted to create something that was completely random every time, that tested your abilities as a strategic PvP player. I think that’s something that everyone wants to do, you know? CS:GO has quite a steep entry curve, whereas Battle Royale, while it does have a steep entry curve, if you’re a good player and a good strategic thinker, you can do quite well. That’s why I made it ... I wanted it to be as random as possible so you never knew what you were getting into.
Would you like to see Battle Royale in H1Z1 become an eSport? You said you discussed it internally a little bit, but if the community just took it and ran with it, would it be encouraged?
I think so. I think it’s a good idea. I mean, ultimately at the end of the day, I want to make an eSport out of this. A proper, serious eSport. So if the community are on board with doing that, I think the engine itself is good enough. We get pretty solid frame rates so, you know, why not?
A renaissance of eSports is happening right now and there’re so many competitors. What do you think is the key thing that Battle Royale needs to tap into to succeed?
I think the great thing about Battle Royale is—I compare it a lot to a poker type game, because there’s only one winner. Once you get to that final table of ten or nine people at the end, you’ve got serious adrenaline pumping. Because the map is different every single time and the ending position is different every single time, it gives you that rush. Not just the first time, but consistently. To make that an eSport and what it would need? I would have to defer to people who know these things better, you know? I don’t have a huge amount of experience with eSports. This is something that I couldn’t really answer all that well, so I won’t, if that makes sense. [Laughs.]
What does Battle Royale being licensed mean for the original mod and that community?
The greatest thing about the license is that it’s non-exclusive. John [Smedley] said to me directly when I asked him, “Do you want an exclusive license?” and he said, “No, because how would the community grow?” I don’t want to just stop at Arma 3 and H1Z1. When the DayZ game opens for modding, I want to bring it to that. We’ve been talking about bringing it to Minecraft. I’ve said before, one mod for many games. Ultimately, I’d like to build my own standalone version, but I think for the moment I’m quite happy to be a mod in many games. It just makes our community bigger so when we do eventually go for a standalone version, we will have a bunch of support, hopefully.
Do you have any advice for other modders and for people who are trying to do what you’re doing?
Just keep at it. I would say, don’t try to copy something. You see that someone creates one thing, and then there’s about ten different copies of it. If you’ve got an original idea—there’s an article that I only read recently which is the ten rules for creating a good video game, and everyone who’s thinking of getting into modding should read it because it tells you what you should have in your game. If you think you’ve got a good idea, just go and do it. As I said, I’ve been doing this for nearly two years now and I don’t get paid out of it, but I do because I love doing it. And if you love doing it, just keep doing it. Don’t be worrying about who plays your game, just make a good game.