PUBG exec clarifies objection to Fortnite Battle Royale: 'it's not about the idea itself, it's about Epic Games'

As we reported early on Friday, the release of Fortnite Battle Royale, a 100-player last-man standing game mode for Epic Games base-building FPS, drew criticism from PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds' development team, specifically Bluehole VP and executive producer Changhan Kim. Bluehole's press release expressed concern that Fortnite "may be replicating the experience for which PUBG is known" and that Bluehole was contemplating "further action."

Bluehole contacted PC Gamer Friday evening to clarify its objection to Fortnite Battle Royale and explain in greater detail some of the statements made in the press release. I spoke with C.H. Kim tonight over Skype (he was in Tokyo), with marketing and events manager Sammie Kang providing translation and giving the final two responses.

We use Unreal Engine to develop PUBG, and we pay a large amount of royalties based on the size of our success to Epic Games

C.H. Kim, VP and executive producer

C.H. Kim: So the first thing that I'd like to clarify is that this is not about the battle royale game mode itself. There were other BR gamemodes earlier this year that were released, like last man standing or GTA 5's battle royale game mode, and we never raised an issue, and I think it's great that there's more competition and everyone should be able to create their own battle royale game mode, and it's not about the idea itself, it's about Epic Games, and that wasn't really clear [in the press release].

PC Gamer: So it's not the mode you guys have an issue with. From your statement or your press release earlier today, it said that there were similarities in the UI, and the other things mentioned were the gameplay and structural replication in the battle royale mode. Can you specify exactly, if you're not objecting to a battle royale mode in another game, then what do you mean by concerns about gameplay?

There are a lot of different issues but everyone else that released a battle royale game mode made their own thing, but it was Epic Games that made this game that is similar to us that has similar elements, and that's the concern, that it was Epic Games.

We use Unreal Engine to develop PUBG, and we pay a large amount of royalties based on the size of our success to Epic Games, and Epic Games always promoted their licensing models [saying] "We want to support the success indie developers", and [Bluehole is] this indie developer that has been the most successful one using the Unreal Engine this year, and that's the problem that I see.

So if, say, you had no real connection with Epic through the Unreal Engine, say you used another engine, or this battle royale mode was from some other company you don't have that connection with, it wouldn't be an issue? It's specifically because it's Epic and you licensed their engine, is that correct?

So, battle royale is just about last man standing, it's a simple game mode, and we're not claiming any kind of ownership over the game mode or genre itself, it's not for us to even comment. There were a lot of copycats in China and [in that] industry there is a lot of battle royale games that look exactly [the] same as ours, so we will definitely look into similarities if there are different products that are very similar to our game, but even before we actually looked deeper into how similar [Fortnite Battle Royale] is, we wanted to raise an issue because this is from Epic Games. We could be the biggest indie success story that they have and there will be other indie developers that aspire to succeed like us using Unreal Engine, and they would be concerned, right? So we just wanted to raise an issue and let people know that it can be a problem.

we're starting to have concerns that they're going to develop new features or improve something in the engine to support that battle royale gameplay, and then use it for their own game mode.

C.H. Kim

And in terms of a resolution you'd be satisfied with, what are you hoping or thinking that Epic could do with Fortnite's battle royale mode that would remove the objections you have?

Well, we would have to specifically talk about the details with Epic Games but we haven't been connected to their headquarters yet. So what I want to explain here is that PUBG might have really simple battle royale rules and systems, but we see that as Brendan's own idea and that game mode in PUBG belongs to Brendan. You know that Daybreak Games actually licensed this idea and worked with him to develop their game mode and [Bluehole] did license his idea as well. Not only [did we bring] him to Korea to hire him as the creative director, we licensed his idea to develop PUBG.

So we're not just taking someone else's idea. Bluehole's stance is that we respect and value the indie developer or modder's idea and we actually licensed it.

So what I think I'm hearing is you would like Epic to license their battle royale from you? Is that what I'm hearing?

What I think is, they should have at least came to us before making it and had a discussion with us.

So, there's another issue. We're going to get some technical support [from Epic], and we're going to work with them to make sure Unreal Engine better supports battle royale gameplay which requires 100 people in one session, and now we're starting to have concerns that they're going to develop new features or improve something in the engine to support that battle royale gameplay, and then use it for their own game mode.

But not give [the improvements] to you, even though you've licensed the engine, is that what you're saying? They'll develop technology that improves their battle royale but is restricted from you?

We could be afraid when we make new features in the engine by modifying it internally, that is not already available and public, that feature could be leaked, or other things could happen.

Prior to the press release you sent out about this issue, had you reached out to Epic through different channels?

So we didn't have any real discussions [with Epic] and we just found out through articles from the media and then it took us a long time to figure out what was going on because we found this out through media, and it took us a long time, and [Epic was] being really aggressive about making this into a standalone game that will be released on different platforms, and we thought we need to straighten things out here and then clarify some things.

It was just a bit surprising and disappointing to see our business partner using our name officially to promote the game mode

C.H. Kim

What is your next step? You're obviously hoping to get in contact with Epic at some point and start discussing your options.

So, yes, of course we want to start a discussion and we reached out to Epic Korea, and they have reached out to their headquarters based in the US, but we didn't get any response, and that might be because it's the weekend right now.

So, we just want to emphasize this only a problem because Epic Games is the company that makes the engine we use and we pay a large amount of royalties to them. And we had this business relationship and we had trust that we would be getting continued support, and we were looking forward to working more closely with them to get technical support, maybe develop new features. But our name was used to officially promote their game without our knowledge. There was no discussion. It was just a bit surprising and disappointing to see our business partner using our name officially to promote the game mode that is pretty similar to us and there was misunderstanding in the community that we're officially involved in the project.

When they used your name, was that in official promotional materials?

Sammie Kang: It was in their promotional video that was posted on Twitter and they would openly mention that they were fans of PUBG, we wanted to make this battle royale game mode, and that kind of gave the impression that we were officially involved in this.

So they were giving the impression that you guys were on board and were a part of this, and in no way were you.

Sammie Kang: Right, and there were players like, "Oh it's cool, now we get to play PUBG in Fortnite", and there was nothing we could do about it, because it was depicted that we were officially involved.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.