For the past two years, Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene has mostly been on the road, traveling to events across the world in support of the game that bears his name, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. “I’ve been looking at things from a high level position rather than getting my hands dirty,” he says of the last few years. So, along with the leadership at PUBG Corp., Greene decided to switch directions.
Two weeks ago he announced a new venture called PUBG Special Projects; while he’ll still be keeping an eye on PUBG, Greene is now leading a small — and growing — team in search of something new. “I’m looking forward to Special Projects because I get to get dirty again and get my hands into that,” he says.
It’s still early days for the new studio. Greene says he’s been working with a small team of around five developers for the last two months, and he moved from Seoul to Amsterdam as part of the shift. (The move was also made for personal reasons, allowing Greene to live in Europe and be much closer to his daughter.) Special Projects was announced just ahead of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week, in part so that they could lure talent. “That’s our focus right now, trying to find those talented people who want to leave their ego at the door and just make something great,” Greene says.
Given the embryonic state of the project, it’s not clear what kinds of games we’ll see out of Special Projects. But Greene says he’s been given free rein to explore new ideas. “There’s no pressure here to build PUBG 2 or the next great game,” he explains. “Battle royale [and] PUBG came from me wanting to make a game that I wanted to play. That’s what I want to do for the next thing: ‘This is a game I want to play, let’s see if I can make it.’ There isn’t that pressure of ‘You must make a hit,’ which is a blessing. It really is a blessing to have that kind of confidence from our management team.”
Greene says that whatever kind of game the studio ends up making, he’s primarily interested in exploring how to use interactivity and online spaces to bring people together. “How can we use games to share different experiences, different feelings? I’m just fascinated by the use of online space to connect people, and I want to explore that and how we can push that and maybe connect more people, or try to give people a unique experience,” he explains.
Today, battle royale is one of the most popular genres in gaming, with the ongoing success of PUBG and Fortnite, alongside upstarts like Apex Legends. But it wasn’t always that way. When Greene first started experimenting with mods, battle royale was a relatively new frontier, which was part of the initial appeal. And after five years working in the genre, he’s looking forward to doing something different at Special Projects.
“It means your job is never boring, because you’re always figuring out new ways to do things,” Greene says. “That’s why we have Special Projects. We’ve been challenged by our CEO to dream of interesting things, come up with new ideas. It’s challenging, but it’s just fun. To get up in the morning, go to work, and dream is something most people dream about.”
There are other things Greene is excited about doing once he finally settles in Amsterdam — including playing games. While he’s been keeping up with Battlefield 1, he says that he’s missed out on most of the big games over the past year, name-dropping Celeste and the latest God of War. “The games I like to play and the games I like to make are sometimes quite different,” Greene says. As an example, he mentions the dark, foreboding platforming game Inside from Danish studio Playdead. “Games like that really inspire me to think about how I can apply that to a realistic game,” he says. “I tend not to play too many games in the genre I’m thinking about because I don’t want to be unduly influenced.”
But first there’s the matter of building a studio. Right now, the plan is to focus more on creating a team, rather than focusing on any specific game idea. Greene says he wants to build a culture first. “It’s more for us about getting the right people, rather than producing something,” he explains. And while he may be dialing back his work on PUBG, that doesn’t mean the game is winding down, with big projects like an evolving e-sports league and an ambitious remaster of the game’s first map in the works. The game’s creator is confident that, even if his focus may largely be elsewhere, these kinds of developments will continue.
“There’s a certain level of trepidation in stepping away,” says Green, “but really I know the team, and I know that we’ve worked hard over the last year to set up a really good structure to allow us to communicate better and really move forward with better plans.”