Abid Hussain Barlaskar

A Dummy's Guide to PUBG

What on earth is PUBG and why is everyone talking about it? PM Modi knows enough about it to say "PUBG-wala" on stage. Do you?

A Dummy's Guide to PUBG

The PUBG dashboard
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PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds (PUBG) is a video-game so popular that PM Narendra Modi, mentioned it to strike a chord with young students.

Last August, players tweeted screenshots of the game featuring a Mahindra tractor in the in-game world. A curious Anand Mahindra, chairman of business conglomerate - Mahindra group, responded asking, "I try to keep abreast of the latest happenings in the world, but what on earth is PUBG?"

A Dummy's Guide to PUBG

Mahindra Tractor in PUBG
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It's a video-game where 100 participants are virtually air-dropped on a secluded terrain, try to kill each other with advanced weapons, and the last one/group standing is victorious.

Who made the game?

PUBG was developed by Korean video-game developer Bluehole and launched by its Chinese publisher Tencent. It was first launched in 2017 for PC and gaming consoles. PUBG Mobile was launched in March 2018. Reportedly, it was later banned in China. Tech news website, Gadgets 360 cites a Tencent statement claiming PUBG Mobile has 30 million daily active users and 200 million downloads.

What is the size of its business?

The game sells virtual products such as skins for weapons, vehicles, and outrageous or tactical outfits (depending on your personality) and also charges an entry fee (in real money) from players who wish to participate in championships. As per the information available on the Google Play Store, in-game purchases range from ₹39 to ₹16,300. Reports suggest that PUBG made $1.28 billion in 2018.

What platforms is the game played on?

The action happens on gaming platforms like PCs, Xbox One, PlayStations and smartphones/tablets. While PC and console versions have to be bought, smartphone/tablet versions are free. The game can be played on mid-range smartphones, but Tencent came up with 'PUBG Mobile Lite' last December, a lighter version to make it even more accessible.

What's fascinating is the immense attention the game is getting from Indian players. Data from a report by internet service provider Jana, suggests that 91 per cent of Indian PUBG players play the game on smartphones, 73 per cent of the total respondents played it. The information was published in a Quartz article. As per reports, PUBG Mobile dominates Asia and is particularly popular in markets like India due to the scanty presence of PCs and consoles.

How did it come into being?

The game is an 'Online Battle Royale'.The Battle Royale style was made popular by Hollywood movie Hunger Games (2012) in which characters are left on an island and are supposed to kill others to be the last one alive.

'Battle Royale' first finds mention in a novel with the same title (Batoru Rowaiaru - 1999) by Japanese author Koushun Takami. The novel features a war experiment where fifty school students are kidnapped, dropped into a remote location and are forced to kill one another.

How is it played?

In PUBG, the player first builds the character - name, gender, skin tone, outfit etc. The game is played in three modes across four maps (game worlds) in varying environments (forest, arid desert, snow). It is played in both FPS (First Person Shooter - from the character's view) and TPS (Third Person Shooter - the character is visible on-screen). Players can choose to play solo or in teams of two, three or four. They can team up with friends or strangers while maintaining a steady conversation over voice-chat.

A Dummy's Guide to PUBG

A PUBG map
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The game starts with players being dropped off via aeroplane. Weapons, armour, weapon accessories, backpacks, first aid kits etc. are scattered across the game world and it requires a bit of exploring to gear up. Items can also be salvaged from collections of dead players. Players can use vehicles to travel across the game map and options range from jeeps to jet-skis and motorbikes with sidecars.

What makes it stand out?

Each game lasts for a little over 30 minutes (apart from quick games) and players who have been killed can start over in a new game. The gameplay is laced with twists - planes periodically fly by dropping special weapons, camouflage and armour and at times rain bombs down. A major twist in the game is that the zone of survival decreases every few minutes. Players outside the zone lose health points and ultimately die.

A Dummy's Guide to PUBG

A geared up player

Another in-game feature is reviving teammates. Players can get wounded, i.e. lose their ability to attack or use items while also losing a significant percentage of mobility, and get a second shot at survival if revived by teammate still alive. A team dies if all are knocked out at the same time and wins if it or one of its members is the last one alive.

Apart from the basic details, what makes the game immersive is the experience of sound, reality of weapons, usage of the environment, quick thinking and strategy. Players are grouped according to skill levels which enhance with experience.

As PUBG's creative director, Brendan Greene a.k.a. Player Unknown, puts it in an interview to US-based video game and entertainment media website IGN, the game isn't as much about eliminating another player as it is about surviving to be the last one standing.

Greene says that the game is the result of his vision of an ultimate Battle Royale game. He had earlier created games like Arma 2, DayZ Battle Royale, Arma 3 Battle Royale, and also played a role in developing games like H1Z1 King of the Kill.

What is PUBG's competition?

Fortnite: Battle Royale (PUBG's rival) from developer and publisher Epic Games, also claims to have 200 million downloads. While it is quite similar to PUBG, the major difference is the game's cartoonised graphics and characters. Fortnite has additional actions such as collecting resources, constructing buildings etc.

A Dummy's Guide to PUBG

Screengrab from a Fortnite gameplay
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Fortnite is downloaded from Epic's website and not app stores. Unlike PUBG, Fortnite supports cross-platform play, a player on a smartphone can compete with a player on a PC. As per reports, Fortnite: Battle Royale clocked $2.4 billion in revenue in 2018. Studies suggest Fortnite is more popular with children because of the graphics.

The PUBG buzz

Jargon such as "Winner, winner, chicken dinner!" (win slogan), "Snakes" (players who go prone and slither around waiting for an ambush) are a pop thing among players. The popularity has also given rise to themed pre-wedding photo-shoots, parties etc.

However, the game is criticised as being addictive with children. Parents expressed concerns about exposure to violence and bloodshed in the game. Reports say the NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights) issued a letter to state governments recommending its ban. Later, the Gujarat state government also issued a circular asking authorities to ensure a complete ban on the game. Also, latest reports say that an 18-year-old Mumbai boy allegedly committed suicide after his parents declined to buy him a costly smartphone to play PUBG.

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