It’s no secret that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is kind of a huge deal. The game kicked up a storm when it first released back in March 2017 on Steam, and it has continued to pick up, well… steam, ever since. During this year’s E3, Microsoft revealed that PUBG (that’s what players have taken to calling it for short) would be making its console debut on Xbox One.
It’s also no secret that the Xbox One has a fairly lackluster lineup of exclusives scheduled for this year. You needn’t look any further than Crackdown 3 for validation of that. Regardless of their accuracy, early criticisms have painted that game as a mediocre cash-in on a much-loved touchstone of the Xbox 360 era. Forza Motorsport 7 is looked at much more favorably, but racing games play to a niche audience by comparison.
When you also consider that the Xbox One X is coming this November, the landscape for the fall starts to look pretty desolate. Fortunately for Microsoft, they managed to lock down an exclusivity deal for PUBG—even if the arrangement is only temporary. After all, Destiny’s exclusive bonuses for the PS4 is evidence that such deals can have an impact on which system consumers roll with.
That’s why securing a wildly popular game like PUBG for any stretch of time is so critical. The game is such a mega hit, in fact, that I believe it is the biggest thing Xbox has going for it this year. I’m confident enough in the game’s appeal that I feel like it could be a turning point for Microsoft. If anything, in the short term at least, the game might be a valid enough excuse for hardcore players to upgrade to the Xbox One X.
Mostly, that’s because PUBG takes a beast of a PC to run well. It’s not that the graphics are so demanding—though, it has its moments—it’s that the game brings with it a considerable degree of jank. Reports about the game’s performance are all over the map, but the gist is that getting it to run smoothly on even high-end PCs can be an exercise in frustration.
Similarly, the team behind the game, Bluehole, faces some challenges reaching target performance on the Xbox One X. Reportedly, they’ve managed to run full 100 player sessions behind the scenes. In order to pull that off, a sacrifice needs to be made. In this case, the game will reportedly only run at 30fps under those conditions. Framerates can be a sticking point for hardcore gamers, which is a problem since they’re the ones who the Xbox One X is aimed at.
Nevertheless, PUBG is smashing it up on PC. It was recently revealed that the game has sold over 5 million copies since it launched, and is showing no signs of slowing. The opposite is more likely, actually. The game now even has the fourth highest peak player count recorded on Steam; trumped only by Fallout 4, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Dota 2.
The basics of the game boil down to a simple battle royale formula. The goal is to be the last player standing. It’s up to you whether to actively engage other players, or hunker down in a building, waiting for others to do the dirty work for you. Lobbies are comprised of up to 99 players. The twist is that the playable area of the map will shrink throughout the match.
An electrified energy field referred to as the “Blue Wall of Death” continuously constricts around players, forcing them into combat as they get squeezed together. The equipment situation is POS (Procure on Site), meaning that you begin each match without any gear. When the session launches, you will spawn in an airplane which is flying over an island. At this point, you can choose to jump from the plane whenever you wish.
The aim is to position yourself in an ideal location to begin scavenging for weapons, ammo, modifications, and tactical attire while simultaneously avoiding other players until you’re ready to engage them. Similarly, vehicles are dotted throughout the map to enable quick traversal, but they also draw attention to you. If you get killed, that’s it. You’re out of the match.
Matches can be super intense, but nabbing yourself a Chicken Dinner (that’s what taking first place is called) can be tremendously exciting. At this point, more and more console players are hearing about PUBG because streamers can’t stop raving about it. Provided the game doesn’t get pushed into next year, it might be wise for Microsoft to reposition their marketing for the Xbox One X to drive attention to what the console can do for PUBG.
From my perspective, Microsoft is hurting at the moment. They’re losing ground in terms of mind share. (That’s industry jargon that refers to the degree to which consumers are aware of a product.) The more people talk about a game, the more people become aware of it. There’s just too little of that happening for the Xbox brand right now. That’s a shame since the company is responsible for some of my favorite games of all time.
We’re in uncharted waters here, really. Without a considerable amount of support from third party developers to make up for it, a lack of exclusives for a “mid-cycle refresh,” such as the Xbox One X, could spell doom for the console before it ever launches. The company spent over $100 million designing the Xbox One controller before the system launched back in 2013. Throwing that kind of money around can only last so long if players are losing interest.
In the long term (but hopefully sooner), Microsoft is going to need to hit us with some major new exclusives which are actually exclusive. In the meantime, PUBG could help to right the ship. I realize that’s a lot of responsibility to throw on one title. Especially when you take into account that the game isn’t likely to remain an exclusive for long. Still, there’s a window there; a chance for Microsoft to pounce on the opportunity to turn things around.