These PUBG numbers aren’t pretty

I’ve checked the Steam Charts player count data and it isn’t rosy for PUBG:


Now, let’s have perspective: the red bars are the second biggest Steam game, so PUBG is still a huge king of the hill. But if I was an investor, I’d be happier about my DOTA2 papers than my PUBG. This rapid rise with rapid descent is the shape of “buy once, consume content and go away” games, not long-lasting massive online games. This can have two reasons.

One is that PUBG is a buy-to-play game with no subscription and very little reason to spend on cosmetics. On first person shoot view, you don’t even see your cosmetics. People found it so much of a distraction that cosmetic loot drops were removed from the game world. Maybe this is the natural way of things, maybe the devs never meant it to last. After all, a lasting online game must have some form of constant revenue from players, either as subscription or frequent cash shop buys. If they didn’t have either, the plan could simply be: buy the game, have some fun, put it on the shelf. Many things support this idea, like the little care for game-ruining bugs (flying bikes) and rampart hacks. There is also little permanence: while there is a toplist, there are no rewards to make people care for it. So they play for fun, which has the problem that after you jumped School thousand times, it simply stops being fun.

The other possibility is that the game was meant to last and they are screwing it up. This possibility is supported by PvP nature (people play PvP games for decades, since every battle is different and they want to improve) and that they made huge efforts to make streamers feel welcome, which has no point if you don’t want to be around a few years down the road.

Let’s assume the second and see what’s the problem. Not that the game is somehow “bad”. The game was worse few months and fixes ago at the peak. The problem is that the focus should be creating permanence instead of creating a “better” game. A “better” game might have more buyers but they will quit soon. If you want your game to stay for years, you shouldn’t ask “what would make the game better”, but “what would make the guy who liked it and played 500 battles log in for the 501th”.

Why would someone do it, when he already experienced every type of content? If you’d ask a Starcraft player, he’d answer “to win”. This is the ultimate drive of PvP games. So devs should focus on making people want to win. That means some kind of reward, preferably some form of power. Like if you finish in top half in last season, you can pick a power perk (like +10% damage, +10% HP, jumping with a pistol and one clip, jumping with your favorite gun but no ammo, … ). If you finish in top 10%, you can pick 2, for top 1% 3, for top 0.1% 4. You’d also get some icon next to your name in the kill feed. This would motivate the players to try to actually win instead of just jumping School.

Oh, they might as well figure out how to get money constantly, like a $10 ranked pass. You can play quick games (jumping school) for free, but if you want to get ranked and get the rewards, you need to pony up a few bucks every 2 months. It’s not much to ask.

Author: Gevlon

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14 thoughts on “These PUBG numbers aren’t pretty”

  1. In my mind, PUBG is a “lightning in a bottle” phenomenon and the creators are not displaying the ability to follow it up properly.
    A common story of the one who invented the format being unable to do the format justice and getting overtaken by competition.


  2. So in November-December of this year, PUBG won’t have any players? Before reaching this conclusion, extra data on DOTA2 might be needed. It is quite possible that DOTA2 exhibited similar tendencies – quick popularity rise followed by slower decline leading to stabilization of the number of players.


  3. @Maxim: so you mean Fortnite is killing it? Because I tried that game and put it down in disgust after a few games

    @retsep: possible that it’ll have 1/10 of its peak by the end of the year. DOTA2 Steam charts data is there for all of its life: constant growth for 4 years, then slow decline in the last 2. Barely visible month-to-month changes


  4. @Gevlon
    I didn’t like Fortnite, either. The whole battle royale thing isn’t my thing.
    It does seem to be doing better, though (at least based on people whose opinion i trust on this. Didn’t look at numbers).


  5. People are moving from PUBG to Fortnite. It’s free and people like it more. I think it’s because this game is intended to play as a simple shooter. Most people play PUBG as a shooter anyway so they have found that Fortnite is much better in that aspect.


  6. Your solutions for rewards would break the fragile ecosystem of BR games. You can’t reward top players with additional advantages. That’s like rewarding Diamond League players with an extra starting level or 500g. Your mind is in the right place that people need incentives to rank up and improve, but it can’t be material to the game itself. Emotes, skins, or even access to special game modes would work. Here’s one: let top 1% players have access to host custom games. Boom, solved.


  7. Fortnite overtook PUBG in March, at a minimum, according to this Forbes article. There are endless news stories over here in the States concerning Fortnite being the game “all (school) kids are playing these days.” It’s basically becoming Minecraft, culturally.


  8. @vv: it makes no sense. Sure, someone who didn’t play either can pick up the free Fortnite easier, but someone who already bought PUBG has no such reason.

    @LazyE: yes, I see no problem with LoL starting +500G for diamonds, because they play against other diamonds anyway.

    @Azuriel: I understand that kids love Fortnite, but the traditional FPS player is young adult male and not kids


  9. Gevlon, if everyone starts with an extra 500G, then nothing is different. It becomes a meaningless power bump unless it’s a power bump relative to the players I am matched against by ELO. And if you have different reward choices, a meta will emerge as always.

    It’s far better to have the carrots be things that don’t affect core mechanics. Unless of course the goal becomes to have high-level games essentially be a different game entirely. This maybe a workable way to do what you mention but people already see high-level PUBG as a different game, with different circle rules in tournaments, etc. As described, your idea will further fragment an already dissolving community.


  10. @Gevlon

    The “traditional” FPS player loves pwning noobs in whatever game is popular. PUBG is still popular, but Fortnite currently has the FPS zeitgeist, and I think you’re going to continue seeing PUBG decline in tandem with Fortnite’s ascent regardless of whether one is technically better designed than the other. Plus, you know, Fortnite is F2P so it will always be able to increase in numbers.

    In any case, I don’t think your proposed power rewards would have the intended effect. Counter-Strike is the de facto skill-focused FPS baseline and doesn’t reward the players anything, unless you count getting slightly more cash in-between rounds. The skillful people running around with +10% HP or whatever don’t need it to maintain their rank, and everyone below them that die will point out how unfair it was that they had that extra power. And they could very well be right – there will be scenarios in which the margin was decided by last season’s buffs, and what fun is that? The bottom of the ladder will hollow out and go play a more “fair” game.


  11. your idea of power rewards to reward winning has a problem: only 50% of people win. The other 50% lose and losing isn’t fun espec when it is specifically NOT rewarded. So the losers stop playing. Round 2, half the former winners become losers and stop playing because losing and not getting the rewards isn’t fun. et al and so it goes. This is why all long standing games half a policy of rewarding players regardless of winning or losing. Ie wow giving honor. This then raises the problem of afkers and bots. It also makes the optimal path of leveling in world of tanks driving straight into the middle of the enemy team at the start of the match then jumping back into the garage and grabbing another tank to repeat the expeirence. Is that fun? no. Is it optimal for rewards? yes.

    The entirey of whats wrong with online pvp gaming can be summed up with the phrase “people are lazy and will look for every shortcut”. Or ofc “people are smart and will develop the path of least resistance/most efficiency” depending on how you want to look at it.

    Either way your idea has been disproven to be effective by the experience of the gaming development community over the last 20 years. Cos people dont play games if they get nothing when they lose.


  12. You didnt think this through Gevlon, I agree with LazyE. If you give people advantage then you made it harder for non-diamond players to get the rank. No sane competitive player would play such game.


  13. @Peter, LazyE, Azuriel: these are TEAM games. Ergo, the matchmaker can make sure that both teams have equal starting gold. Still, the diamond player has an advantage over his lane opponent.

    @Nightgerbil: losers can get some crap reward of course, just not the best ones


  14. “I understand that kids love Fortnite, but the traditional FPS player is young adult male and not kids”

    You found out yourself that people do not like to play PUBG “the right way”, which is trying to survive. They just jump to the hotspots for fun. Fortnite offers just that, which is why you hated it and the majority of people like it. The F2P model helps a lot in bringing in new players (kids especially), but current PUBG “school jumpers” are switching because (a) the opportunity cost to do so is zero and (b) the game specifically caters to their playstyle.


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