June 22, 2021
Hello and welcome to Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games. This week: How PUBG became one of the unlikeliest success stories in gaming, exclusivity is still a sore spot for some players in the aftermath of E3, and an experimental Pokémon game is coming to Switch soon.
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One of the biggest surprise success stories in the game industry has been PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, or PUBG, as it's better known. The game was released on PC in early access back in 2017 as part of a unique partnership between British game mod designer Brendan Greene and South Korean game maker Bluehole. It was an instant sensation. And last week, parent company Krafton filed to go public in what is likely to be South Korea's largest-ever IPO. But the road hasn't been an easy one.
PUBG helped kickstart the mainstream battle royale trend, with its large player count and shrinking circle. It was a revelation for gamers used to shooting games relying on quick reflexes and the steady feedback loop of play-die-respawn. In PUBG, if you perished, you were out of the competition for good.
PUBG didn't fade into obscurity after Fortnite. Instead, Bluehole released a mobile version of the game in 2018, developed by Tencent's Lightspeed & Quantum Studio, and it quickly grew into one of the most successful mobile games in the world and the pillar of the PUBG brand.
PUBG is now evolving into a vast entertainment property, and whether the game can be successful as a broader franchise will determine the scope of Krafton's upcoming IPO. At the higher end, the company could be valued at more than $25 billion.
The success of PUBG is a stark reminder that the gaming industry now includes so much more than what gets shown at E3 or what big character-driven franchises are used to market game consoles. But more than anything, PUBG is a testament to the power of mobile, and the ways in which easier access to higher-quality games on smartphones is both the single biggest driver in industry growth and a viable path for early-access indie games to transform into worldwide phenomenons.
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The Pokémon universe has mostly dabbled in turn-based role-playing territory, with some offshoots like puzzle games, dungeon crawlers and a photography series. But next month marks the launch of Pokémon Unite, a new 5v5 strategy game modeled after the multiplayer online battle arena genre popularized by League of Legends and other titles.
The game will be free to play and a Switch exclusive, before a wider release on mobile phones in September. It's an interesting gamble from The Pokémon Company, but Pokémon Unite could make the infamously arcane MOBA, one of the most popular esports genres, more accessible to a younger mainstream audience.
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