PUBG is struggling. Is it time to finally go free-to-play?
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) has taken a significant fall from grace. Once the king of battle royales, PUBG is now just another fish in the pond. While still a household name, PUBG has been forced to compete with the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Warzone. These free-to-play battle royales have bit by bit drained PUBG of its once-massive fanbase. With all that said, is it time for PUBG to join their rivals and the free-to-play model?
What’s Wrong With PUBG?
One of PUBG’s most requested features was a ranked mode. Now that it is here, players are still not satisfied. Reason being, the mode falls short in a few areas.
To start, ranked mode is plagued with cheaters. Sure, cheating has been around in PUBG since its infancy. However, it was never game-breaking. With ranked, cheaters now have a true incentive to win, and in turn, cheat. The addition of exclusive ranked rewards means that players are willing to go to great lengths to obtain them. Even if that means robbing other players of their enjoyment through cheating.
Professional PUBG player, TSM BreaK, claimed that out of the 10 ranked games he played, six of them had at least one full team of cheaters. While this is one small sample size, the majority of the community seems to share the same consensus; cheaters have taken over ranked mode.
The other problem with ranked mode is its lack of a true ELO/MMR based matchmaking system. Ideally, a ranked mode should match players against others of similar skill. Unfortunately, PUBG’s ranked mode does not seem to work that way.
There are a few reasons for this. In general, battle royales have a tough time filling up ranked lobbies. Each ranked game of PUBG typically requires 64 players to start. This far exceeds the 8-12 players found in arena shooter lobbies. Even Fortnite, the most popular game in the world, struggles to fill their arena lobbies at times. On top of that, ranked playlists are always less populated than the standard playlists.
Considering these factors, PUBG does not always have a significant player pool to pick and choose from. Filling a match with 64 players of equal skill could take upwards of an hour during off-peak times. As a result, players have found themselves facing off against players far outside of their skill bracket. Silver players have reported encountering top 500 Master players in their lobbies.
AI opponents — or bots — have been added to PUBG mobile, console and PC. Bots have always been a factor in the mobile version and to no complaints. However, the addition of bots to console and PC is fresh.
These bots have created quite the stir in the community. Most players simply do not have fun beating up on these fake players. The immersion, thrill and general PUBG “feel” of the game are all impacted by the presence of bots. And it's not just a few bots either. Players have described finding 80-95 bots in their games. At the least, there are usually 20.
Every one of these issues can be solved by increasing the total player count, AKA, going free-to-play.
The reason ranked mode can’t have a dedicated ELO system is because there simply are not enough active players to do so. If PUBG were to go free-to-play, there would be a huge influx of new players. Increasing the player pool will allow the developers to sort matches by skill much quicker and easier. Additionally, a larger playerbase will drown out the cheaters. More real players means there is less of a chance of encountering cheaters. No more running into the same cheater multiple games in a row.
The goal of bots in PUBG is to “provide more ways for players to hone their skills and be able to fully enjoy what PUBG has to offer.” The developers believe the general skill level of the game’s players has evolved so much that it is negatively impacting the game for new players. So, they created bots. Also, bots keep queue times down.
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Once again, the problems these bots aim to solve could also be solved by going free-to-play. With tons of new people trying out the game, there will be no need for bots. The new players can “hone their skills” on one another. Lobbies will be much more casual.
Last but not least, free-to-play will give PUBG a new lease on life. PUBG has been largely forgotten in the modern-day craze of battle royales. Newer games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone have overshadowed it. As things stand, PUBG will never return to its glory days.
Going free-to-play is the only chance PUBG has of returning to its former glory. All of the successful battle royale games are free-to-play. Almost no one wants to pay money for PUBG when they can play Fortnite, Apex and Warzone for free. Charging money for PUBG worked when the competition was slim, but it is no longer working. Free-to-play gives PUBG a real shot of competing with the new-age battle royales. And it's not like there is no money to be made in a free-to-play model. Fortnite reportedly brings in up to $100M USD a month.
As it turns out, PUBG developers may already be pondering over this idea. PUBG will be participating in a free-to-play weekend from June 4-8. Anyone can download the game and try it out completely free. Perhaps this is the developer’s way of testing the waters and obtaining crucial data?
It will be interesting to see if this free-to-play weekend leads to long-term change or if it is simply a one-time promotional strategy. There is a lot to be gained in PUBG going free-to-play — and it's time the developers realize it. No one wants to play unfair ranked matches or standard matches filled with bots. Take away the bots and open the floodgates to free-to-play.
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Images via PUBG Corporation