Battle royale game Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is releasing its new, smaller Sanhok map on Friday, and with it will come a new type of subscription service that will feel awfully familiar to fans of Epic Games’ Fortnite. The Event Pass, as developer PUBG Corporation is calling it, will be a four-week, limited-time add-on you can purchase with real money in the vein of Fortnite’s Battle Pass.
The goal is to encourage players to log in every day, complete challenges on a daily and weekly timescale, and level up as they would in, say, a traditional role-playing game. By leveling up, you’ll unlock exclusive rewards that can only be earned through the Event Pass, and not purchased via the in-game store. The same is true of Fortnite’s Battle Pass, which costs $10 for a three-month season and includes a 100-level system and rewards for each tier that you can’t buy with real money.
PUBG’s Event Pass differs in some key ways. Unlike the Battle Pass, which lasts for the length of a real-world season, the Event Pass will last only four weeks. PUBG Corporation is tying the first Event Pass to the launch of Sanhok, explaining that it includes “an item set that fits the map Sanhok thematically.” There will also be Sanhok-specific missions for players to compete for rewards, to encourage people to play on the new map and not fall back on the two existing ones.
From a business model standpoint, it’s clear the makers of PUBG are acknowledging that Epic’s approach with Fortnite is not only the superior way to earn revenue, but that such an approach may be critical for a battle royale game’s long-term survival. The developer explains its reasoning in a lengthy blog post that detailed all the different monetization approaches it’s tried so far with PUBG.
“To start, we tried to establish a cosmetic market based on scarcity by introducing crate and key system,” reads the post. “However, to make certain items really rare and valuable, we’ve had to regulate the supply of items, making high tier items very rare. As a result, many of you can’t get the items you want instantly, and even though you’ve invested more money into the system, it can be pretty difficult to get the items you want.” The developer also said that it considered doing paid downloadable content like traditional console shooters, but that it “came to understand that this method has some critical drawbacks.”
It seems that PUBG Corporation, after exhausting other options and considering more traditional approaches, is turning to Epic’s admittedly more innovative subscription model. It’s a telling turn of events, considering what Fortnite became last year when it copied much of the design of PUBG, and now PUBG is turning to features that Epic Games pioneered.
Yet it’s understandable: Epic made nearly $300 million in the month of April solely on Battle Pass revenue and in-app purchases of skins, emotes, and other cosmetic items. Last week, during its massive Pro-Am tournament at the E3 expo in LA, Epic also announced that it now has 125 million players. Clearly, the developer has discovered a successful approach to the battle royale genre, one that relies on in-app purchases and a subscription model that funnels more players into its ecosystem and incentivizes them to play the game more daily.
There may also be another reason why PUBG is pushing its new Event Pass and a model that mirrors Epic’s. Yesterday, PUBG Corporation announced that it now has 400 million players worldwide, and a vast majority of them are playing on mobile, and likely a sizable amount of that audience is playing in China. (Fortnite is not yet available on Android, nor or is it out in China yet.) The Asian mobile market is far more accustomed to microtransactions and paying for in-app purchases on mobile.
So the future of PUBG is likely as a mobile, free-to-play title — and not as a paid PC game distributed on Steam — that uses monetization strategies pioneered by Epic with Fortnite. It’s taken PUBG Corporation a while to get here, but the modified approach is likely to keep the game healthier and more lucrative for quite a long time.