Whether people want to admit it or not, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is one of the most influential and important games of all time. Releasing at a time when Call of Duty was kind of sleepwalking along each year and Battle Royale was just a cool Japanese movie, PUBG really changed the game in more ways than one. But how many people still play PUBG in 2021?
Though not the first game of its type, PUBG really took the ball that the likes of H1Z1 had so emphatically dropped and ran with it, smashing records everywhere you looked. Players dropped into a gigantic map with just the one life, ratcheting up the tension as they scavenged for weapons with the circle closing in. It was like video game amphetamine for millions at the time of launch, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see how much it was emulated with many battle royale games springing up in no time at all.
While PUBG isn’t in the public eye quite as clearly as it once was, it’ms still undeniably a massive game — anyone claiming it’s a “dead game” is way, way off the mark. In fact, PUBG remains one of the most popular games in the world today, and will be so for many years to come.
Here’s everything you need to know about the current popularity of PUBG in terms of concurrent players and Twitch presence, and what its future holds.
PUBG Active Player Figures: On the Decline?
When looking at the declining player figures of PUBG, you have to do so in the right context. No game has ever really matched PUBG at its absolute peak in terms of playerbase, at least in numbers that can be tracked thanks to Steam, so a decline is almost inevitable.
At its absolute zenith, PUBG hit player numbers that may never be reached by any game ever again. In its first year of release, PUBG reached a frankly staggering 3,236,027 concurrent players on Oct 10th, 2017. For comparison, CS:GO, currently the most popular game on Steam that’s also available free to everyone, has only ever managed a peak of 1,305,714 players. Even when Steam itself had more concurrent players than ever in 2020, no game has been able to match PUBG.
The video below shows the most popular games on Steam up until the end of 2019, in which PUBG surges to the top of the charts before fading away.
No game will ever be able to maintain that kind of initial momentum, and that much is certainly true of PUBG. However, any game that is consistently in the top 10 most played games charts on Steam can hardly be qualified as a dead game. PUBG is still going incredibly strong.
In March 2021, PUBG reached a peak of 464,480 players with 193,114 players on average. Those player figures were enough to keep PUBG in the top 3 most played games throughout the whole of 2020. On paper, it’s a pretty big drop overall, but again: it’s all about context.
PUBG actually wouldn’t drop below two million peak players until June 2018, then under a million in November. Despite picking up in December 2018 and January 2019, PUBG would continue to trend downwards, but still in higher numbers than most games ever. October 2020 represented the lowest point for the game since June 2017 in terms of peak players, but any game that can average nearly 200,000 players can never be sniffed at. Whenever people count PUBG out, it tends to smash records.
While the death of PUBG Lite (a less intensive version of PUBG for lower end machines) might have sent people into a panic, the PUBG brand is really as strong as ever, and that’s largely down to its mobile counterpart.
PUBG Mobile is the second most popular mobile game in the US as of April 2021, and has raked in a quite astonishing $5.1 billion in just over three years. To put that into context, GTA V had generated $6 billion as of 2018, but it had been out for five years at that point and re-released on multiple platforms. PUBG Mobile has also been downloaded 1 billion times since launch and while a lot of that is almost certainly down to people getting new phones fairly often, it’s not something to baulk at.
Really, if you’re talking about PUBG at all these days, you might need to start talking about PUBG Mobile by default as that’s just about the biggest game there is. When you combine PUBG Mobile with Steam and also its still fairly popular console versions, there’s no doubting the power of the franchise.
PUBG On Twitch & YouTube
Just like Steam, games tend to dip in and out of popularity on Twitch very hard — who remembers Hyper Scape being everywhere one day and then nowhere the next? Better yet, who remembers Hyper Scape, like, at all?
With that in mind, Twitch doesn’t seem like a popular spot for PUBG fans these days. Compared to the 597,663 peak viewers the game had in July 2018, March 2021 had a peak of “just” 153,000 viewers. That’s a pretty steep decline that’s probably down to the likes of Shroud no longer playing the game, but PUBG still resides in the top 30 most watched games on Twitch regardless.
However, it’s also worth noting that Twitch really isn’t the main place that fans consume their PUBG content these days. PUBG Mobile was the fifth most streamed game of 2020 on YouTube, and while its PC version might not be anywhere near as impressive, it’s still carving a nice little space for itself.
So, while PUBG’s “traditional” version isn’t all the rage on streaming and content platforms these days, the PUBG brand is (again) incredibly strong and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
The Future of PUBG
It’s pretty hard to argue against PUBG as the game it first launched as being a bit on the decline. Its player figures aren’t quite what they were, but it still boasts hundreds of thousands of players on Steam at pretty much any given time. To reiterate a bit of a tired point: PUBG is nowhere close to being a dead game.
In terms of PUBG as a franchise, though: it’s thriving. PUBG Mobile is likely to claim a few more billion dollars over the coming years and is sure to be seen all over YouTube and elsewhere for a long-time yet. Even if the PC market goes off the game completely (which is unlikely, considering they’re still pumping out content for it and keeping things fresh), PUBG Corp will likely have PUBG Mobile as their main breadwinner for a long time yet. They’re even releasing a futuristic spin-off called New State simply because they can, which already has 10 million people eager to play it.
And in the unlikely event that PUBG does die completely, there’s always the sequel. They’re hard at work on PUBG 2, which is slated to release in 2022 for PC and consoles. While it’s hard to imagine that it will ever reach the crazy peak that the original game did, any follow-up is bound to bring lapsed players back aboard.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that PUBG Corp are building a PUBG universe, presumably with the aim of looking beyond battle royale, itself perhaps not the fresh new thing it once was. The Calisto Protocol is a survival horror game from the mind behind the sublime Dead Space that’s set hundreds of years after the events of PUBG, due for launch sometime in 2022. If that’s a success, you can bet that more games in the PUBG universe will be bankrolled in the future.
However, there’s one thing that’s standing in PUBG’s way more than anything: Garena Free Fire. Whereas before PUBG vs Fortnite was the battle on everyone’s lips, it should now really be PUBG vs Free Fire as the latter overtook it to become the most popular mobile game in the US, and is also beating it in terms of viewership on places like YouTube. For whatever reason, Free Fire isn’t known as globally as others, but it makes an absolute killing in the Asian markets. How PUBG can topple it remains to be seen, but considering it’s a franchise that has now gone through more than its fair share of battles over the years, never count it out.
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