Hey there! If you‘re wondering why PUBG (PlayerUnknown‘s Battlegrounds) switched from a paid PC game to free-to-play in early 2022, you‘re in the right place. As someone who has played PUBG since its launch, I was also curious why PUBG Corporation decided to make this major change. In this post, we‘ll take a close look at PUBG‘s origins, its rise to popularity, the reasons for going free-to-play, and what impact this shift has had on the game we love. Let‘s get started!
PUBG‘s Launch and Early Success as a Paid PC Title
It‘s easy to forget now, but PUBG really kicked off and revolutionized the battle royale genre as we know it today.
Way back in March 2017, this previously unknown game called PUBG entered Steam‘s early access program. It was created by Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene and pioneered the exciting battle royale format of 100 players skydiving onto an island and scavenging for weapons to be the last survivor.
Within just a few months, PUBG had sold over 5 million copies and had broken Steam‘s records for most concurrent players at the time. People were hooked on its realistic art style and gunplay. By Q4 2017, PUBG had moved over 20 million copies on PC alone and had jaw-dropping peaks of over 1 million players online at once.
At this point, PUBG Corporation decided to really cash in on PUBG‘s runaway success by expanding to Xbox, PlayStation, and mobile. But throughout this entire rise, PUBG remained a paid game, costing $29.99 on PC.
Here‘s a quick look at PUBG‘s meteoric growth in its first couple years as a paid title:
|PUBG early access launch on PC
|10 million copies sold
|1 million concurrent players
|400 million total players between all platforms
PUBG became an international phenomenon as the most-played and highest-grossing game in the world by late 2017. But this meteoric rise wouldn‘t last forever.
Why Did PUBG Go Free-to-Play?
Given PUBG‘s immense initial success as a paid game, why did PUBG Corporation decide to transition to a free-to-play model in 2022? There were a few key factors driving this major change.
1. Increased Competition
One of the biggest reasons was the increasing level of competition PUBG faced in the battle royale market. When PUBG launched in 2017, it was basically the only big battle royale option out there. But by 2019, competitors like Fortnite and Apex Legends had emerged as free-to-play alternatives that were eating into PUBG‘s market share.
Especially once Fortnite went free in 2018, PUBG struggled to convince new players to buy the game when other great (and free) options existed. PUBG had to think about ditching its upfront cost just to remain competitive.
2. Declining Player Base
With all these new battle royale rivals, PUBG‘s once-massive player base began declining after peaking in late 2017/early 2018. According to industry analysis firm G-Loot, PUBG‘s monthly active users dropped from a height of 450 million in 2018 down to around just 50 million in 2021.
That‘s a staggering 90% drop in the player base in just 3 years. PUBG Corp knew something had to change to retain players and attract new ones.
3. Fading Popularity
In line with the reduced player count, PUBG‘s popularity and relevance were fading as new games like Apex Legends took over the spotlight. After dominating on Twitch and YouTube for years, new trends were pushing PUBG out of the conversation.
As streamers like Ninja and DrDisrespect moved on to other games, PUBG was ready for a reboot to remain relevant.
4. Monetization Potential
Finally, PUBG Corp realized that a free-to-play model offered much more monetization potential than the paid approach. Other F2P games were raking in cash from in-game purchases.
Rather than relying on new game sales, PUBG could keep players hooked and continuously spending on battle passes, skins, and cosmetics after removing the upfront pay wall.
How Did PUBG Become Free-to-Play?
By late 2021, PUBG was ready to make the shift. PUBG first announced its plan to adopt a free-to-play model in November 2021. Then on January 12, 2022, PUBG: Battlegrounds officially went free-to-play on PC and consoles.
The transition rolled out smoothly:
- Existing paid players were given new "Battlegrounds Plus" status with added benefits.
- Free players have access to core PUBG modes and can unlock cosmetics or battle pass perks.
- Monetization now centers on in-game cosmetics and the Plus membership model.
- New players aren‘t segregated – they play in matches with paid veterans.
- PUBG was removed from Xbox Game Pass once going free since non-subscribers could play.
Interestingly, PUBG Mobile has remained a paid app even after the PC version went free. Mobile brought in over $7 billion revenue by 2021, so PUBG Corp didn‘t want to mess with that successful model. PC has always just been the smaller niche compared to PUBG Mobile‘s wild popularity, especially in Asia.
PUBG‘s Player Count and Revenue After Going Free
So did going free-to-play pay off for PUBG? Did it accomplish the goal of bringing back old players and attracting new fans? Let‘s look at some of the measurable impacts:
Player Count Increase
PUBG instantly saw a huge spike in players right after transitioning to free in January 2022 – over 622,000 concurrent players logged on during its peak that month, the most since 2018.
PUBG has retained an average of over 400,000 concurrent players per month since going free, a major improvement from under 150k before.
By giving lapsed and new players easy access, PUBG successfully reignited interest in the game.
|Peak Concurrent Players on Steam
|December 2021 (pre-free)
|January 2022 (free launch)
After going free-to-play, PUBG‘s in-game spending on items like skins and passes skyrocketed. Players were actually spending more freely when they didn‘t have to pay just to access the game.
PUBG Corp‘s revenue from PC and consoles increased 46% year-over-year in 2022‘s first quarter compared to 2021‘s Q1.
Player retention has also improved thanks to the new progression and achievement systems added to the free version.
While the increase in cheaters and banned players created issues, PUBG‘s player base and revenue goals were clearly achieved by moving to a F2P model on PC.
The Future of PUBG After Going Free-to-Play
After over 5 years on the market, the shift to free in 2022 has given PUBG a new lease on life. But what does the future look like for PUBG now that it has embraced the freemium model?
There are still challenges ahead. Battle royale fatigue is setting in among players who now have their pick of options like Fortnite, Warzone, Apex Legends, and now Tarkov. As new trends arise, PUBG needs continued innovation to retain players‘ interest and stand out again.
However, with the revamped progression system and frequent collaborations like Assassin‘s Creed, PUBG seems willing to adapt rather than fade away now that it has gone free-to-play. The PC and console player base is the healthiest it has been in years. Many lapsed fans have given PUBG a second try after leaving earlier.
While PUBG Mobile still overshadows the main PC game, PUBG moving to a free-to-play model has given the title new relevance and reinvigorated things just when it seemed to be stagnating. After over 5 years, PUBG continues to show it‘s far from "dead game" status.
So that‘s the inside scoop on why and how PUBG went free-to-play on PC! Let me know if you have any other PUBG topics you‘d like me to cover in detail. I‘m happy to provide insight into this game we both love. Cheers!