The essential PUBG experience of dropping into a classic battleground with friends, surviving, and dominating the map, has taken on new meaning with the stat tracking and rewards of Ranked Mode magnifying every strategic and tactical decision. A standardized way for veteran players to measure themselves against each other has already turned up the competition on PC and console.
As PUBG’s Ranked Mode begins to test elite and near-elite players alike, the Ranked Mode development team at PUBG’s New York studio is ready to share a little bit about how the new mode came about and what we might see in the near future.
The Q&A with game designers JinHa Hwang and Maynard Price that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
PUBG North America: How did Ranked Mode go from an experiment in PUBG Labs to a full game feature?
Maynard Price: So, that’s an interesting thing. We didn’t run the Skill Based Rating tests in PUBG Labs and then decide we were going to launch Ranked Mode. We started working on the plans for Ranked and then committed to launching it maybe a year-and-a-half ago. And in the process of building this system we realized that our test server, and other ways of gathering data, were just not going to cut it. We created the entire Labs mode concept almost purely in order to test Ranked Mode. And it just so happened to become a neat testing feature that other teams can now leverage to test their own things. We didn’t create Ranked Mode as a Labs test. It was sort of the other way around.
PUBG: What compelling data did you get out of the Labs process that influenced the final Ranked Mode?
JinHa Hwang: One of the things that we wanted to find out was, just in general, how many people were interested in the concept of a Ranked Mode? There was this internal discussion of whether or not PUBG was the right type of game that would even need a ranked mode. PUBG in itself is so competitive in its nature and Ranked Mode is an even more competitive version of that. One of the key points of Labs was the opt-in feature. We were able to confirm that a high number of people were actually interested in Ranked Mode due to how many players opted-in.
PUBG: What all goes into calculating a player’s RP from game to game?
MP: It’s just the three things: there’s placement, there’s kills, and there’s assists. Kills and assists are worth the same. Whoever actually gets the knock, of course, will get the kill in that situation. That’s normal. However as long as your teammate who was also shooting them did like X damage within Y seconds of them dying, he gets an assist. If you knock a guy and your teammate finishes them off, he gets an assist. One person is going to get a kill and one’s going to get an assist, but since they are worth the same there’s no worry about competing with your own team for points.
JH: Sentiment is key. Ultimately good balance doesn’t mean anything if the experience doesn’t feel good to the player. We call this “sentiment balancing.” You have to take sentiment balancing into account when tuning the actual numbers. We say “the current condition for assists is X amount of damage over Y seconds before this person dies” then we look at player sentiment and we see how that feels. Ultimately that’s what’s important. We’re trying to make that system feel intuitive and satisfying for the player.
PUBG: The formula and rationale for RP seems straightforward enough, but how does rank decay work?
MP: It’s one of these things where it doubles as abuse prevention. So you can’t be like “I had a couple of lucky games. I’m just going to sit here on my unreasonably high place on the leaderboard for the rest of the season.” Having this mechanic is standard in many rank systems and solves a common issue that arises where players are afraid to play games once they reach a high rank. Because sitting on the leaderboard without playing is not an option, it no longer feels like you’re making a mistake to keep playing and risking your points. You have to keep playing if you want to keep your rank up.
PUBG: How will final ranks in a season impact my initial rankings in the next season?
MP: The reason that everyone has to grind up from nothing in their first season is because the system has no data on them to start with. We don’t know where you actually are skillswise in the context of this initial season of Ranked Mode. But that’s not the case when you enter into a new season of Ranked after having played in a previous season.
So a very simplified way of thinking about this is: say you have the assumed starting place of Silver-5 or something, and then you actually end the season at like Platinum. But the next season, you haven’t proven that you’re still a Platinum player because the new season could have weapon balance changes. It could have different maps. You might have team placements now instead of solo. The whole environment could be different.
So we want to give you some credit. Like, you did earn a high rank last season, but you can’t get full credit because we don’t know how much it applies. We don’t know if you took two months off and your skills are rusty. You’ve got to prove yourself again. So we take some midway point between the average player’s ranking and the one you held in the previous season. Say the average is Silver-5 and your final rank was Platinum-5. Okay so we’re going to put you in placement matches again, but the rank you will earn at the end of your placements will be biased in the direction of your previous rank. It’s sort of like having partial credit with the opportunity to make up the rest of your previous rank over time.
PUBG: The game is heavily geared around seasonal activities and rewards. Fitting Ranked Mode into the same structure with its own set of standards, targets, and items had to be a fundamental requirement.
MP: Right. For example, every player who plays Ranked Mode and finishes his placements in Season 7, they’re going to get a nameplate and emblem for their rank so they can put it on their PUBG ID. “Hey, I was Season 7 Platinum!” right on their ID for everyone who they kill in the timeline to see and all that stuff. It’ll be very specific that I’m this rank and it was this season. So over the course of several seasons, they’ll be able to look back at their whole list of things they earned over the course of several Ranked seasons and just like, flex on people.
PUBG: What have you seen so far in the data? Anything on your radar for adjustments to Ranked Mode?
JH: We have an entire backlog of improvements that we want to make for future seasons, but one of the things that we definitely want to talk about is team placements. The rank system currently uses personal placements instead of team placements when we are calculating your RP. This can result in a situation where you play as a team but players that die early would only get credit up while they were alive. Their team may go on to win the game, but you don’t really get credit for that… and that doesn’t really feel like a team game. Although there were several valid and practical reasons why we started off with personal placements, I want to make this clear: team placement is the end goal here. It’s where we’ve always been going with this, however, it wasn’t possible to flesh out team placements in time for Season 7, so we had to go with personal placements in the short term.
There are various difficulties we are working through to implement team placements, but the two largest concerns are the integrity of Ranked Mode and the responsiveness of the RP update. We want to limit the ease with which players can have their rank ‘boosted’ by teaming up with players who are better than them, and we want to make sure that players are able to immediately see their RP change when they leave a match. There are ways to get around these issues, but have taken some time to work through.
MP: It’s not even just a matter of did a specific person get carried to their rank. It’s a matter of “if it’s possible to boost people on a large scale with low effort then is anyone’s rank even credible?” Does everybody have respect for another person’s rank or are they going to be unable to ignore the possibility that they were carried? It’s actually a really big issue.
As the return to Vikendi continues, and with Update 7.3 on the way, players still have time to jump into Ranked Mode and make a run at that first batch of rewards before Season 7 ends.