Play to Win and the PUBG "1 Kill" Backlash


David Sirlin’s “Play to Win” philosophy is adored by most self-identified “core” gamers and can be boiled down to this: “Do whatever is best to win within the rules of the game, do not get hung up on self imposed rules and artificial concepts of fairness.”

It’s a simple credo and very effective; in the competitive gaming world it’s basically iron law and is only challenged when something is considered to break the game and is then enforced by tournament runners and companies.

So here is PUBG which is now facing a backlash against players who win a round with 1 kill. It’s a game about survival and avoidance is therefore a legit technique for playing. It’s not a deathmatch game where kills are your points (and frankly unless you’re a deathmatch game you shouldn’t really even track/rank kills much, having that on the scoreboard of TF2 always encourage shitty non-objective play) it is a battle-royale survival title.

Why is PUBG getting this gamer backlash when the play is legit?


I think it’s very much down to gamers that have that competive mindset being annoyed that a ‘lucky’ player can just as easily win as a ‘skillful’ player.

They don’t like the concept of ‘mastery’ being challenged, I guess.


To be honest I think both mastery or play-to-win both miss it a little.

Mastery-heads would sacrifice any element of chance from games where possible, which to me is tantamount to draining the character and joy from a game.

But play-to-win also ignores that there are ways to find your own fun or set your own goals in games that don’t ruin it for everyone else.

Play in the way that gives you most enjoyment, that doesn’t mess the game up for others. If the claim is that the 1-kill winners are ruining the game for others, well… I guess they’re playing a different game to the one I have been watching streams of.


Is there a backlash against people it saying safe? I haven’t seen anything but also honestly I haven’t been really immersing myself in the community of that game. That kind of complaint seems like it’s from the same mindset as complaints that people in fighting games just spam fireballs over and over. The same tools are present there for you, and if you want to play PUBG like a high action shooter you can just jump into the power plant or military base each game. idk


Agreed in many ways.

I am not an advocate for Play to Win as a be-all and end-all thing. I’m not a competitive gamer myself and never really will be. I’m happy to play in any way that is fun, I was just wondering about this situation.

When it comes to something like Wavedashing in Smash or Snaking in Mario Kart I feel it’s a slightly different situation than this one. That’s an unintended technique that requires a physically-difficult input, creating a barrier to entry that shouldn’t really be there.


Every year some random high school or college football team makes waves for never punting, or always going for two-point conversions, and a bunch of journos write breathless articles about how much better football would be if more teams did that. Except the majority of football coaches realize that they get paid to win games, not provide exciting copy for journalists, so they keep kicking the ball.

It’s not like people are glitching into the map or anything, the basic ‘circle’ mechanics of PUBG largely mitigate camping; you could head toward the middle of the map to reduce your odds of needing to leave cover, but that’s also where most of the other ‘conservative’ players will also be heading, which increases the odds that you’ll bump into another camper. You could maybe tweak some parameters to affect camping on the margins, but any game with permadeath is going to reward conservative play.


I really do hope that they never mess with the dynamics of PUBG. I want it to forever be a game of laying prone on a kitchen floor for 20 mins and hiding in bathtubs for as long as possible.


If they added DLC baked beans for Comic Relief I would buy that shit in a second.


I frankly do not understand that backlash at all (I also haven’t seen it, is that happening on Twitter or something?)

70 hours in to PUBG and I can say to a certainty that it is absolutely a survival game, not a multiplayer shooter. It bills itself as the “Ultimate Battle Royale Experience.” Look at who wins in Battle Royale and Hunger Games - the people who lay low.

Yes, you can certainly fulfill your bloodlust, and if you’re good at the game, it makes it much easier. For example, I’ve been carried to three wins in a row by a teammate who was savage with the KAR sniper rifle. Our team’s entire goal was to get him a sniper as quickly as possible, then just hide and let him do his dirty work. But that wasn’t very much fun.

PUBG is so novel because it’s about the tension of not shooting. It’s special because video games are inherently about doing and engaging and PUBG brilliantly subverts that.


Agreed totally - I’ve won a solo game of PUBG, but I rarely think about that game. I way more often think about the games where things have gone wrong hilariously, or even the games where almost nothing happened. To me, it’s a game about experiences and situations, and winning/getting points is secondary or even tertiary.


“Play to win” feels fundamentally flawed to me not least of all because I would question whether “winning” is the ultimate goal in playing a game. but at the same time I have no quarrel with people who win PUBG with only one kill, that kind of ultra defensive play feels entirely in keeping with the spirit of the game.


For me the “play to win” in this game is like - going into a game I know placing first is unlikely, but I have to aim for it anyway to catalyze the fun parts. Standoffs against 2 other squads in the same building, supply drop fights, ridiculous 1km heashots, tense prone-in-wheat standoffs - those are all the actual fun of the game for me, but if I don’t aim for the goal of 1st place, I’m highly unlikely to be in those situations.


I definitely agree that if people aren’t basically trying to survive that spoils the game - the best moments in it come from people earnestly attempting to survive. But I don’t think that implies that the best way to play is necessarily to make optimal survival decisions. I think there’s an space between doing everything you can possibly do to survive and just kind of dicking around where the game’s heart is.


One thing you learn in game design is that people will always do whatever the most efficient thing is, regardless of if it’s fun or not. If players are doing something that makes the game not fun for themselves or for others, the problem is always the design, and not the players. You’ll never make any progress trying to convince people to do what’s “fun” at the expense of winning - the drive towards the win state and away from the fail state are the most powerful tools designers have to encourage players to do or not do things.

If the designers of PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS want to discourage people from being “cowardly” and winning with only one kill, they’ll add more design elements that make camping in a house with a shotgun or whatever less appealing.

Basically, worry less about what other people are doing and whether or not it’s “cheap” and more about what you’re doing.


I’ve not seen a huge reaction but I’ve defenitely seen a few “1 kill wins don’t count” sentiments (as well as “there’s not enough variety in gameplay” which I’m kinda nonplussed by), and Jack de Quidt tweeted this earlier (click link for accompanying screengrab):


Unsure of who is harmed by a strategy like this. The other people in the game? Who died on their own, completely independent of the people who were hiding somewhere, deliberately not killing anybody? Wouldn’t they have lost either way? The last person to die (aka the “1 kill”)? Maybe win the duel next time, I dunno. If you made it that far without hiding, you’d think you’d have no problem killing one more player.

Even if you universalized this strategy, the way the game works would eventually necessarily instigate confrontations. Feels to me like the people who would whine about something like this are the sort of people who just want straight up skill-based death match where the winner is the person who has the most kills, at which point this is the wrong game for them anyways.


Hey no hiding in Plunkbat that’s cheap
Hey no running away from my top rope moves in wwf no mercy that sucks
Hey wins by ring out in soul calibur don’t count you cheated
Hey no playing legendaries in magic the gathering wow i can’t believe you would do that

A Win Is A Win


I think backlash like that is because “1 kill rank 1” sort of game play encourages a kind of passivity that is very very foreign to a certain subset of players. Picking and choosing battles actually takes some skill, making sure you’re unseen for the majority of the game (particularly late game), getting to new points and scoping new areas, setting traps, waiting for a bunch of chuckleheads to kill eachother. Those are all skills, but it treats PUBG as a fundamentally different game than some players want (one that I’d be a lot more interested in playing tbh but i digress)

To most gamers “skill” means being aggressive or at least active. Passivity (i.e. hiding, running from or avoiding conflict) or patience is not usually rewarded. There’s no “tension” in those actions and it’s not “fair” when someone is rewarded for laying low. Because that’s not what you’re supposed to do in a videogame, nobody would ever actually reward absurd, highly calculated patience I mean… that’s ridiculous.

( This sort of mindset is also in part why I think a lot of more passive type games like walking simulators, slice of life or mobile games get a push back and seen as “not real games”, and the people who play them as “unimportant” or “not real gamers” because a certain subset of gaming sees passive action as antithetical to what gaming is. This is of course compounded by things like sexism which devalues certain portions of these genres like explorations of complex emotions or family relationships, (because those are women things for women and you can’t put that into manspace, it’s like mixing ur peas with ur mashed potatoes it’s fucking blasphemy). )


This is what I think, pretty much. You’ve got to rev the engine for PUBG to work, and part of that means centralizing and tantalizing the chicken dinner, but because it necessitates 99 other losers, it secretly also validates the myriad experiences everyone inevitably has, like getting confused and shooting your friends in the heat of the moment.


Oh yeah for sure, I wasn’t saying that you had to do the most optimal strategies all the time. I think “optimal strategy” in this game can mean a lot of different things, and in some cases actually dropping what is optimal in favour of some really stupid unsafe rush is actually what gets you a win (so far the only game I actually won was 2 of my squad mates rushing the remaining survivors to act as bait while the other two flanked them. Most of us died but we got #1!).

I think the systems in this game are varied and numerous enough that there’s a pretty wide spectrum of sensible-to-reckless things you can do while still sorta aiming for the top.