The Weekly Raid: The Second Coming Of The Bots
Bots have been an issue in MMOs since the very beginning. Early MMORPG developers were constantly frustrated by players employing botting programs to farm resources are quickly speed through content. Often the same people using these botting programs were RMTers who were making a buck while destroying fragile in-game economies.
Even the biggest titles like World of Warcraft never found a permanent solution to this problem. Mass waves of perma-banning tens of thousands of accounts at a time proved futile in the face of the lucrative profits awaiting RMT gold sellers. For the most part, developers were forced to comprise gameplay mechanics to make botting less tempting. The growing restrictions on player trade, perhaps best illustrated by Black Desert Online, is just one example of gameplay restrictions put in place to discourage botting/RMT.
Perhaps the most striking capitulation to botting can be found in mobile games and a few PC MMORPGs that now include built-in auto-play features. This marks a complete surrender on the part of developers, but that doesn't mean developers haven't learned from their wars against the machine.
Developers are closer than ever to turning the script on its head -- employing bots themselves against unwitting players to create the illusion of multiplayer gameplay. A few pioneering games have already done just that, though none thus far has admitted to it. PUBG Mobile, by Chinese tech giant Tencent, populates the first few rounds each player experiences with low-skill bots. The logic for this is two fold. First, it drastically decreases queue times. Second, and more insidious, it gives players the illusion that they are performing well. That this is a game they're at natural at. Who wouldn't want to continue playing after they finish in the top 10 in their very first match?
Another example, this time from the West, comes from Machine Zone whose mobile strategy titles include Game of War and Final Fantasy 15: A New Empire. Many players, especially those who purchase in-game services, take to reddit to complain about being attacked by players who they claim are actually bots. EA's Simcity BuiltIt has had similiar complaints. This reddit thread is a good example of the sort of accusations that are common across this genre.
Its not the use of AI units per say that is worrysome, every NPC and mob in a game is a bot afterall. The issue arises when players are unaware that an opponent or ally they're interacting with is actually a bot. Several games already incorporate what I'll term 'believable bots' in their tutorials. Happy Wars and Freestyle 2 are two examples. The bots in Freestyle even taunt players and have names that mimic those players would chose. People are often frustrated when forced to play against bots, even during the tutorial. This sort of deception often works since players often don't realize they're playing with bots until the tutorial matches are over by which time they have graduated to playing vs other real players.
The current use of bots, at least outside the mobile market, is unquestioningly acceptable. But what happens as more and more developers leave the bots in well past the tutorial. What happens when we can't tell if we're playing against bots or other humans?