BOTS in PUBG. The story so far

BOTS in PUBG. The story so far

Monday, May 11th 2020

BOTS in PUBG are a hot topic in the general community. In this article we'll dip our toes into the state of BOTS in PUBG (console only at the time of this writing), some of the problems they introduced, how the community has reacted to the changes, and some information about why they were implemented in the first place.

  • Why bots? How did we get here?
  • New player retention.
  • Ranked mode for the loyal, more skilled player base

This is just my opinion. I have no insider information and I don't represent anyone at PUBG.

"Why bots?" - The problems PUBG has to solve

I’m sure when Google calls asking for your game to be on their “revolutionary new gaming platform” you are willing to make some concessions. We all know Stadia isn’t proven yet and doesn’t have a guaranteed lifespan... but it’s unknown if it will survive at this point. It might be the future of gaming, it might disappear.

Stadia is also one of the last, if not the only platform left for PUBG to realistically launch on. Without a major marketing push or free to play, new Stadia players are their best bet at completely fresh players. PUBG both wanted and needed Stadia. The fact is, we don't know the details of the deal with Google so it's hard to speculate on their business motivations as it relates to Stadia. PUBG has said that it's "because of Stadia" but moreso it's generally because of new players. This makes me think there's more from a new player pespective... Not just Stadia.

Keep in mind. This is all pre-bots and the problems PUBG wants solve. These are also only my opinions.

Problem 1. New player retention is declining

Put yourselves in the shoes of a new player. Imagine picking this game up for the first time in mid 2020. PUBG has been on Xbox for two years, PC for over three(?) and PlayStation for a year or so. I don’t know the exact numbers. Do you remember your first game back then? I know I do. I snaked my way into an open field on Erangel and got in the top 3. No kills, no connected shots, and a shirt soaked in sweat. It was amazing. Slowly I got better and was able to learn strategy, gun play, positioning, etc. It was a gradual and rewarding process... but I was playing against a lot of players doing the exact same as me; starting terrible, slowly getting better.

Now, be a player who has never played before. You hop in a game (or 10) and you’re up against almost impossible odds at first (like we all were). I 100% realize that a big part of the game is how hard it is. As we all know, this game is very, very hard. That’s by design. But what if it felt insurmountable and not fun? You would quit playing and the data is backing that up(According to PUBG). New players are jumping into lobbies that have a number of issues that would be misserable for somebody who has never played the game.

  • Performance and bugs. These are a constant in PUBG.
  • Everybody is a LOT better than you are already making it even harder to learn because you rarely get past the early game and you rarely win in gunfights.
  • Depending on when you play, where you are playing regionally, and what mode you prefer... your matchmaking times are less than ideal. If you do find a match, often times it's well less than 100 players.

These things all lead to a bad experience for newcomers. This is part of the problem of player retention that PUBG is trying to solve.

But how?

1A. Balancing the challenge vs the fun

Side note : I started in May or June of 2018 and even then it took forever to get to a point where it was fun. That’s when all players were just starting out (on Xbox). Back then... all of us were bad. Some came from an FPS background and knew about the game from the PC version so those had an advantage but we were all learing the game. A lot of us have had months or years of a head start in a game with challenging learning curve

Fast forward to now. The skill gap is immense and widening. Good players are really good and bad players are really bad. New players are playing majority lobbies with people that are GOOD. Some play for a living, some play hours per day, some play off and on for the last 2 years. Now, you're jumping with veterans. You're dropping with very few people that have never played before and a lot of people who have played for a long time. The learning curve on this game makes it extra punishing for newcomers, especially when they're facing more veteran players all the time.

2B. New players aren’t sticking around like they used to

PUBG has stated that the majority of players never get a chicken dinner. Ever. Many never even get a kill. Not one. They stop playing because it’s an unbeatable game (seemingly) unless they throw hours and hours of getting dismantled over and over. Not great for the casuals.

If you were PUBG and you saw that, over time, new players started to leave and never come back earlier and earlier you would absolutely start working on ideas to make new players have an easier time acclimating to the game. Right? After 2 years, new players leave much faster than before. That’s not going to sustain a game long term.

Problem 2. Long time players have nothing to work towards

On top of new players not staying, the loyal base feels like there is nothing to work for right now. Is winning worth anything? There isn’t an official leaderboard, you can’t consistently compete with other similarly skilled players, you’re almost bored with the game now. Without something to grind for PUBG is risking losing the long term players, too. That's a bad recipe.

Oh and to make matters worse... Matchmaking times are increasing and average lobbies rarely have a full 100 players. Especially in off hours and in regions with low player count (we see you Oceana). Which brings me to the next problem.

Problem 3. Matchmaking times, lobby counts, region activity

The last main issue that lead us to bots is a combination of things that are all related. Getting a game started to take longer. As fewer players are playing, player fragmentation from multiple game modes and perspectives, and the addition of new maps, matchmaking times have suffered. From a programatic standpoint, matchmaking is difficult. Matchmaking a BR game with 100 players seems like a monolitic task. Match making a BR game with 100 people AND teams (duos, squads)... are you kidding me? The point is that it must be extremely diffucult to do and with a waning player base it must be even harder.

Along with longer matchmaking times, we often have low lobby counts. In peak hours, in peak regions, on the most popular game modes there really isn't a problem. Even just a combination of a few of those will result in faster matchmaking. But it's getting slower and it's turning into a real problem in game modes and regions with fewer players. You can't just throw those regions onto other regions becasue then we're running into a ping and desync issue real fast. You have to increase the user base.

How PUBG plans on dealing with those issues

These are just my opinons on what is behind all of this. I don't have any non-public information so your guess is as good as mine. Here is what I think the driving factors are behind bots, competitive mode, and what went wrong with the launch of bots on console.

What they need to solve, in a nutshell.

  • New players are abandoning the game at higher and higher rates.
  • PUBG wants the game to live for years to come. They often mention their 5+ year plan.
  • Loyal fan base wants something to grind... leaderboard, MMR, competitive opportunities, etc.
  • Matchmaking and lobby numbers are decreasing in quality and quantity.

Their solutions

  • PUBG decides to add AI players to the game to increase retention for new players by pairing them with BOTS who offer typically easy/free kills. A moral booster for new players.
  • MMR is added to try to place players in appropriate lobbies with similarly skilled players.
  • PUBG decides to build a ranked mode that allows high level players to compete and have something to grind for.
  • Bots and ranked theoretically solve both problems of new player retention and giving the loyal base something to grind. Win-win, right?

Did things go horribly wrong? Why are people so mad about it?

  • PUBG added bots without testing on the public test server. To console only. This made the release both abrupt and prone to errors.
  • PUBG released bots without ranked mode on console, making it impossible to play against only humans unless you play customs. This fundamentally changes the game for many players.
  • Miscalculations in how PUBG assigns bot numbers caused super high bot percentages in every match for a while. As you’re MMR is calculated by PUBG, you’ll see fewer bots.
  • Your MMR rating appears to have started at “zero” for all players beginning with season 7... this means you had to play a lot of matches, regardless of your previous stats, to increase your MMR and reduce bots. Level playing field whether you’re a god or a first time player.
  • MMR is heavy influenced by game modes. Squads are struggling with high volumes of bots. PUBG has explained that the complexity of squads vs solos is the culprit and they’re continually tweaking the system.
  • Loyal, passionate, die-hard players feel like they got the shit end of the stick and were steam rolled by PUBG. The game is, in their opinion, worse... if not ruined.

Ok. So what now?

Well. We don’t know. That’s part of the problem. PUBG communication on this topic is rare (it seems).

Here’s what we do know.

  • Bots are here to stay. They are. It’s real. It’s happening. Reddit posts are not going to change that.
  • Ranked mode is coming “soon”. The most official statement we know is that in late April they said that it would be ready “next month” assuming QA goes as planned. I would guess that those timelines mean a May release. Early June is a possibility.
  • We have nearly zero information on what competitive mode will look like. Fewer players per lobby? Maybe. All game modes? Probably not. TPP & FPP? Yes. We know that competitive mode will not match esports settings exactly, but we don't know how different it will be or any of the significant details everybody wants to know.
  • “Everyone” is pissed. Not really. The vocal, ultra loyal, passionate fan base is really mad that the game has, in their eyes, fundamentally changed. There are also just the trolls and the people who can’t articulate feelings without being assholes.

Point is, we’re in a waiting game now and seeing what the potential fallout might be from this botched bot rollout. If any. It might actually be working... we just don’t know.

Maybe, maybe, maybe

Maybe ranked is great. Maybe they get control of the quantity of bots in public matches. Maybe they increase bot intelligence so it doesn’t feel like a free kill that takes the intensity away... maybe a lot of things.

I for one am cautiously optimistic. It’s a shame this rollout was so poorly executed. We might have had a much different experience if everything worked as they originally intended. It’s a waiting game. Can they reduce bots? Can they make bots feel more threatening and intelligent? Can ranked mode satisfy the more competitive, long-term players?

We’ll see.

This is definitely the most polarizing release in PUBG history... so far.

Don't forget to follow PUBG Lookup on Twitter and check out the previous blog post "PUBG responds to BOTS. Brian Corrigan's discussion on Discord"

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