Have you ever downloaded a game from the Play Store or App Store only to open it up and start playing against what seemed to be other people, only to then notice your Wi-Fi was off? Trust me xXXGarryRuthless69 wasn’t a real person, but a bot – a simple little NPC there for the ride. Why do mobile games use bots instead of real players?
Your Answer Upfront:
Mobile Games use bots and that pretend to be real players because they can give a better and more controlled experience to beginners while also giving them a target to compete against. Additionally by using fake players, mobile game developers can save a lot of money from implementing actual networking in their games. For multiplayer games, bots offer a constant stream of enemies to play against even when there are no players online.
In this article I will go over the topic of bots being used in mobile games. My goal is to explain what bots are, why they are used and how they are used in various types of games, from casual games up to hardcore shooting games. In the end, I’m going to try to give my best answer to the question and tell a story from my Gameloft days on how we could make a NPC pretend to be a player!
What are bots in games?
Bots, as they are called in gaming, are nothing more than basic NPC’s programmed to try and behave like players do. They aren’t a complex Artificial Intelligence and there’s nothing that separates them from actual non-player characters outside of trying to make them more player-like.
What do we mean by trying to make bots more player-like? Normally, in-games, you can differentiate players from NPCs by a few things.
Player behaviour vs NPC behaviour
NPCs are usually rigid and predictable. They don’t normally pick things up and they follow a pre-programmed path behaving the same way always.
Players, by contrast, differ in behavior. They are spontaneous, they pick up things they shouldn’t pick up, they jump around, they look in various directions, crouch and shoot randomly to entertain themselves.
Players usually have an identifiable name that can vary from a simple structure as “Aiden Gregory” to “xxKille69YouByeByeSamsungForLife“.
Faking Player behaviour using simple tricks
Back when I was a junior, freshly off the boat and straight into the game development industry, I learned a quick little lesson while drinking coffee with a senior Gameloft Designer named Radu M.
Back in those days, you’d have passion driven employees who would share knowledge and talk your ear off. And man, did I love listening to Radu’s stories and analysis.
While talking about creating an interesting NPC ambush scenario in NOVA 3, Radu mentioned that there’s a situation in one of my levels where an NPC can die and others move to their cover position.
When the new NPCs go in-and-out of cover, they look like players in an online match teabagging each other due to repeatedly standing up and crouching down to get back in cover.
Here’s how we could make those NPCs from NOVA 3 appear to be players in online matches:
- Take the teabagging scenario mentioned earlier and strap a nametag above the NPC. Call him Private_Jonathan38YoloSwag.
- Every 10 seconds, when not shooting at a target, make him look down to the ground and then up at the sky.
- Make him rotate his view in circular motions and make him jump in-place randomly or when reloading.
- Prepare a list of 40-50 messages to display in your multiplayer chat box. Things like
- “LOL that happened”.
- “Oh come on, that’s not fair”.
- “I’ll get you next time, I swear”.
- “No no no no”.
- “Anyone here play Genshin Impact?”.
- “The New CoD is horrible, old one was better, 1v1 me bro”.
- “My Uncle Works At Call Of Duty lol”.
Congrats, you just took an NPC and turned him into a BOT that, in the right circumstances, can look like a player.
Why use bots instead of real players?
So what are the advantages of populating your games with bots? And why are even single player mobile games using bots?
The general idea is that you’ll make unsuspecting players believe there are many more people playing the game with them. It will give the player a sense of a community around the game. For all we know he could probably be the only one playing the game but he doesn’t and won’t know that. Not at first.
So bots are used to give a false sense of the game’s popularity which might just improve your retention. Seeing another player take first spot in a race will make you think the game’s more fair versus having a badly designed AI that plays perfectly.
If Jonathan101NoScope beats you in a game then Jonathan is a no-lifer that played this game too much.
If an AI opponent I designed beats you in the game then the designer is shit and the game is horrible and unbalanced.
See the difference?
A small bit of trivia: One of our staff members on this blog, Rev, used to spam me with messages every morning in 2012 to tell me how horrible my bully AI is. Back then I thought that the best AI for a game is a ruthless one that would challenge players. Oh how the hypercasual industry proved me wrong on this.
And speaking of hypercasual games, let’s take a look at various ways through which smaller and simple games leverage bots.
Bots in Hypercasual and casual games
I’ll start with Swing Rider since this hypercasual game by Semeevs has a couple million installs and there’s a chance you, as a reader, know the game. Here’s a screenshot from the start of a level.
The first time I tried Swing Rider I actually thought I was competing against real players. It took me a few games to realize that they weren’t in fact players. The way the game tricked me was by having me input an actual name that would be displayed on my profile.
When a game would start, I would be placed on a scaffold with 4 other “players” next to me. In the game, you compete against these 4 bots to get to the end of the level. Every time a level ends, the last “player” is eliminated.
I only realized they are bots when I turned off my phone’s Wi-Fi (by switching the phone in airplane mode) to get rid of the ads so I can play more and get better at the game. I was still competing against the same players.
So why do single player games use bots instead of players?
One reason is that they don’t have to make a multiplayer infrastructure. No need to handle actual accounts, no need to treat lag issues and the game’s development cost and complexity go down. Even for the simplest of games – having a network infrastructure is extremely costly.
By using these bots it gives you, the player, a goal to defeat and it makes the game feel much more engaging and fun. And for games like Swing Rider? It pays in spades. I had friends try the game and, in their head, they had an entire backstory and rivalry against one of these bots , whom they assumed were another player.
It was a pretty fun thing to witness to be honest.
Bots in hardcore games like Call of Duty Mobile, PUBG or Free Fire
Let’s move on to something a bit more hardcore and take a look at games like Call of Duty Mobile. Why would CoD rely on bots for multiplayer matches? A couple of reasons.
First is to have the game be available in multiplayer and accessible at all times. If players get the game and wait for hours a lobby waiting for players to wake up and be online then… it won’t be that much fun.
The second reason is that they can control the experience of a new player that’s trying out the game for the first time. When casual Denis gets his hand on the game and it’s his first mobile shooter ever he doesn’t want to continuously die.
I know some games use matchmaking and try to pit players of the same skill against each other but you can only track player skill in the same game, not across multiple games (for the most part). So even if casual Dennis and Hardcore Gigi just opened up the game, for Dennis it’s the first shooter ever.
Hardcore Gigi on the other hand is a veteran in mobile shooters and, given the chance, Hardcore Gigi is going to wipe the floor with Dennis. This can, in turn, make Dennis uninstall the game and never touch it again.
Game devs don’t like players leaving the game, their goal is to keep them going for as much as possible and get all that recurrent consumer spending. Casual Dennis can’t spend money if he hates the game.
But what if you can get Dennis to think he’s on a kill streak and that he is good? Get him winning for the first 5-10 matches and get him used to the game’s control and mechanics. And then you pit Casual Dennis against Hardcore Gigi.
After Dennis gets his proverbial end handed to him, you throw a special offer for Explosive Bullets guaranteed to give 200% more damage against players that killed him. And with Dennis on a revenge path against Hardcore Gigi, that sale is almost guaranteed.
Why do so many mobile games have bots instead of real players?
Mobile Games use bots and that pretend to be real players because they can give a better and more controlled experience to beginners while also giving them a target to compete against. Additionally by using fake players. mobile game developers can save a lot of money from implementing actual networking in their games. For multiplayer games, bots offer a constant stream of enemies to play against even when there are no players online.
Where To Next?
I write extensively about the mobile gaming industry, their tactics and how greed influences a game’s design, subjects which were brought up in this post.
I believe that you might be interested in more articles on game monetization. So if you want to stick around, you can check out “How Do Free Mobile Games Make money“, “Why Do Mobile Games Have Fake Ads” and “Why Do Mobile Games Have In-App Purchases“.
There’s also a monster post (about 4000 words) that answers the question: “How Hard Is It To Make A Mobile Game“. It goes in-depth with actual examples on how Experience, Resources and Financials affect the difficulty of developing and releasing new mobile games!
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