Fortnite has gained massive popularity ever since it was released in 2017. This free-to-play zombie-infested post-apocalyptic game with nearly endless character customization is available on cross-platforms.
If you’ve been playing Fortnite a while, or you just got Chapter 2 and are excited to play it — or even just enjoy watching Fortnite pros streaming their gameplay on Youtube: you’ve heard about the bots. They’re everywhere, masking as regular human players, making it difficult to tell the difference.
There were multiple issues with the previous Skill Based Matchmaking system, and most players didn’t like it. To understand why Epic Games made the decision to include so much AI, it’s first important to understand what exactly went wrong with the SBMM (Skill Based Match-Making.
Skill Based Match-Making (And the Problem)
Skill Based Matchmaking is a system by which multiplayer games put players of a similar skill level together for a fair game. When massively popular games like Halo or Call of Duty have an enormous number of players logged in at once and with huge variations in their skill level, there has to be a way to make sure each player has a good game: not too easy and not too difficult. This ensures that they come back to play again.
If a new player joins the game and is constantly pitted against players that are much better than he is, he’ll get his butt kicked too many times. As a result, the new player thinks this game is just too hard: and might never want to play again. It goes the other way as well.
While this might sound like a great way to make sure everyone has a good time: a lot of players didn’t like it so much. They claimed that by constantly grouping them with players who are equally skilled (if not better), they are forced to always give it their best shot. With Skill Based Match-Making, there’s no more relaxing as you kill new players and earn Victory Royale. Every game is like playing against multiple versions of yourself: it’s bound to be difficult.
At the end of the day, every player wants to have more good games than bad games. And whether it was really the fault of SBMM, or good players who didn’t want to get better: SBMM got a lot of bad rep. Some players wanted to be randomly grouped in a large database of all players for a gaming experience based on luck rather than skill.
The problem with SBMM is that it works great for players just starting out the game, but for the top 1% of really good players who make a living out of playing Fortnite don’t have the same variety. These players worked really hard to be at the top, and now they face more than ten to fifteen minutes of wait time as the game tries to find other players in the same skill level range.
They’re also of the opinion that there’s a ceiling to how good you can get. When you’re that high up in the game, you’re not looking to practice.
This causes the pro players to engage in smurfing. This means they create dummy accounts and start Fortnite from scratch. This isn’t fair for the new players who now encounter pros in disguise.
And it’s not just Fortnite players: COD players had a big issue with SBMM as well. Some players suggested that the developers adopt an unranked and ranked system of matchmaking players. That’s where they hope that all the serious competitive players would flock to the ranked lobbies, while the more chilled out and easy going players could be found in the unranked lobby.
Epic Games introduced bots to the game as a solution to the problem. The idea was to let the beginner players practice with AI bots until they got better and could compete with players in a similar skill level as them.
The AI bots look exactly like regular human players. They have normal usernames, randomized skins, and they build and play in a similar way to beginner players. If you’re just starting out in the game, you will probably encounter mostly bots, but there are supposedly less bots as you get more hours of gameplay under your belt.
Bot or Human Player?
A lot of Fortnite players feel spooked out by not being able to tell when a player is a bot or a human. If you’ve been playing the game for a while, it might be easy for you to spot that bots act a little strange. They sometimes choose to break through a wall when they could’ve just opened a door. They don’t always pick out the most useful items out of a treasure chest.
There are a few general rules of thumb: if you see a player riding a vehicle or cranking 90’s it’s not a bot, since bots can’t do either. And once you’ve been eliminated, you won’t be able to spectate a player if it was a bot. You can even check out the ‘you placed’ screen: where username and account ID are listed together. Bot accounts have INVALID written instead of an account ID.
What’s the Problem?
There are good aspects to having bots –they help the new players and they reduce wait time since they fill up lobbies.
But players complain that there are way too many. The beginner players can very well go up to 10 hours of gameplay without encountering a single real player. But it seems that the bots don’t get less even at the top. Some of the most skilled players run softwares on their games to discover that about 70-80% of the players were actually bots.
This is probably happening because of the problem of SBMM, where top skilled players don’t have that big a pool of players in their skill level to play with. But by filling the space up with bots, players receive a false sense of security. Since AI cannot participate in real-time strategy as well as humans, bots can make stupid decisions. That gives human players an unnecessary advantage.
Playing with bots actually worsens your game as well. You forget to be vigilant and wary of the other players and let down your guard since you assume they’re all bots. And when a player turns around and wipes you out: you’ll be cursing yourself for making such a silly mistake.
Many players are even using this bias to their advantage. Earlier, pro players would use default skins to appear like a newcomer to the game so no one takes them seriously. Now players take this one step further by pretending to act like bots to catch other players off guard.
All in all, most players of Fortnite talk about bots in distaste. In fact, if someone calls you a bot, it’s not to call you an admirable piece of AI technology, but to insult your gaming skills. However, until Epic Games comes out with a more efficient system of matchmaking players in all skill levels so they have fun while also being competitive; we might as well get used to it.