How Bots Could Ruin Games Forever

What’s scarier than monsters, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night? We’ve all seen bots in games by now. I don’t mean players setting up systems to run to farm crafting materials in predictable routes or to play cards in a set order; I’m talking about bots designed by developers. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “What’s wrong with bots?” Bots can fill lobbies to make sure games can launch, they can make matchmaking take a lot less time, and hey, it’s always fun shooting down an automated opponent and getting a free kill in a field with dozens of human opponents running around. But there’s a lot more to these innocuous A.I. additions, and they have implications for all kinds of multiplayer experiences. With the trends we’re seeing in data acquisition, user privacy, and monetization models, bots are headed for dangerous implementation.

The Ghost In The Machine

On the surface, pairing up players with bots seems like a good thing. No one wants to wait more than a few seconds to find a match, whether it’s in an online shooter lobby or a mobile card battler. Beating up on bots might not seem like an issue, even if it’s changing your rating, ranking, or other parameters over time. Depending on the game, you may not even be aware your opponent is a bot. Maybe a bot is your sole opponent, or perhaps the game can field many bots, but the takeaway is that the developer can tweak the challenge (or lack thereof) directly by bot prescience. While adjusting the difficulty in this fashion may seem harmless, it becomes a sketchy proposition as we dive in.

Consider a game that has tiers, unlocks, and monetization based around winning. Would you be more likely to make a purchase if you were defeated by a new titan unit added to a battle game? What if you lost to it three times in a row, and then an in-game ad for a titan pack plays on your screen with a cute little jingle? What if that ad inspires you to purchase the hot new unit? What if the games knows you bought the unit, so it matches you up against bots (which it knows you can beat) to give you several easy victories?

In that scenario, your mind would undoubtedly link these wins with your recent purchase. And that purchase would be tied to happy feelings, big victories, and good associations. When it’s “working,” all this stuff potentially happens without the user even knowing, and that could be a massive issue. It is not really a competitive game when the matchmaking tool is only moving you from one session to the next by prioritizing 1) keeping you playing, and 2) putting you into situations and scenarios where you’re more likely to make a purchase. While this doesn’t apply to every game or situation, the impact that these dial-turning options can have on your play experience is alarming.

I Feel Good! So Good!

In addition to the terrifying scenario where you’re playing against non-entities in a constant string of value propositions where the goal is to squirt dopamine into your brain and link purchases to feeling good, recent times have given us other bot concerns. It’s fairly commonplace for a game to pair you against nothing but bots for your first few matches; this has become ridiculously common in battle royales, especially mobile battle royales. They do not tell you this. Instead, the intent is to make you feel like you’re a god of the game on your first match. Whether you actually learn how to play or are good at the game are irrelevant factors.

Sure, you can make the case that the first few matches should be against bots so that the player doesn’t get killed in three seconds and delete the game forever. Engagement. Yeah, that makes sense. But they don’t tell you that you’re fighting bots, and people take screenshots of their epic wins and post them on Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, Tinder… Okay, maybe not Tinder. This is a great way for these games to drive faux-organic interest; everyone posting an epic win against automated foes (who are designed to be beaten) becomes an unwitting product ambassador. It would be a lot better if the games told you that you were going to be playing against bots, but then where would the big win sensation come from?  And of course, after the bot games are over and you’re settled in, that’s when the real tinkering can be done.

Algorithmic Enjoyment 

Looking at how the system works, we need to examine how a game sets you up with X bots, Y players, and Z skill level of enemies. More specifically, how does it find the closest matching environment where you will still get that dopamine rush and the thrill of victorious moments but not letting you crush every game and get bored? In some respects, the science behind these algorithms is a precarious and horrifying tightrope. It’s trying to balance your games to keep you playing, keep you interested, and ultimately get you to make a purchase, whether that be cosmetic or functional. Utilizing this data to create a match may not play the song for you, but it assembles all the notes for the tune to happen. It’s a concept we used to be able to just call “fun factor,” but now it’s actual science based on billions upon billions of data points. Is it really playing a game if everything has already “played out” in a hypothetical algorithm the moment you press play? That’s a question we’ll have to answer as bots continue to become a bigger factor in multiplayer experiences – whether we know they’re there or not.

For more of my thoughts on the future of gaming, click here.

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DreamHack Sports Games, L33T-Gaming Partner for eSuperliga S5

DreamHack Sports Games has named L33T-Gaming the official chair partner for Denmark-based FIFA esports league eSuperliga S5. Under the terms of the deal, L33T-Gaming will equip the eSuperliga studio and the player practice room with L33T-Gaming chairs.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The fifth season of eSuperliga will see FIFA teams from 15 soccer clubs in Denmark compete. The teams include F.C. Copenhagen, FC Midtjylland, Brøndby IF, Aalborg BK, AC Horsens, Aarhus GF, Esbjerg fB, FC Helsingør, FC Nordsjælland, Hobro IK, Lyngby BK, Odense BK, Randers FC, SønderjyskE, and Vejle BK. 

Teams will compete for a total prize pool of more than $50K USD and the action will be broadcast via TV3 Max and Viaplay.

Earlier this month, former DreamHack co-CEO Roger Lodewick was named the new CEO of DreamHack Sports Games. Dreamhack recently merged with ESL to form ESL Gaming, but DreamHack Sports Games continues to operate independently from the new entity.

The Wednesday Inbox asks whether you need a 4K TV to appreciate the PS5, as readers offer advice on next gen Cyberpunk 2077.

To join in with the discussions yourself email [email protected]

Giving in
I’ve been pretty adamant that I’d hold out to get a PlayStation 5 for at least six months to a year after launch because I’ve got a backlog of PlayStation 4 and Switch games to complete.

However, as the launch of the new consoles get nearer, I’m succumbing to the hype. I’m now considering getting one at launch, if pre-orders open again.

My question is: would it be worth getting a PlayStation 5 at launch without having a 4K TV?

I’ve got a launch PlayStation 4 that still works well, except for recent issues with some of the entertainment apps, so would expect to see a fairly big improvement in graphics. But I don’t have a 4K TV.

Does anyone know if a 4K TV would be needed to really see any benefit to visuals from the next gen machines?

GC: Since no one has a PlayStation 5 yet that’s a hard question to answer. But while 4K is desirable it’s not even in our top five most anticipated new features for the PlayStation 5. We’d put the SSD, 60fps options, DualSense, 3D audio, and generally better graphics before it – as well as not sounding like a jet engine.

Third way
A lot of next generation games seem to have two performance options: 4K and 60fps or 4K 30fps with ray-tracing. I personally have no problem with this and like the options. If anything, I would like a third option of 1080p and 60fps and ray-tracing but I have not seen any game give this option. Has GC?

I am not sure if that is because no one has spoken about it, if it seemed like a pointless thing for developers to aim for or if the developers are scared of the vocal minority that insist everything needs to be 4K, 60fps, and ray-traced even when it is clearly impractical for most games on a £450 system.

Microsoft clearly see a market in people that have not upgraded to 4K televisions yet, with the Xbox Series S. Although I personally have ordered a PlayStation 5 now and intend to get a 4K television next year. Perhaps I am being entitled for wanting to be able to see a clear next generation graphical improvement day one, even before I upgrade televisions? I also do not want a repeat of the unreadable text issue I had with the Xbox 360 before I bought my first HD television.

GC: That’s not been an in-game option in anything so far, but as you imply the Xbox Series S kind of enforces it by default – since it can’t display native 4K.

Pro tip
So, I’ve been reading up on a new Nvidia technology called DLSS (catchy, I know!). In brief, DLSS allows games to be upscaled from the rendered resolution whilst improving the quality of the frames at the same time. So, you can set your PC to run a game at normal HD 1080p, but have it displayed at 4K, and thanks to Nvidia’s AI it will not tank your frame rate. I’ve not really done it justice there, and I’d suggest anyone interested to look on YouTube for some real-world examples.

Anyway, it suddenly struck me that Nvidia provides the chips inside the Switch and of all the consoles to benefit from this technology, the Switch has the most to gain by far. We keep hearing about a 4K Switch, but the technology to truly run games at 4K and 60fps is just arriving in the form of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, and I say just as it looks like it may be a while before games allow you to play in 4k and run at 60fps.

Plus, consider how big both of those new consoles are and think of how small the Switch is – and has to be to remain a portable console. Sure, the dock could be souped up to provide more graphical fidelity when docked, but Nintendo could have done that with the current Switch.

The more I read about DLSS I’m convinced that it will be the basis of the next Switch console. Analysis of DLSS shows that rendering at 720p and displaying at 4K is even very impressive. It all makes too much sense to me, though it does rely on Nintendo and Nvidia buddying up even more so, as Nvidia actually needs to be involved during development to ensure DLSS will work.

GC: It’s a good theory but it also depends on Nintendo doing something that makes sense, which is not their way.

E-mail your comments to: [email protected]

Late again
So Microsoft has announced a new update for Halo: The Master Chief Collection, that sounds a good idea given the delay of Xbox Series X and they can’t even get that ready for launch day?! The Master Chief Collection is six years old, how much time do they need!

We talk about Nintendo not handling the coronavirus well because of the peculiar way they work but at least they’ve had some games out this year, quite a few really even if they’re not the biggest ones. But Microsoft has achieved precisely zero this year in terms of software. It is just mind-boggling to me, especially given how well Sony has done: five games now and lots of other due out early next year.

Somebody at Microsoft needs to get a grip of themselves and work out what Sony is doing that they aren’t. Having more experienced first party studio is one thing but it’s not like this is the first rodeo for Microsoft. Why are they so slow at getting anything done? How did they do so much worse than a company with not a 10th of the cash reserves?
Skrull Papa

Complete set
I was just wondering if there is anybody that subscribes to PSN, Xbox Live, and Nintendo Switch Online every year? I can only afford to do one, which is Xbox Live, as a friend only has Xbox to play co-op. I’ve
heard of people subscribing to all the video on demand services but don’t know if anybody does that with their online gaming on the three platforms?

Although it is a lot more for online gaming subscriptions compared to Netflix, which starts at £5.99 a month. Do GameCentral have to subscribe or do you get subs free because your journalists who review games?
Andrew J.
PS: Europa Universalis 2 is currently free on GOG, here’s the link.

GC: Since you need them to play online, we get them for free.

Catch up on every previous Games Inbox here

Essential playing
In response to Franky and whether to wait for the next generation to play Cyberpunk 2077, I will be one of those who will wait until the ‘proper’ next gen version comes out. I’ve pre-ordered an Xbox Series X and feel that I may as well wait to get the most out of my purchase.

I suppose it’s a bit like watching a film at the cinema with all the bells and whistles this audio-visual experience involves, versus watching it at home on DVD. There are certain movies which are just essential viewing at the cinema.

This game (hopefully) will be a real gem and I want all the graphical upgrades I can get. With Game Pass it’s not like I’ll run out of games to play in the meantime…
Dj Kj

Goodbye game
In response to Franky, I think I will buy Cyberpunk for the PlayStation 4.

For me there is always one game that pushes a machine to its limits right at the end of its life and I have made a bit of a ritual of this to say goodbye to a machine.

I said goodbye to my Xbox 360 with Far Cry 4 and it was up there with the best games experiences.

I’ll go for the humdrum of the release date over the graphics and say bye to the PlayStation 4 in the process.
Matt Kirk

Difficult wait
Regarding Franky’s dilemma as to whether to wait for the next gen version of Cyberpunk 2077 or buy it this year, I would say definitely wait. Of course, seeing all the marketing and reviews and hearing gamers talking about it will be difficult but it will be well worth the wait. The next gen versions will look better, run more smoothly, and in the case of PlayStation won’t be ruined by the noise of the console.

On the issue of cyberpunk as a general term, I love the two most recent Deus Ex games and would like to play the two previous releases as I missed them first time around. Do you know of any plans to remake or re-release them?

GC: We do not. Developer Eidos-Montréal got tied up helping with Marvel’s Avengers so you’d probably have to wait and see the fallout from that before you got any indication of how likely Deus Ex is to mount a return.

Inbox also-rans
Thanks for the review of the Supe Mario Live… game, car, toy? I can’t see myself getting it given the price and this year but I love that Nintendo just do what they want, industry trends be damned. I did have a quick look on their online store though and I see it’s sold out already, so I bet it does well for them anyway.

I hate being reminded that PT was a thing that never ended up happening. I’ll never forgive Konami for killing that project, it sounded like my dream (nightmare) game.

This week’s Hot Topic
The topic for this weekend’s Inbox was suggested by reader Cray, who asks how has the coronavirus changed how you play games this year?

Since the start of lockdown in March how has your approach to gaming changed? Have you played more games than usual and how many have you beaten? Have you taken more interest in parts of gaming you didn’t used to care about, like esports, or have you experimented with genres you wouldn’t normally play?

Has you overall time spent playing games increased or decreased and do you think you’ll return to your previous norm once all this is over?

E-mail your comments to: [email protected]

The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length.

You can also submit your own 500 to 600-word Reader’s Feature at any time, which if used will be shown in the next available weekend slot.

You can also leave your comments below and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

Follow Metro Gaming on Twitter and email us at [email protected]

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Fossil Games’ Retro Horror RPG Camp Sunshine Is Getting A Prequel

In Camp Sunshine, a 16-bit horror RPG released in 2016, players assume the role of Jez, who is happily dropped off at summer camp only to awaken in the middle of the night and discover a blood-soaked mess and a killer on the loose.

Reminiscent of Friday the 13th, the crowdfunded retro game was well received during the time of its release. Now it’s developers, Fossil Games, a two-person indie development team with a self-professed love of retro gaming, pixel art and horror films, have launched another Kickstarter campaign to fund a prequel, titled Sunshine Manor. This one will also inspired by ’80s slasher flicks like From Beyond and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

In the new game, the protagonist is Ada MacReady, a young girl trapped in a haunted mansion with her two friends, who must use her psychic abilities to defeat the Shadow Man. Although set in a single location, the mansion has countless hidden rooms, interminable corridors and untold monsters.

According to the developers, Sunshine Manor was a chance to explore many of the gameplay features, including costumes and power-ups, they were unable to include in the original. Now, with Ada’s psychic powers, the possibilities are endless.

Fossil Games will partner with Premium Edition Games to allow supporters to pledge for a Premium Edition physical Nintendo Switch cartridge that will include both Sunshine Manor and Camp Sunshine, as well as, a Kickstarter Exclusive Cover, a Kickstarter Exclusive Slipcover, a full-color manual, and a Kickstarter Exclusive Trading Card.

In addition, Premium Edition Games will also release a Kickstarter Exclusive Sunshine Edition, encased in a VHS clamshell box, that will include the soundtrack for Sunshine Manor on cassette, a pair of Sunshine Manor Sweatbands, a full color printed guide, and a Kickstarter Exclusive Premium Edition Trading Card signed by Fossil Games.

The Kickstarter campaign has so far raised $19,500 of its $26,000 goal. Sunshine Manor is set for release in November 2021 on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

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DreamHack Sports Games appoints Roger Lodewick as CEO – Esports Insider

DreamHack Sports Games, a business unit of MTG that focuses of sports simulation titles, has appointed Roger Lodewick as CEO.

He served as the Co-CEO of DreamHack until the recent shuffle took place, bringing DreamHack and ESL together under ESL Gaming.

RELATED: 100 Thieves expands executive team with new VP hires

Lodewick’s experience prior to DreamHack saw him serve as CEO of Zoomin, CCO of Comosa, and a Senior Media Rights Sales Executive at TEAM Marketing where he was responsible for the sale of the UEFA Champions League and Europe League media rights.

Lodewick spoke on the change in a release: “I’m excited to join DreamHack Sports Games as we provide a unique combination in this field of esports. We have already proven to be able to a convert traditional sports brands into relevant and meaningful media esports products enabling both sports IP holders and broadcasters the opportunity to extend, retain and regain the young demographics. I’m thrilled to be part of innovating and growing the esports Sports Gaming industry.”

RELATED: Martin ‘Deficio’ Lynge joins Misfits Gaming Europe as Director

DreamHack Sports Games focuses on sports games, counting the European eTour, eSuperliga, eDivisie, and eAllsvenskan amongst its products. These events were made as “entertaining media products,” utilising titles such as FIFA.

Maria Redin, President and CEO of MTG, also commented: “I’m pleased that Roger Lodewick has agreed to head up DreamHack Sports Games. He brings a wealth of experience, a vast network in sport and a proven track record of working with both traditional sports IPs as well as the esports industry and is therefore a perfect match for DreamHack Sports Games.”

Esports Insider says: The changes at MTG were made out to be extremely exciting and positive but it’s becoming increasingly clear that it was more of a staff restructuring exercise. DreamHack Sports Games is an interesting business unit and it seems as if Lodewick is well-equipped to oversee its growth and operations.

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