It's almost inevitable: once a multiplayer game's been out for some time, veteran players tend to pull ahead to a point where newer players just can't keep up. The situation is the same for PUBG, which has now developed a player base so proficient that new joiners are simply being flattened before they can improve.
"We've seen the general skill level of our players grow significantly over the last three years", PUBG Corp explained in a blog post today. "We're seeing more often that many newer players are being eliminated early with no kills - and oftentimes with no damage dealt."
It's a serious problem for developers who want to keep their live service games populated, as a skill gap can alienate new players who are needed to refresh the pool. And so, to solve the skill gap issue, PUBG is adding bots to its public matches on console.
"You've been telling us for a while that the widening skill gap is creating a more and more challenging environment for some of our players and we're now ready to talk about our plan to help this," PUBG Corp explained. "In an effort to provide more ways for players to hone their skills and be able to fully enjoy what PUBG has to offer, we've decided to introduce bots with Update 7.1."
Console Players: With Update 7.1 we will be introducing Bots to public matches.— PUBG: BATTLEGROUNDS Support (@PUBG_Support) April 24, 2020
Read the full details and our intentions behind this addition in our latest Dev Letter:https://t.co/DVUfSaazhF
In order to reassure players that the bots will be properly programmed, PUBG explained a little about how the bots will be implemented. Navigation meshes will ensure that bots will detect environmental hazards instead of throwing themselves off cliffs like lemmings, while PUBG's bots will also "consider bullet physics when shooting".
"What this means is that players will be able to dodge the bots' bullets if they use the same evasive maneuvers as they would in any other firefight. But of course, a computer would still be better at calculating bullet trajectory, so systems were put in to make sure that the bots' accuracy differs based on range."
And, finally, the quality of the loot dropped by bots will increase as the game progresses, meaning the loot pool should remain balanced, and none of the bots will come at you with an SKS as soon as your feet touch the ground.
PUBG hopes that introducing bots will help new players get "the full battle royale experience", but there's some good news for veteran players worried about encountering dozens of bots. According to the blog post, you are "less likely to engage bots the higher your MMR is", while the Ranked system is due to get an upgrade next month, which will not have any bots.
Despite these attempts to reassure players, it seems many are already upset about the idea of introducing bots. One reason is that it's seen to dilute the exhilarating battle royale experience of facing an island full of people you know are real. Another frequently-aired concern, which PUBG Corp tried to address in the blog post, is that bot behaviour can often be rather silly and somewhat immersion-breaking, so we'll have to see if these ones will be well-implemented.
PUBG isn't the first battle royale to introduce bots on console: Fortnite already made the leap last year, and according to our news editor Tom Phillips, these vary from a selection of player bots tuned to skill level which are "designed to be a relatively easy kill for those who would otherwise get none", to NPC bots which "often attack en masse with pretty deadly results".
PUBG Mobile has also had bots for a long time, and from my experience, they were unfortunately quite easy to spot: they would pace around up and down next to buildings, until you shot near them, at which point they would lie down on the ground. Let's hope PUBG's console bots are a bit smarter.