After just a single round of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile, I was hooked. The game runs well and feels authentic. It even has that delicious tension that I love from the PC version of the game, all in a portable package I can play on the couch or in the car. And damn if I’m not good at it. After three games, I had one second-place finish and one third-place, along with a kill/death ratio of 4.66. But I’m beginning to think that there’s something screwy going on.
Our friends over at The Verge, who have been following the development of the mobile version very closely, seem to think there might be bots in this game, designed to present a meaty target and instill confidence in new players. They’ve been playing the Chinese version of the game, which was released a bit earlier than the version here in the United States, for about a week longer than we have. Here’s their take:
One major difference from the other versions is the presence of bots, apparently designed to help new players get to grips with the game. As you level up, the ratio of real players to bots increases, and it’s easy to tell the difference — the bots are pretty dumb and don’t put up much of a fight. This might be disappointing to hear for anyone who plays for the first time and is amazed by their own latent skill level, but it’s a clever way to ensure people have a good experience when they first play PUBG.
We’ve reached out to the teams at PUBG Corp. and Tencent for comment, but right now the presence of bots at low levels is unconfirmed. What I can tell you is that once I hit level 10, the game changed dramatically.
Check out my scorecard from last night around midnight. The grading system appears to go through the regular letters C, B, and A with plus and minus gradations along the way, then it goes into S, SS, and SSS sort of like Metal Gear 5: The Phantom Pain does. With nine kills and a third-place rank, I’m a veritable killing machine.
Right after this game I leveled up to rank 10, and then rank 11 where I’m at now. In my first few games today the best I could manage was three kills and an A+ grade, and that’s fine. But what I observed in the other players in the final 40 was a completely different playstyle than what I’d seen the night before.
The other players on the map were hiding a lot more, and moving a lot less. They reacted to the sound of footsteps more intelligently. The final engagements played out very differently, with the majority of players sticking to the edge of the circle and only occasionally poking their heads out of cover. In essence, people were playing more like … people. They were displaying the kinds of strategies and behaviors that have been proven successful in the year since Battlegrounds went live on PC.
And that’s fine. I didn’t have any less fun. In fact, I had more fun getting fewer kills and ending up with a sixth place because the enemies were behaving in more challenging ways.
But does that mean I was just killing off bots until rank 10? Not necessarily. But rumors are definitely flying around. Other folks at Polygon have their own suspicions, and right now there’s a collection of dozens of threads on Reddit filled with players who are simply astounded at their aptitude at the game right out of the gate. That’s sending up all kinds of red flags in the community.
Maybe they weren’t bots, though. They could also have just been new players trying to get their bearings. Either way, I’m not even sure that I care. What is confusing is why that’s not made clear at the outset. Some people feel like they’re being lied to, that PUBG Corp. and Tencent could at least be more transparent about which players are human and which ones are bots.
If it turns out that there are bots in the game at low levels, some people might feel cheated out of the thrills they’ve had already. But, honestly, don’t get too bent out of shape. Battlegrounds is an extremely complicated game, and many mobile players simply haven’t been exposed to something like this before. In fact, prior to last year, that went for many console and PC players as well. Battlegrounds itself has roots in the Arma series, a hardcore infantry simulation, one so authentic that a version is used to train active-duty paratroopers in the U.S. Army.
If you’ve been playing Battlegrounds for a while like I have, remember those first few rounds with the game last year when it was new, how frustrating and terrifying they were. If the developers were to put that on mobile without some accommodations, people would bounce off of it real quick. So maybe a few bots aren’t such a bad compromise.