I currently have 23 hours of playtime in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but I think I’ve only really spent about five of those hours playing with other real humans, with the rest being spent in Valve’s “Offline with Bots” mode which pits you against an entire enemy team of AI players. I was initially drawn to this mode due to Counter-Strike‘s intimidating competitive scene. Not only did I have more fun facing off against the computer, but was also able to learn the maps easier while not having to worry about my score or kill ratio.
Offline bots as a substitute for human players were originally popular in classic first-person shooters like Unreal Tournament and Battlefield 1942 during a time when online gaming was moved aside in favour of solo and LAN gaming. When internet connections started getting faster and more reliable, as well as modern gaming technology advancing further, offline bots in multiplayer shooters started to become a thing of the past and are seldom seen these days.
Allow me to present a case for why multiplayer games should always feature AI bots.
1. It’s an effective tutorial
When I played with the bots on Counter-Strike, I was able to learn the controls, the layout of the maps, how each mode worked, and how it felt to handle each firearm. I was able to do all of this at my own leisure without a child screaming in my ear about how I “suck” at the game and how I should “delete my account”.
Being able to learn how the game works without the pressure of performing well in an online match was more comfortable for me, and I think that experience can be a lot more effective than a standard tutorial could ever be. I would be able to spend a couple of hours doing this, and then move onto an online competitive match once I felt I was adequate enough.
2. They help with low player numbers
Some multiplayer games never succeed in getting their feet off the ground. For those that feature servers that support up to 64 players but have a low population count, many matches will only be populated by maybe a dozen humans. Adding AI players to fill these empty roles helps to ensure these places feel more populated than they actually are, If a match never feels like a ghost town, it will also help newbies to gain an understanding of how the game felt to play during its prime.
3. They stop the game from becoming obsolete
What do you do when the servers are down for maintenance? Or even if they get shut-off permanently? Without some form of solo play, a multiplayer game is essentially obsolete once the servers are shut down. You can no longer play it as you won’t be able to play it. You’ll just boot it up and get a network error message. If the servers are never resurrected, the next best option is to be able to play some kind of offline mode.
By adding in offline bots, you effectively preserve that game for as long as it will run on your platform. You won’t get the same experience as it used to be, but you at least ensure you’ll be able to play it once the servers are shut down forever.
4. Your experience can be more customisable
If you find the correct configuration file of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, you’ll be able to customise the game modes and behaviour of the bots. Everything from the number of rounds you’ll play, to the reaction times of the AI, to the respawn rules can be tailored to your liking. There’s also the high selection of custom maps available on the Steam Workshop, ensuring that you can try out new playstyles or mess around for fun without affecting the enjoyment of everyone else.
5. It’s fun
You may like the game and you may like playing online, but sometimes you just don’t feel like facing off against other humans. Maybe you dislike the fact that you’re forced to play against them. Offline skirmish modes act as a barebones singleplayer mode that can closely replicate online as much as possible, meaning that gamers who like the look and feel of Call of Duty or Star Wars: Battlefront but aren’t a big fan of online multiplayer can still play it within their own comfort zone.
While AI players are still common to find in multiplayer strategy or racing sims, the shooter genre seems to have forgotten why this feature is popular among many groups of people. If I could play a bot match of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Rising Storm 2: Vietnam for the reasons stated above, I would probably have a much more enjoyable time and be able to learn the game much more efficiently. Of course, it wouldn’t be as good as the real experience, but at least it gives people more options on how they want to play. I’m hoping that upcoming multiplayer shooters such as Battalion: 1944 and Quake Champions understand the need for AI players is an important one for many people.