The Rise of Player Automation in Video-Games
A look into the rise of less hands-on gameplay in modern video-games and how it is shaping the industry.
Please note: This article is opinion based using publically available data and personally recognized trends. This is all my personal opinion and what is written is not fact and/or law. I welcome your viewpoint and would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Children are the most important consumers of content on the Internet today. With unparalleled free time, a larger-than-average social network and (in most cases) little-to-no financial dependencies, children are a honeypot of gold when it comes to generating revenue for services like YouTube.
In basic data terms, who are you going to tailor your content for? The 30-year-old full-time employed worker who has limited time to consume your content or the child who (outside of school hours) has all the free time in the world and social reach to further advertise your product?
The lifestyles of a child compared to an adult are noticeably different. Just on face value, adults not only have to work but then have to manually invest time into their social network and perform their homely duties and chores.
To prove my point, let us imagine a generic 30-year-old person.
The person in this example is a generic male (or female, please switch out at your leisure) in full-time employment and lives alone.
The recommended sleep time for a 30-year-old (according to the National Sleep Foundation) is 7–9 hours. For our example, let’s say this generic person sleeps 8 hours every day. There are 24 hours in the day, so take 8 hours away and we’re now down to 16 hours. Generic person needs to go to work, let’s say it takes 30 minutes for them to commute to work — that takes another hour off.
Full-time jobs vary from actual hours worked and the country worked in but more often than not this ranges from 35–40 hours per week or roughly 8–9 hours a day. We’ll meet in the middle and say generic person works 8.5 hours a day. We’re now down to 6.5 hours left. For argument’s sake, let us say it took generic person 45 minutes for their wake-up routine. That brings us down to just over 6 hours.
They then needs to cook their food, that’s another 1 hour — 1 hour 30 minutes. So we’ve got 5 hours left. If he has to tidy up their home, do chores or have a bath .etc, we’ll allot an hour or two to that.
That leaves roughly 3–4 hours of free time for the generic person. Whether they spend that time watching television, going to the gym, socializing, watching Youtube or gaming — this time is their window to do as they please.
Naturally, these numbers are not law and are just a general estimation of what an average adults free time might look like. We are all different and unique, so the values are without a doubt radically different on a case by case basis but this gives us an insight into what roughly day to day life brings in terms of free time.
A child, on the other hand, has significantly more free time foregoing the needs of a generic person in a full-time job. Gone is the requirement of time needed for social networking with the task now reserved as an optional extra. Gone (for most cases) is the constant need to complete homely duties as this is usually performed by a parent or guardian.
We can go all day comparing the time savings from adult to child and arguing about variables such as homework, events and various other inconsistencies but I believe the point has been made; children have more time (significantly more in some cases) than your average adult.
Time is not the only variable that favours children over adults. Their social reach is also a lot wider than your average working adult. Throughout their day, they are placed into situations where they have access to a lot more social interactions than your average adult.
These situations create opportunity. One child with a large social circle can spread information like wildfire and before you know it — everyone on the playground is repeating what they’ve heard.
It would be wrong to assume this cannot happen in the workplace but by the natural evolution of workplace relations, this type of social connection in the workplace is very uncommon in the modern world, with the development of isolated communities in most workplaces whom communicate regularly between themselves.
In fact, most communications at the workplace these days (from my personal experience) is usually via communication software such as Slack, where off-topic conversation usually devolves to gif reactions and emojis to express emotions.
The argument needs to made about which method of communication reaches more ears and generates more buzz but on face value, without any concrete data — I feel it would be safe to assume you would naturally trust information conveyed in person to something you’d read on your computer.
So far, the conclusions I have put forward are that children have more time and a stronger reach within their social circles. The reason I have made said arguments has been to show why companies such as YouTube and video-game studios favour them over adults — they have a better chance of consuming more content and then spreading feedback of said content to even more people.
Further points could be raised such as the fact that adults and children can enjoy child-friendly content whereas certain laws and restrictions are put in place to protect children from enjoying adult-focused content.
The further you go, the more points can be made for content to be aimed at children. There’s a lot more potential and cross-compatibility to be found in targeting the child market that makes it the logical call to make. On paper, it is the easy answer.
Over time, however, there has started to be a kickback from the adult side of the argument. A lot of the platforms that are aimed at children did not take into account the push-back from the adult market. In targeting content towards children, adults began to feel pushed out and started to become disenfranchised with the content.
If you are showered with content that you feel isn’t meant for you eventually you’ll feel that you aren’t supposed to be enjoying the content as it has not been created for you in mind. Turns out people don’t like their intelligence insulted.
So what can be done about the situation? In a child dominated world, how do you create content tuned to adults but still gain the benefits of targeting children with your content? By adapting to the needs of your consumer base, of course.
By now, I believe I have drilled in the fact that one of the most important commodities for adult life is time. Always seeping away, always being spent — time is something that adults lack a lot more than children do.
How do you give adults more time to enjoy your content? It would be counter-productive to pay people to use your product and it would be a lost cause to ask adults to sacrifice time dedicated to other tasks to dedicate to your product.
Instead, we are now starting to see an approach that appears to be working; let the games play themselves. Instead of taking up time that isn’t available, games are starting to play themselves to even the playing field between adults and children.
There are a few core areas of the industry where this solution has been deployed with the most prominent being “idle” games or clicker games — games which play themselves with little human intervention.
This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to player automation. Games like Mortal Kombat 11 feature AI fighters that will actually play the game for you and allow you to keep the achievements and rewards that are gathered during the AI play.
It is too early to tell if this feature in games becomes something that is rolled out into more than a minority of games. It could be argued that it in some cases it offers an unfair advantage whereas others could make the point that it levels the playing field for people with lots of spare time against people who have limited.
It can not be disputed, however, that player automation is an ingenious solution to the problems faced by content creators in the modern day.
Player automation solves the time issue adults face but does not, on face value, combat the issue that children have a wider social network and thus can spread information further (and to more people) than most adults could. There does not seem to be an immediate solution to this issue outside of the fact that games that usually feature player automation have features that are focused on player retention.
From Mortal Kombat’s currency for “The Krypt” (a playable section of the game that allows you to unlock more content for your favourite fighters, some in the form of variations to alter gameplay) to idle games’ visual representation of how the players non-direct interactions are leading them to become “better” in the game, almost every game I have personally experienced that deploy player automation couple the feature with various tactics to keep the player interested and (possibly more importantly) monetized in-game content.
This translates into keeping the player in the game longer than what they’d normally spend with the game and instead on focusing them to spread the word on the title to generate revenue, it seems the focus is to extract more direct revenue from the player themselves with in-game monetization.
Whether or not this is effective is all in the revenue for the titles. At this moment in time, that data is locked behind the publishers and developers of the titles. Time will tell if the industry deems these features worthy of sticking around but from what I’ve seen — it definitely is an interesting possibility and as an adult, I definitely appreciate the flexibility such a system gives to allow me to enjoy games even when my free time is limited.
When I played Mortal Kombat 11 and unlocked all of the in-game achievements, I initially felt like I’d experience guilt using the AI feature — as if I was cheating.
However, the AI battle system felt balanced enough that it felt fair and I began to grow on the system the more I used it. I feel fighting games that follow Mortal Kombat 11 that are missing this feature might regret not following suit.
As more and more children grow into adults, will video-games continue to adapt to keep that user base within the ecosystem or will they focus on the next generation and let the ageing consumer base die off in favour of the route that on paper is more profitable?
Only time will tell I guess.
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts!