Splinterlands - the bot problem in higher leagues.

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(Edited)

In Splinterlands Discord there are currently lots of discussions about the use of bots which are lead partly rather emotional. Therefore I will try to summarize my thoughts in a post instead, where I try to convey my arguments in a sober way.

I won't focus on the 'bot-farms' in lower leagues because I personally don't have to deal with them and also didn't collect any data concerning that topic.

Instead of that I would like to contribute my thoughts concerning the impact of bots in the highest leagues.


I am not a "complainer". :)


I am well known to be a bot sceptic, and as such I have to face various replies like for example that I would be a "complainer" who only critizes bots because they got a big piece of my former 'reward cake' etc. I think that in my case that's just obivously wrong: since I realized rather early that more and more, richer and richer players would enter the Splinterlands arena I decided to focus on Alpha gold foil tournaments, to occupy a niche within the game economy which couldn't be easily invaded by the rich newcomers due to the scarcity of the necessary cards.
The regular tournament reports of @jacekw show that I am still earning very well and thus my personal Splinterlands income is not yet significantly affected by bots.
I am thankful that Splinterlands (founders, team and many players) made that possible!

I own more than a million SPS and more than 20 million collection power, so that my (main) aim is NOT to accumulate more SPS but the success of the game so that the value of my already owned SPS and assets might increase.


Bots are / will be superior compared to human players, and Splinterlands is no exception.


I am convinced that sooner or later bots will play significantly stronger than every human player. That doesn't mean they will win every single battle (due to the intrinsic elements of chance) but no human player will be able to win a match of lets say 20 battles against such an advanced software anymore.

Rather often I am told that Splinterlands would be an exception due to its "complexity", "uniqueness" etc., and due to ongoing changes, but I am deeply convinced that it is only a matter of time, until the unavoidable will become obvious: that bots are the clear bosses on the battlefield.
I observed the same phenomenon (and the discussions, the hints on the alleged superiority of humans, their intuition and so forth) again and again in many different games.
As a rather good chess player who also supported a chess programmer to reach the top ten of the best available chess programs worldwide these days, I am well aware of the history of chess, where grandmasters at first belittled the artificial competitors, then fought hard to beat them and finally lost.

Programs based on neuronal networks like AlphaZero but even open source based conventional chess software like Stockfish beat the strongest chess players easily.
The same happened to Go, to Poker and many other games.

Splinterlands is only 'lucky' not to be in focus of really good programmers (yet).
And no, it is NOT too complex for bots (never mind real AI).

If this, my prediction, should be proven wrong I would be very surprised but at the same time more than happy and the problem discussed in this post significantly smaller!


So why do I consider bots to be such a big problem?


Already now a big percentage of the 'top' Champion League players, and even complete guilds rely on bots.
I actually wonder who of the top 25 players of the last "Champion I" ranking is ready to state in the comment section of this post NOT to use a bot? Is there anybody out there? :)

To make it clear, I don't blame anybody. I understand the desire to try to earn as much as possible (in a rather comfortable way) within the frame of what is allowed. Within the botters is quite some folks I consider as friends.

Here I also cannot save my friend @uwelang from mentioning him. He wrote in Discord that people would only complain about bots "because they are too stupid or not skilled enough to beat them". Well, he himself cannot beat them either, and thus is using a bot, too. :)

Even if, as I said, I don't don't accuse people to use bots, I see bot dominance in the game as a huge future problem in general:

  • In general sports/games are attractive for humans if they see HUMANS compete for the crown.
    People admire tennis, soccer or chess players because they proved to be best in a fair competition among a huge number of human concurrents.

    I ask you: would people also admire a motorbike that beats all human sprinters, an insuperable wall that beats all tennis players or any 3 meters tall robots who would win the soccer world cup?

    What would be the incentive for new players to join a game where it is well known that the first 50 Champion League ranks belong to machines? Be honest ... :)


  • If players notice that it is financially beneficial and at the same time means much less own work to let a bot play, why should in the end still anybody play themselves? That would mean to earn less but work more.
    Every economical thinking individual should decide sooner or later to join the bot fraction (as I said, I completely understand that, I am not writing here to criticize anybody). Of course I will also start using a bot in the long term if nothing changes (even if I think it's bad for the game at least that will refresh some of my skills).


If it will continue to happen what I fear, my question is why new players (real players who like gaming themselves) should still join the Splinterlands economy if they realize at a closer look that it's more like an inhabited desert where emotionless bots are killing each other while farming SPS for their owners? (Exaggeration intended.) :)

If effortless farming is the thing (nothing against farming) I wonder if then it wasn't even easier to just stake any other crypto currency like ADA or BNB? Then why gaming?

If the game would become unattractive for human players the question would be how then the economy could still grow and thrive long term?

There is a reason why on chess servers bot users are detected and excluded, there is a reason why bots are excluded from many other games ... because in the end, again and again, it becomes obvious that human players stay away if they are facing machines all the time instead of human opponents.

I personally have to agree that there is neither a feeling of satisfaction nor any fun to beat (or to lose against) a machine.

Among others @gank wrote that bots might contribute to improve one's skills. That's of course true. Also the best chess players are intensively PRACTICING with chess software and databases ... but these are pure tools, NOT at the same time their competitors and concurrents.

Finally, the purpose of this post was only to explain why exactly I see also very strong bots (not only 'bot-farms') as a big problem for Splinterlands.
Even if the majority of players would agree with me I think it would still be very difficult to find any solution.
Alone to detect who is using a bot would be very complicated, especially because one still can enter one's teams manually according to the suggestions of one's software (which then can run even on another computer).

Nevertheless, it would be interesting to receive some answers to the questions asked in this post (for example "Who of the top 25 players is still NOT using a bot?" or "What makes a game, where everybody passively lets play instead to actively play themselves, different from just staking any crypto currency, and why should real human players still join then?").



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Individually I've questioned the need for these bots but I haven't gotten any answer, however my guess would be that they improve the economy of the game? How about weighing the advantages over the disadvantages? Generally the bot system is hurting real players, it's hard for real players because we need that human imperfection to actually enjoy the beautiful game. However some of the people who question the bot system owns bots and some are joining in on the farming, classic "if you can't beat them, then join them"
I don't know how this will affect the system or the economic or even retention in splinterlands, but, the game has come too far to fail.

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Finally I also only ask questions. For example even if I fear that a strong bot dominance would deter human players, they still could prove me wrong.

I fear that the things described in my post might happen, but I am curious to hear many different opinions.

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I don't know about the top 25 players, but I'm very very certain that over 50% of them would use it. It boils down to passive income in a game where the money has taken over the passion to actually play.

Well, you've raised a valid question "what makes it different from any crypto project". Nothing.

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To make it clear, I don't blame anybody. I understand the desire to try to earn as much as possible (in a rather comfortable way) within the frame of what is allowed. Within the botters is quite some folks I consider as friends.

I have not tried using bots so far, but I absolutely/totally understand the botters. Splinterlands became too time consuming and too hard. Probably there will be more botters in the future.

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Cheating because it's too hard, and it takes time, is still cheating. If they don't like the game, why play, other than Only to farm?

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good points, I basically agree, humans don't wont to compete against bots, but on the flipside use bots to trick the system and earn passive income, until everybody is forced to use bots. Long term this is not a good outcome but at least the collecting part of cards could remain. Not sure how to solve it, it's really a dilemma. Banning all bots (if this is possible at all) would disrupt the ecosystem in the short term, but could benefit the game in the long run.

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Simple solution: human players prepared to share one non plagiarized original post or video on hive should be given an immediate advantage.

Proof of Brain.

A community of real players can easily sort through the posts and vote them up or down.

Lots more thought needed for this but this should be the beginnings of a sorting system.

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Well, but of course then I could post something on HIVE as a human (to 'verify' myself) but nevertheless let my bot play on Splinterlands.

And to be clear: bots are nothing illegal on Splinterlands. They are allowed. I just question that they are beneficial for the ecosystem long term.

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Your analysis is spot-on and the article very well written. I absolutely agree with all of your points. Unfortunately, I don't see an easy solution either. Users could be forced to solve captchas before playing but that could severely decrease the fun of playing if it's not done in an entertaining way...

The developers will need to be creative to tackle this but I wonder whether the team even recognizes bots as a problem. If that's not the case, there won't be any efforts to decrease their impact.

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Thank you for your witness vote!
Have a !BEER on me!
To Opt-Out of my witness beer program just comment STOP below

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(Edited)

Love the post. This post highlights the simple arguments from what I see is an overwhelming majority. I want to echo your sentiments and add my thoughts. I have spoken to dozens of Splinterlands players and most report the same thoughts. I have never strayed from my disdain for Bot Farms and the concept of botting in general. I do concede that I do no have an issue with whales or players who wish to run alt accounts on a bot to try and utilize excess assets.

The biggest issue I see are:

  1. Bot's do not contribute to the economy in the same way as real players. A farm uses bare minimum assets to extract from the economy. Some farms run into the 10s of thousands. The sole objective of bot farms is to take value and move it out of the economy and to do so with great efficiency (much higher than the average player). This has a negative impact on market prices of cards and value on DEC. To put it simply bots are draining value away from the game faster than Human players can insert. Just recently I purchased several veanri heatsmiths for .004 USD. In an organic environment, this simply would not happen because prices will be determined by supply and demand of humans. Humans would only mint rewards cards on a marginal scale compared to bots leaving less cards available and improving demand and value. Bot farms outstrip demand by a significant margin and hence why we continue to see decline in asset value EVEN with deflationary card burning mechanisms.

  2. Bot AI threatens the enjoyability of the game for all new, advanced or low asset players. And secondly bots are now becoming more sofisticated than your average player who doesn't have the time to spend 100s of hours studying best strategies nor the time ability to factor in thousands of battle combinations to win a battle to produce an optimal team (albeit splintertools makes a huge difference to giving you an added edge) and this is what makes for a good leveling of the playing field. This is often neutralised when both players have to anticipate their opponent as opposed to a bot who can calculate best possible winning combination against you. Bots will eventually have advaced capability to be be able to look on the chain at your history and anticipate your best combination to further their ability to outsmart you.

  3. New players are not encouraged to play Splinterlands. I don't care how much people like bots, the simple truth is when the bot farms took over, went all went from making a few cents to $1 a battle to .001 cents to maybe a few cents in the higher leagues. New players simply don't want to touch this game with a 10 foot pole now unlike back in August-November 2021 hype when the game was less infected by farms. Granted the rewards are now better in terms of card drops, but it now takes several battle wins for someone in bronze/silver just to afford a single heatsmith. People often say one shouldn't be focused on returns when we complain about losing investment value to bots while in the same breath supporting the very mechanism that exploits and disadvantages investment value of those very investors that provide value to the economy. This is P2E and if I invest 20k on a game, I'm not expecting to walk away with 5k 5 years later no matter how much I love the game and bot friendly advocates are obviously wanting the same outcome...Rules for thee but not for me?

  4. The DEVs refuse to cencede bots are ruining the game. I heard one say something of the like 'We want to keep it decentralised so we don't want to eliminate bots because it goes against this' but by making that decision it is a centralised decision from the DEVs to not put this very real issue to a vote by the decentralised playing community. So I'm sorry if that sounds like a FUD but The majority of Splinterlands players want bots (farms) gone and want it to be organic player v player game. This is the key to growth and new player influx who will bring in far greater finacial incentive to the economy that all the bots combined. Having said that, I do repect that players using bots has some merit for whales and those who want to use extra accounts for their additional assets and I do not want to see their assets underutilized as players who have significantly contributed to the ecosystem and I'm ok with those doing that who we can assume will continue to invest in the ecosystem. They deserve to have that option on some level and are not the problem of which we speak of. I believe this will be addressed once land becomes functional which should reduce the incentive of whales botting because their will be more value in creating potions and wepons etc. Many bot friendly players mistakingly think this is an attack on them but lets face it if you have more than say 20 or 30 accounts botting, your probably should be considered as a bot farmer. If you have less than that you are not the main issue the OP speaks of. As it is many players own between 2-10 alts in an attempt just to improve their output to try and keep ahead of the curve.

  5. As a player who does contribute significantly to the ecosystem (I have been called a whale but I dont consider myself one, not yet), I ask the question to consider what encouragement do I have to continue to do so when my assets are decreasing in value due to price manipulation of bots (farms) and the enjoyment factor is waning? The notion of removing DEC as an ever inflationary asset would be a good start to addressing the price dumping. But as the OP suggested. If I am going to continue to lose value on my return, what other choice would I have but to go create 300 bots accounts (which I could quite easily go and make 2000 right now) myself and farm back my losses through reward chests. I have already created a trial account and made back my $10 investment in a few short weeks. If I farmed with 200-500 accounts, I recon I put put my feet up and quit my job via farming value out of the game. Don't want and other investors like me to do that? Want me to keep investing 1000s into the economy organically and keeping it here? Or shall I take my cash I have and buy the 500 odd accounts and never invest another cent again and contribute to the problem by putting even more strain on the ecosystem?

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(Edited)

Thx @jaki01 - better to discuss here as on Discord. However my quote here was bit taken out of context:

Here I also cannot save my friend @uwelang from mentioning him. He wrote in Discord that people would only complain about bots "because they are too stupid or not skilled enough to beat them". Well, he himself cannot beat them either, and thus is using a bot, too. :)

My "harsh" comment was related to discussions around bots destroying experience of new players in Silver / Bronze etc where I used to play a lot with only spellbook cards and did beat most opponents without even thinking about team setup (can not 100% confirm if i played against bots though).

Similar on the Top 50/25 area, no idea who uses bots, assume many do - I also use a bot (for ranking) but not always, I use it mainly due to time constraints but am confident I can beat manually also bots lol - tried 2 days ago after 8 losses with bot and suddenly had a 6 game win streak manually.

The bot discussion is pretty popular since start of the game, in the earlier days without bots the game probably would have died already - you might remember times where you had to wait 5 minutes before it broke up to find opponents. My main concern while I was "attacking" some people is ongoing discussion without any news in this Discord, the content and engagement there used to be top positive, now it is only complaining which is not helping to the outside world. I doubt the bot issue is such a serious danger - I feel the main issue is when players are negative and that the "anti bot rules" as they were currently considered (mainly the ECR part) are driving manual / human players away from the game.

Bots are common everywhere, but to ban bots in a "de-centralized" environment on a blockchain (no matter how de-centralized it is in the end) is that much against the blockchain approach in general - which is maybe a reason of the discussions, some come as a gamer without blockchain mindset, others startet being a Hive / Steem user and might be heavy blockchain fans but less gamers :-).

Even players that use bots from time to time are not only botting but also spend time in-game to do other stuff such us buying assets or talk to fellow players - when the changes such as ECR reduction will be implemented indeed only bots will benefit and there is no reason to play manually and spend time in-game anymore -at least for me.

EDIT: Just to add: I talk about manual players that use bots, behind bots usually are humans that drive / handle a bot like a driver in Formula 1 :-). I do not talk or am releated to any bot farms with thousands accounts.

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First of all: thanks for your reply, and of course it is no problem that you see things partly different than me. I welcome the discussion whatever opinion anybody has.

Let me answer a few of your points:

  • I know that quite some absolute top players are using bots for sure, just trust me, even if I don't like to mention the names of single users here (ok, I mentioned yours above, but I knew you wouldn't feel attacked - as normally you prefer to attack yourself, hehe). :-)
    The problem which I see is that sooner or later bots will be simply too strong. In my eyes (based on my experience with other games) that is only a matter of time.

  • I am curious, when exactly you made that test in Bronze leauge? My experience is that in these low leagues one is facing nearly solely strong, logically built teams, I nearly never had opponents where I had the impression that "Well, finally, finally I met a real beginner!" In a beginner league one would expect to face obvious tactical mistakes from unexperienced players (which are the ones for whom these leagues are destined). Never ever!
    So in case someone is really new an unexperienced, how would they win games there?

  • I think in times where there were/are not enough players to find opponents fast enough one could simply reduce the numbers of different leagues to increase the number of potentially available opponents.
    Another option would be non-optimized bots provided by the Splinterlands team.

  • "I doubt the bot issue is such a serious danger"
    Here of course we disagree (otherwise I wouldn't have written my post).
    I am sure that sooner or later we will have to face a complete bot dominance like in many other games as well (look for examples in my post, where I also described that for instance in chess there was simply no other choice than banning chess software).

  • You have a valid point that there would be kind of a dilemma when trying to ban bots in a decentralized environment. My post was written mainly to point out my worries, it was not yet about possible solutions of the problem.
    We should seek for any clever ways to detect bots without to remove anonymity of the players in ranked matches. A very difficult (impossible?) task!
    The problem to avoid complete bot dominance in the game but at the same time keeping untouched its decentralized nature is very difficult to solve ... and thus my worries about the future of the game.

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thx for the well thought reply, gimme time over the week to answer properly

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Yes, just take your time ... there is no pressure at all.

Maybe interesting are also the ideas of @marianaemilia (you find her comment here).

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It's an important topic. I also wrote about it in this post:

https://peakd.com/hive-13323/@marianaemilia/human-versus-bot-the-machine-revolution-in-splinterlands

The problem I pointed out is exactly this, humans won't be able to face bots as equals when they evolve their artificial intelligence, and that's what seems to be happening now.

The solution for me would be exclusive leagues and championships for bots, separate from humans. Eventually a human versus bot showdown only for those who like to suffer.

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Thanks for your opinion as one of the real top players of the game!

Your (different) league idea is very interesting, and I would fully agree with it ... however, one problem would still be to detect the use of bots at all. In chess that is (comparable!) easy if we consider that an average game might consist of 40 moves (from white and black) and certain algorithms are trained to find similiarities between the choices of human players and the suggested moves of well known chess programs. In Splinterlands only one summoner and at maximum six additional cards have to be selected, so that rather often the choices of good human players and strong bots should be similar.
One could try to measure the speed / frequency of building / submitting teams and try some other tricks to detect bots, but I guess it won't be easy, especially as human operators still can enter the teams manually ...

I am curious if there will be a clever way to detect bots or to implement insuperable hurdles for bots in the human league in future.

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If there could be separate leagues for bots, I think that would be cool. I mean, it is impressive to me that people can write bots to play the game that well. But it's not fair to humans that want a chance at competing. Let the people who are really good at writing the code for bots compete to outsmart each other. Let humans who want to play other humans have a space to do that, though.

There are chess masters who will play and can beat computers, but most people who want to casually play would not be interested in playing a computer.

The new focuses will help with some of the Bronze bots, I think, but not the higher league bots.

What's good to see is pretty frequent changes in attempts to curb the botting a little bit. It does kind of feel like throwing a new band-aid on a gaping wound sometimes, though.

Posted using Splintertalk

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There are chess masters who will play and can beat computers ...

Actually, not anymore. Computers are too strong in chess nowadays.

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(Edited)

This is a really nice post that expresses a lot of concerns that players have about splinterlands future and bots.

It is known that AI bots have beaten the top profesional players in DOTA, Starcraft and many other WAAAY more complex games that what we have here in splinterlands so Im fairly sure that pretty soon we would have umbeatable bots here too. Ofc bots wont ever be completely unbeatable in splinterlands because of the RNG nature of the game but Im pretty sure bots will factor this in and win in the long run.
In FACT the simpler a game is, worst would be for bots.

I see mainly 2 advantages for bots over humans.

1. Bots can pick a "perfect" team given a selected ruleset and mana cap. And the way the best bots work right now is they collect data and Win % of thousand of fights and make a database of the best compositions posible. Also bots can simulate hundreds of fights in seconds and get you the best composition posible for a certain ruleset and your cards.
Its true that humans can also do this, in fact the best players out there are really good at this but it requires a lot of mental efford. For a bot after is programed its just no efford at all, just reanse and repeat.

2. Another way bot can take advantage, and I been very vocal about this in the past, is that they can not only pick the best team for the ruleset but ALSO pick the best team against a CERTAIN OPPONENT. A bot can see all your past battles, can analize your patrons of play and check your entire collection, simulate hundreds of battles against your cars just before summiting a team. And ofc after all that they can just add your IGN to the database and next time they face you they will be even stronger.

And this will be what the strongest bots out there will feature. Can a human compete with this? I dont think so.

As an example of this the ARCHMAGE BOT decided THEY WONT PLAY TOURNAMENTS. I think this is because they know it wouldnt be fair and the community wouldnt just accept that. So, it would be a really bad business decision.

The "hide the enemy name" update was supposed to be the solution to point N° 2, but that solution didnt featured tournaments where high end bots will reside. Lets face it, a smart bot its only made for leaderboards and tournaments. Theres no other reason to make them. So, why just limit them on ranked play only? I think its just because the team dont see this as an issue (YET) and the update was just meant to stop the win trading in bot farms (wich didnt work as we know).

Thats why im really sceptical about bots. I think they are ruining the game right now with their bot farms and that they can ruin the game in the future if they become unbeatable.

The solution for all this? I think a good first step would for devs to apply the "hide your enemys name" update to tournaments to at least show us and bot developers that they wont have a staking card bot ruled game.

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A (smaller) advantage of bots is in addition that they have no emotions, are never tired, nervous, distracted, frustrated, impatient. They also never accidentally confuse cards or rule sets.

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oh, ofc, I was taking those for granted, but very true

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Had my share on the bot discussions but sitting out since last weeks´ Townhall also because I didnt want to be that guy re-pondering or "complaining" every day again, also because of some hope for improvement. Though I think it might be necessary (decide yourself if its to save the game economy or own investments. For me its both, I could as well just dump what I have, ofcourse with a loss, but I would prefer to play and grow in Splinterlands the next few years) ... so just leaving my full agreement on all your points here. There is no fun in competing vs. Bots, anyone who is honest would admit that. Besides the botfarms draining the game economy is also a huge point.

Simple thought experiment for anyone advocating pro-bots:
If everybody just bots/farms to extract value out of the game and loses interest in playing because botting "makes more sense" and its economically more worthwhile to start up your own farms instead of collecting cards - what will happen to the game/economy? Spoiler: We would be a very decentralized dead wasteland with some optimized number of bots leeching out the last few cents before its fully lights out.
I would very much prefer seeing Splinterlands becoming a popular E-Sport Niche for TCG enthusiasts (and maybe more, who knows what game modes are in the pipeline as well...), therefore agree on the chessbot comparision.

Btw: I even disagree on secondary bots for Whales being necessary (though thats not what I am fighting against, but I think "some bots allowed" rules wont work, gotta be all or nothing), we can just rent out our leftover cards if we want to get them "working"

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We would be a very decentralized dead wasteland with some optimized number of bots leeching out the last few cents before its fully lights out.

Well described ...

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very good points made!
I have been trying to set up my son (13) to play splinterlands but he gets frustrated as it is not a nearly fair competition for newer players in bronze. Also the Spellbook sale is pretty low on volume compared to new player numbers the recent PR brought.

Nontheless bots also are part of the journey, but yes its an advantage for some aspects, and disadvantage for others.

One idea to make both sides happy.

Maybe it is possible to give bots -1 speed?

But it remains the verification process of when a bot is playing without a human.

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I may be an outlier but, as a player, I enjoy battling against competitive bots. On the other hand, I know that massive botting is a huge problem for Splinterlands. And it's not only happening in lower leagues, but also in Champion league too. There are top guilds full of botted accounts. As a player - I don't mind tbh, as someone thinking about Splinterlands future, I'm afraid it may go in the wrong direction. We already could have seen how it can look like long time ago, when infamous th12 botnet was trying to dominate leaderboard/tournaments.

And there is no easy way to detect who is botting and who is playing manually, because you can just use a tool that suggest you what teams to submit, but you enter them manually. So any ideas like separate leagues won't work. The only way to find real human players would be to organize face2face tournament, but of course it's not easy.

Bots have a lot of advantages like they don't get tired, then can play 24/7, they don't get nervous etc etc. Of course they have disadvantages too, some of them are slow to adapt when new cards/abilities/rulesets are released, some of them have bugs so they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

I don't use bot and I am not going to use any bot in the future. I enjoy competition and that's why I still play Splinterlands. I would rather sell my cards and buy BTC if I realize that I don't enjoy the game anymore.

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I'm disappointed in the spliterlands developers approach to this issue. Clearly the solution is not easy, but doing nothing is the worst thing they can do.

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