Big games like World of Warcraft and Team Fortress 2 helped popularize the practice of idling: logging into a game without playing it in the hope of passively receiving in-game rewards. In these games and others, players would join custom 'idle servers,' or use macros to automate their character movement, allowing them to literally and figuratively sidestep getting kicked for being AFK.
As , it's not surprising that some of the people in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds aren't playing, but are simply logged in to fall from the sky and accumulate Battle Points, PUBG's in-game currency. Currently you earn BP based on your finishing position within the match. The longer you survive, the more BP you earn to spend on crates that contain cosmetic items.
What has surprised and upset some players, however, is the volume of AFK opponents they're encountering. YouTuber and streamer plays plenty of Battlegrounds, and has been logging a lot of hours through the week of the Gamescom Invitational. In a video recorded yesterday (above), rivaLxfactor queues into a particularly bad match. At 0:51, 12 AFK players are visible on the screen.
"I noticed over the past couple of days that people were dying instantly. Lots of people," he comments. "Servers would be down to 70 players within a few minutes … It was getting really bad."
Via Twitter, rivaLxfactor tells me that his matches last evening were "the worst it has ever been," and that today has been just as bad. Although it's impossible to know whether these players are running a third-party service to automatically queue themselves into matches, rivaLxfactor suspects they're bots.
It's not a stretch to think that this could be automated because PUBG itself automates so much of the process of entering the game. Once you're queued, PUBG teleports you into the plane, and even does idlers the favor of dropping them at the 'last stop' of the plane, as it terminates its randomized flightpath across Erangel. It even triggers your parachute automatically. The scale of PUBG also makes it easier for idle players to 'hide among the living' without impacting the experience of the game. And for everyone else, fewer players means less competition for loot and locations.
After some investigation and simple math, rivaLxfactor estimates that it takes about five minutes from queueing into a server to the moment of death, from which a player might earn something like 50 or 70 BP. Uninterrupted, it wouldn't take long to accumulate thousands of BP.
Right now, that currency is valuable. On August 3 ahead of the Gamescom Invitational, PUBG made available premium crates that players could only acquire until the 27th. Although they cost $2.50 to open, the rarest cosmetic items inside these Gamescom Invitational Crates are selling for .
Compared to CS:GO or TF2, even PUBG's free crates are fetching good money. At press time, thousands of crates are being sold each hour on the Steam Community Market at these prices:
RivaLxfactor's account is anecdotal, but there are others that echo what he's experienced. In an , Twitch user ChrisAkira racks up eight kills with his bare hands against AFK players. Another video posted yesterday shows more than a dozen idle characters standing together.
Discussion on various PUBG forums is less unanimous. I didn't spot any highly-upvoted recent threads about the topic on Reddit. However, in an August 28 that seems to have it all figured out (title: "Game is full of botters to gain BP to buy chests and sell in steam market"), the top-voted comment writes: "I just queued solo in FPP squads and snagged . I count 33 'AFKers,' not including the 4 man squad [that] dove straight for the ground as soon as they dropped and proceeded to kill the AFKs." I get the same count from the image. If genuine, that's one-third of the server that isn't participating.
Lower in the thread, other commenters reject the original poster's claim. "In every game 40 to 50 [idlers]? Exaggerating much? It's probably 4 to 7 like any other game. We all see it," writes tooxie11, with . "i played 450 hours, never EVER saw more than 8," another player. "40-50 in every game? That's crazy! I've been seeing maybe 10 or so in squad fpp," . A different thread complaining broadly about "The exaggerations in this subreddit," leads with "No, 50 people per game aren't botting AFK."
Over on the , an ex-idler claims that it's no longer a worthwhile technique: "Have you tried even AFK farming recently? So many people found out about it, that the only people at the end of the plane are people pretending to be AFK. They land and try to punch each other to death. It really isn't worth trying it anymore, it can't be that bad of an issue."
The map size, player count, different server regions, and randomized plane trajectory of PUBG makes it difficult to get a bead on exactly how prevalent AFK players are across PUBG's millions of matches. But it's clear that right now this a viable way to earn Battle Points, and it doesn't seem like it'd be a difficult thing to automate.
In my own test, I encountered just two idlers when I queued into a normal squad server. But on a first-person squad server (below), I fell from the plane with 13 or 14 AFK players (two more, AFKing in disguise, peel off to punch us to death). I died quickly, earning 60 BP in 2 minutes and 18 seconds.