Bot Colony

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: North Side
Developer: North Side
Release Date: Canceled

About Rainier

PC gamer, WorthPlaying EIC, globe-trotting couch potato, patriot, '80s headbanger, movie watcher, music lover, foodie and man in black -- squirrel!

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'Bot Colony' Pulling The Plug

by Rainier on Jan. 30, 2015 @ 4:17 p.m. PST

Bot Colony is an episodic sci-fi adventure game in which one plays as a robot cognition specialist investigating the disappearance of prototype robot sensors, and tracking down a spy across a South Pacific island.

Bot Colony leverages a technological breakthrough in Natural Language Understanding (NLU), a problem scientists have been trying to solve for many years. Natural Language Understanding is technical jargon for   computer understanding of human language (English in the case of Bot Colony). The characters in Bot Colony understand what the player says, and are often able to respond in a cogent manner. North Side believes that the NLU capability of Bot Colony is superior to that of Apple’s Siri or IBM’s Watson.  

Bot Colony is an episodic sci-fi adventure game in which one plays as a robot cognition specialist investigating the disappearance of prototype robot sensors, and tracking down a spy across an exotic South Pacific island.

While currently video games rely on dialog trees – players clicks canned dialog lines written by someone else – in Bot Colony players use their own words to control the outcome.  Language understanding is not limited to commands: players can ask characters questions, state facts or opinions, and clarify what a character said - and the characters will respond intelligently in most cases. Players can also ask robots to carry out commands and robots will comply, or learn new commands that are not yet part of their repertory.  The ability to speak freely with the characters increases the player’s immersion into the game and truly makes the player part of the story.

Bot Colony leverages North Side’s proprietary natural language understanding (NLU) technology – deep Artificial Intelligence. North Side first started R&D in NLU in 2001 and invested over $18 million in R&D. Currently, the software understands English sufficiently well to enable players to complete game levels, as long as they don’t veer too much off topic. Off topic conversations are also supported – and characters use them as an opportunity to learn new concepts from the player.  Reponses by the game’s robotic characters are generated on the fly by parsing the speech of players (or typed text), reasoning on a fact base, AI rules and the 3D environment, and dynamically generating an intelligent reaction. This reaction can be verbal (spoken English), or non-verbal (the character carries out a command, or exhibits a quasi-emotion). 

I am very sad to announce that we will have to shut down Bot Colony due to lack of sales. Bot Colony sales are so low we can't even cover the cost of the servers running the Natural Language Understanding software - which is $524 per month ( we don't even sell 2 units per day, which would enable us to keep the servers running).

To give you some figures, the NLU technology powering Bot Colony cost around $20M and many years to develop. It is probably one of the best NLU technologies available in the world today. The game itself probably cost another $2M - $3M. On the other hand, the lifetime sales of the game to date are about $10K - not even one day of operating costs for us when we were fully staffed (we worked on it for 7 years). The update that we launched last Friday cost about $460,000 to develop. Incidentally, this update features some really innovative, unique gameplay, and I urge those who bought the game to try it - we worked really hard on it. When we released the update on Friday, we made public a video showing what we had achieved in Episode 3. Unfortunately, all of this only brought in a measly $200 in gross sales (we went up from 793 lifetime units to 814). This was the last straw that led to the decision today to shut the game down - 96 hours after launching the update. I've subsidized Bot Colony for years, and as a result I now owe $5M to the banks. My house - and it's a nice house that I love where I've lived the last 15 years - is on the market. I've had to lay off 40 of our employees - most of our staff - because of the lack of sales. It is a tragedy, especially because we've put our hearts into this game, believing we will change the industry by enabling players to converse with the characters in games.

I've always enjoyed taking care of our customers, so I cringe at the thought of pulling the plug, but we don't have a choice. A customer wrote:

This is an awesome update. Thank you for continuing to work on this. I've been excited about Bot Colony since I got it last June. Such a great concept!

Thank you! The concept of characters that understand what the player says is unique and innovative, but may be ahead of its time. Not many people get excited about it (or know that Bot Colony game exists). I'll admit to inadequate marketing, problems with immature tech (and speech to text), an inexperienced dev team, etc - many factors that I did not foresee in 2007, when we started work on Bot Colony. Given the opportunity, I would have done a few things differently - but now it's too late.

I realize that some of you paid money to buy a game that will soon be impossible to play - because it requires online servers that cost money to keep running, while no money comes in.

I have advised Steam of the situation, and Bot Colony is no longer available to buy - in order to minimize the fallout when it will stop. We will keep the servers running until March 15, to give you enough time to enjoy the game that you bought. I hope you'll consider this fair. I'm offering to publish another video that tells the entire Bot Colony story - all the 12 episodes of Bot Colony, if you really care to see it (let's say if at least 10 people ask for it ). If anybody wants to buy Bot Colony knowing it will die March 15 - talk to Steam, and maybe they will sell it to you. For those who want to know the story that inspired Bot Colony and understand what robots could do in the near future, the Bot Colony novel is available here.

To our few fans, thank you for supporting us and for playing our game!


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