HOW ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE COULD RESHAPE THE VIDEO GAME SECTOR
Game creation is particularly labour-intensive – and particularly ripe for automation
Displaying brightly coloured objects around a screen at high speed is not what computer CPUs are designed for. And so arcade machine manufacturers invented the graphics processing unit (GPU), a set of circuits for processing video game visuals alongside the work done by the central processing unit. The GPU’s ability to speed up complex tasks has since found wider applications: video editing, cryptocurrency mining and, more recently, artificial intelligence (AI) learning.
AI is now changing the industry that helped create it. Any part of entertainment can be affected by generative AI, which learns the creation of text, images, audio or video to achieve new results from the same. But the games business will change the most, says venture capital (VC) firm Andreessen Horowitz. The interactivity of games demands that they be filled with labor-intensive designed content: think 30 square miles of landscape or 60 hours of music in the cowboy adventure Red Dead Redemption 2. Bringing in artificial intelligence assistants to produce it can dramatically shrink timelines and budgets.
The new AI tricks
Game developers showed off their latest AI tricks at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last month. Ubisoft, the French developer of blockbusters like Assassin’s Creed, unveiled Ghostwriter, a tool that generates dialogue for in-game characters. Roblox, an American platform for DIY games, released one that draws material from text commands, like “stained glass” and an auto-completion assistant for programmers. A few weeks earlier, Straight4 Studios previewed a new driving game, gtr Revival, with custom racing commentary provided by AI.
The AI represents “an explosion of possibilities,” according to Steve Collins, tech head at King, which made Candy Crush Saga, a hit mobile game. King, which last year bought artificial intelligence firm Peltarion, uses AI to measure the difficulty of levels. “It’s like having a million players at your disposal,” Collins says. This year, Electronic Arts, another big game maker, and Google were granted patents to use AI in game testing. Unity, a game development “engine,” plans a marketplace for developers to trade AI tools. Danny Lange, Unity’s head of AI, hopes this will “put developers of all resource levels on a more equal playing field”.
Easier game creation
Creating a game is now easier than it used to be – nearly 13 thousand titles were published on the Steam platform last year, almost double the number from 2017. Games may soon resemble the music and video industry, where most new content on Spotify or YouTube is user-generated. One game studio executive predicts that small businesses will be the quickest to figure out what new genres are made possible by AI. Last month, Raja Koduri, an Intel executive, left the chipmaker to found an AI gaming startup.
Don’t forget the big studios. If they manage to release half a dozen high-quality titles a year instead of two, it could weaken the blockbuster-focused nature of their business, says Josh Chapman of Konvoy, a venture capital firm focused on games. A world with more choices also favors those with big marketing budgets. And the giants may have better answers to the growing copyright questions surrounding AI. If generative models need to be trained on data that the developer has rights to, those with large back catalogs will be in a better position than startups. Trent Caniuga, an artist who has worked on games like Fortnite, said last month that several clients have updated their contracts to ban AI-generated art.
If lawyers don’t step in, unions might. The studios diplomatically refer to AI assistants as “co-pilots,” not human replacements. But workers aren’t taking any chances. The Writers Guild of America, whose members include game writers, said in March that “plagiarism is a feature of the AI process.” Hollywood is threatening strikes. Upset creators may also press pause in the games business.
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