Gaming industry puts generative AI to the test

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The potential of artificial intelligence to transform the video games sector will be put to the test as two of the biggest industry players this week introduce products imbued with the latest technology.

Video game makers are hoping to cut their multimillion-dollar budgets by adopting AI development tools that can generate dialogue, characters and landscapes. From the players’ point of view, the technology promises to improve their gaming experience as they interact with more lifelike characters and dynamic storylines.

Unity Software, the company behind one of the most widely used game development tool kits, this week launched AI technology that it says will simplify the creation of three-dimensional assets and animations for the 1.8mn developers that regularly use its products.

Developers can apply to test out the products that Unity launched on Tuesday. Other AI companies will be able to make their apps compatible with Unity’s toolkit through a platform that the San Francisco-based company also unveiled on Tuesday.

Investor enthusiasm about the products sent Unity’s share price up about 15 per cent on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, millions of players in China will test similar technology when NetEase, one of Asia’s largest games companies, launches Justice Mobile, a multiplayer title that features AI-powered characters.

Justice Mobile will be the first mass-market test of generative AI’s application in a mainstream game. More than 40mn players have signed up for the martial arts-themed game set in the medieval Song dynasty before it is due to hit mobile app stores on Friday.

NetEase’s AI lab trained its own large language model, the same kind of technology behind chatbots such as ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, on Song dynasty literature to power the in-game responses, including the characters’ voices and expressions.

Across the industry, gaming companies are cautiously embracing so-called generative AI systems, similar to the technology that powers OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT and image-creation services such as Midjourney, at a time when production logjams have hampered developers. Companies have been forced to delay the release of dozens of games over the past two years, including Microsoft-owned Bethesda’s Starfield and Nintendo’s latest The Legend of Zelda.

John Riccitiello, chief executive of San Francisco-based Unity, said the impact of AI on gaming “may be bigger and faster” than the expansion driven by earlier technological shifts such as PC graphics cards and mobile apps.

NetEase says Justice Mobile’s non-player characters will be “autonomous” and “more lifelike” as they chat with players and respond, developing their own personality traits rather than relying on scripted interactions as in-game personas have traditionally done.

Elsewhere in the industry, game development using the latest AI advances remains at a more nascent stage. Ubisoft is experimenting with automating some in-game scripting with its Ghostwriter tool, while Roblox has said it will let players create in-game assets by typing a few words, without the need for traditional coding skills.

Venture investors at Andreessen Horowitz, however, have predicted that games would be the form of entertainment that is “most impacted” by generative AI. They anticipate huge cost savings in an industry where blockbuster games such as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty can cost as much as hundreds of millions of dollars to create.

John Riccitiello
Unity’s chief executive John Riccitiello said the impact of AI on gaming ‘may be bigger and faster’ than the expansion driven by earlier technological shifts © Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

“AI will make a creator — whether they’re an artist or a coder or a level designer or a lighting person or any of the other specialities in 3D creation — a great deal more productive,” said Riccitiello.

“There will be billion-dollar franchises and $10bn franchises rising out of [AI technology] that haven’t been built yet [or that have been] barely imagined,” he said. Unity is training thousands of employees to use AI, he added. “Every game developer I know is doing something similar.”

Julian Togelius, associate professor at the computer science and engineering department at New York University, said the games industry was entering a “period of upheaval” where the “amazing” potential of AI should be balanced against the claims of “breathless hypesters”.

“We’ll see new types of games come out that are built for this,” Togelius said. But he recognised the “sizeable contingent of [AI] haters in game development” as creators fear for their jobs or worry that the quality of games will suffer.

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Leah Sirama
Leah Sirama
Leah Sirama, a lifelong enthusiast of Artificial Intelligence, has been exploring technology and the digital realm since childhood. Known for his creative thinking, he's dedicated to improving AI experiences for all, making him a respected figure in the field. His passion, curiosity, and creativity drive advancements in the AI world.