AI in big budget games is inevitable, say dev vets from Assassin's Creed and Everquest 2: 'Developers hate it … the money is still going to drive absolutely everybody to do it'

A stylish woman from Haven Studios' upcoming Fairgame$ looks up, determined.
(Image credit: Haven Studios)

AI's a thorny subject, to say the least. The big issue with technology is that it advances in waves. There'll be a very long time where it feels like nothing's changing much at all, and then suddenly we're all saddled with something new to irreversibly change our lives.

The trouble with these sudden ramps is it takes a while for the law, social etiquette, and plain ol' common decency to catch up. Generative AI's been no different—it's created ripples in art, music, writing, coding, design, and by virtue of the fact all of those are part of it in some way: game development.

The latest two cents thrown into the ongoing debate comes via an interview from our friends over at Edge Magazine, who sat down with former Assassin's Creed lead producer Jade Raymond and Raph Koster, the former co-director of Everquest 2 co-director.

"AAA games have gone from taking teams of 50 people two years to make to now sometimes taking teams of hundreds of people more than ten years to make … [we believe] these technologies will eventually help game developers reverse that trend, and unlock more creativity from developers and players alike," says Raymond as she goes over the R&D projects of her new professional home, Haven Studios.

It's true that the gulf between what game development used to be and what it is now—specifically in the big stonking budget department—has completely changed. What a studio can do has been rapidly overtaken by the expectations placed upon them and a market hostile to letting anyone take their dang time with anything, and it's led to all sorts of symptoms. 

Cold-shoulder layoffs of even talented workers, big releases plagued with performance issues, histories of unjustifiable (yet somehow still common) crunch culture: That's all been smushed into rising audience expectations. We've had some great games this year—so much so that Fraser Brown called this "the best summer for RPGs." But from a developer perspective? It's just rough out there right now. Whether AI can solve all of that, or whether it'll just be further petrol poured on the fire, it remains to be seen.

Meanwhile Koster takes the view that this stuff's just inevitable, feelings be damned. "Developers hate it, many players dislike it, there's a general current against it, and the money is still going to drive absolutely everybody to do it, because otherwise the cost curves are not sustainable." A bit fatalistic, but not necessarily inaccurate.

In terms of how the tech's playing out right now, it's been a mixed bag. Studios get dunked on for relying on this new tech, like this apology for Gollum that, for some reason, was likely written by AI instead of a person. It's also, as Koster notes, not universally liked by the people who make games, either.

Take-Two's CEO described himself as "unenthusiastic", calling artificial intelligence "an oxymoron". Earlier this year, PC Gamer's Even Lahti had a roundtable discussion with Blackbird Interactive, who said there "is no AI-driven software that I know of that we would put in a shipped game". Not everyone's a naysayer, though. Ubisoft's hopping onto the AI train, firmly convinced it'll "profoundly transform creative industries."

To be fair, Koster does point out it'll "suck at generating plots", which tracks—most AI I've seen try to weave a story makes something that kinda rhymes with one, but the lack of intent scuppers it. Tim Schafer of Psychonauts fame put it pretty well: "Super impressive, but also completely like: who cares?" Then again, assuming AI will be bad at something forever is a dangerous road. We haven't quite hit the ceiling yet. 

Raymond takes a less cynical bent, though, swinging so far in the other direction as to sound borderline Molyneuxian, which is a word I think I just made up. "Multiplayer games that are designed to be experienced and played across generations could be a new trend. Immersive games built to learn and develop hobby skills like gardening could be another niche." Granted, it seems she's less talking about AI-driven games here, instead taking stabs in the dark at how the landscape will change overall.

She's not totally off base, either. Think about how VR's tech has birthed stuff like VR Chat—what we imagine as a modern VR headset isn't even old enough to drink in most countries, but you can straight up head over to VR Chat and get baptised by a licensed priest. From where I'm sitting, nobody has any idea of which way this'll all go, but there's sure going to be a lot of arguing between the now and the distant then.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.