AI has had a long and rich history with games of all sorts -- from learning how to play chess and checkers to defeating some of the best players in a range of different games. But AI is now being employed to do more than just learn how to beat their human masters at games.
Increasingly, AI in video games is being applied to the creation and management of game experience and content. Game designers now realize that AI systems that combine the power of machine learning and natural language processing and generation can create content and experiences that are every bit as realistic as those created by their human counterparts.
The long relationship between AI and gaming
Since AI's beginnings, AI and gaming have always had a unique relationship. Some of the first AI researchers developed algorithms to teach systems how to play various games. Some of the earliest systems from the 1950s and 1960s quickly learned how to play chess and checkers and used game theory as a way to understand simple human reasoning and logic.
In 1997, for example, IBM's AI system Deep Blue famously defeated chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, which was an indication of AI's growing capabilities.
Recently, AI advancements have continued to gain momentum in gaming. Notably, Alphabet -- Google's parent company -- acquired DeepMind Technologies Ltd. in 2014 to advance the development of neural network approaches to AI. The company continues to pioneer the use of deep learning approaches in gaming as a way to develop reinforcement learning methods.
In particular, DeepMind made news in 2016 after its AlphaGo bot beat the best human Go player in the world, Lee Sedol, in a five-game match. Outdoing itself, a more generic version of the game learning system, AlphaZero, beat its own prior accomplishments and other alternative AI systems to become a quick master of Go, chess, shogi and multiplayer online games, such as Dota. AI systems are proving to be quick to learn games and are fierce opponents.
AI bots enhance the game experience
Beyond simply learning and playing games, AI is proving to be valuable in the game creation process. Creating and making games is a time-intensive and expensive process. When game release deadlines approach, it's not uncommon for developers to put in up to 20 hours a day in order to make sure the game is finished on time.
By using AI, game designers are able to make the overall game-making process more efficient and less labor-intensive. AI in video games can be used during the development process to make adjustments as needed, find bugs and loopholes, and quickly test a game as many different kinds of players. AI algorithms are used to create additional game dimensions, characters, new levels and features that game designers did not have to explicitly program.
AI systems are also being used to create natural-looking scenery and landscapes, as well as in-game avatars and other characters that have human-like characteristics. These human-like bots and avatars interact with players to create constantly changing, evolving user experiences.
Game creators are using AI to improve the way game characters move about and express themselves and to create a vast and diverse play area filled with lifelike creatures. These AI-powered characters are able to develop throughout the game, showing signs of learning with the potential to develop their own personalities.
Gaming companies are also making increased use of chatbots in video games in order to enhance player interaction and the overall game experience. These chatbots provide a conversational experience inside the game that helps to improve gameplay.
Some game-makers are also integrating existing chatbots, such as Amazon Alexa, into console games. Destiny 2, for example, has an Alexa app players can use to access certain game features without having to repeatedly go through menus on screen.
Other companies, such as Volley, are building games directly for the smart speakers. One of their popular games, Yes Sire, is a choose-your-own-adventure-style storytelling game. The player is a medieval lord of the realm who is presented with a variety of questions, and he must make good choices to stay in power.
Chatbots are also being used to provide around-the-clock availability to players who need assistance or guidance with various aspects of gameplay or customer support. These chatbots provide a first-line of assistance for these companies, and the bots are able to interact with gamers, reducing the need for human support and potentially speeding up resolution time and lowering the overall costs related to player support. This can be critical, especially for free online games.
Personalizing the game
AI in video games is also being used to increase the personalization of gameplay. The use of big data and machine learning by game creators is leading to systems that, over time, learn how players play and what their specific preferences and interests are in order to make the game reactive and more tailored to individual players. These AI-enhanced systems are able to help video games adjust to the skill levels of players on the fly. They collect data on players and understand their preferred style of play to make the game reactive and individualized.
Gaming is a big industry, generating over $108.9 billion worldwide revenue in 2017, according to market analyst firm Newzoo. The use of AI is powering not only the next set of challenging competitors, but also new experiences that will continue to push the gaming industry to new heights -- both in technology and as a challenger. For many game developers, AI is what's needed to keep current customers engaged, challenged and coming back for more.