Embracer embraces a 'human-centric' AI policy, says vague stuff about how it will 'massively enhance game development'

 An Ai face looks down on a human.
Credit: Colin Anderson via Getty Images

Struggling videogame conglomerate Embracer Group appears to be embracing the rise of artificial intelligence: In its latest annual report, the company laid out a strategy for incorporating AI in its future work, saying that the tech "has the capability to massively enhance game development by increasing resource efficiency" and "adding intelligent behaviors, personalization, and optimization to gameplay experiences."

The use of generative AI in game development is a touchy topic to say the least. Broadly speaking, a lot of creative types tend not to care for it to put it mildly, but high-priced executives really do; some people say it will inevitably put people out of work (you don't have to pay a machine to spit out a picture, after all), while others (again, high-priced executives) insist, to borrow a phrase, no it won't.

Regardless of where you come down on that particular divide, efforts to incorporate it into game development have faced significant criticism: Blizzard recently went so far as to reassure gamers that it's not using generative AI in World of Warcraft. But that's not putting off Embracer, which said the rapid development of large language models (LLMs) has resulted in the creation of AI capable of far greater things than in the past, "like spotting complex patterns, contributing with advanced coding, and perhaps most notably, delivering increasingly human-like interaction."

Increased capability isn't the only driving force behind Embracer's increasing adoption of AI: Everyone else is doing it too, and hey, Embracer doesn't want to miss the boat.

"Certainly, one of the major risks for a company is not to use AI, as this would mean a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis other industry players," Embracer privacy and AI governance head Tomas Hedman said. "Most companies will move forward on AI integration in different ways. For us, it is the way that we do this that is the most critical element."

"We do not want to replace people with AI, we want to empower them," Hedman said, explaining Embracer's 'way'. "This is the core of our human-centric approach to leveraging the potential with AI.

"It's not just that AI enables our developers to do even more, and to become more efficient on certain tasks, it will also open up coding to a broader group of developers. Entry into the industry might be easier for individuals with disabilities who, for instance, cannot use a keyboard as easily as others."

Improved accessibility is absolutely a desirable outcome, but the real focus seems to be elsewhere: Hedman said that as AI models improve, "we can leverage their capacity also in the creative process," in tasks like "identifying inconsistencies in scripts and storytelling," and assisting creative teams with "scriptwriting, image creation, idea generation, quality control, and more"—jobs, I can't help noting, that are already being done by people: writers, editors, artists, testers, and so forth.

Hedman believes that the impact of AI won't only be felt behind the scenes, but will be visible to gamers too. "As models become more human-like, the interaction between players and AI-supported functions will be much more dynamic. If in a game scenario you bargain, AI can remember this the next time. That makes the whole gaming experience much more interesting and lifelike."

Okay, but counterpoint:

Telltale's The Walking Dead screenshot: Clementine will remember that.
Telltale's The Walking Dead screenshot: Clementine will remember that.

Whether we like it or not, generative AI use is already growing rapidly: A recent GDC survey found that 31% of game developers are already using it, and that genie's not going back into the bottle. But I think there are limits to what can be done with it that fall far short of some of the starry-eyed promises being made: Neither Nvidia's AI demo nor Ubisoft's uncanny NEO NPCs have come close to convincing me that AI-powered NPCs will provide better, more engaging interactions than well-written characters.

A wholly separate question is whether a "human-centric approach" to AI will actually stand up to pressure when the numbers on the quarterly financials aren't going up as quickly as people would like. Embracer also said in its report that it put 1,583 people out of work over the past year as a consequence of a failed $2 billion investment deal in 2023. Those layoffs also saw multiple studio closures including Campfire Cabal, Volition, Free Radical Design, and most recently, Pieces Interactive.