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DiscussionJul 8, 2024 8:00 am CT

AI? In my games?! How do you feel about AI NPCs in MMORPGs?

Generative AI has been getting a lot of press recently for a bunch of really good reasons. Artists and writers and actors are finding themselves at risk of having their jobs taken over by AI tools. If you haven’t been keeping up with the technology, at a high level generative AI is a subset of artificial intelligence tools that generate new works by looking at things that human artists have produced and mimicking them to create new work based on prompts. ChatGPT and DALL-E are some popular examples, but AI tools are finding uses in many fields — including, perhaps, our video games.

Generative AI is a contentious issue, particularly among creatives, because there’s a question as to whether the works these AI tools learn from were obtained and licensed fairly and legally. Additionally, AI isn’t actually very smart yet — and may not get much smarter for a long time. While these tools can concoct new content by mashing inputs together, they can’t identify what is true or realistic, and can be used to create deliberately false narratives. Training AI on new material can help, but the amount of computing power required and the volume of data needed is huge. And that doesn’t begin to address the conscious or unconscious biases inherent to the training datasets.

But generative AI is only one type of AI. World of Warcraft has had rudimentary AI in it since release… though AI — which stands for artificial intelligence — AI isn’t really intelligent. It’s a series of rules that are set up when the AI is built, and the machine system adds to those rules over time based on reactions to its output. 

A common, really basic form of AI in video games is the way groups of NPC enemies react to your actions. Will they attack you? Will they help another NPC if they’re attacked? Will they run away immediately, or if they are badly injured? Will they enrage and get frenzied if their health is low?

WoW’s Follower Dungeons are a good example of AI use in video games. They’re great for solo players, letting you participate in 5-player dungeons by yourself (or with a few friends) without having to engage with strangers and PUGs. The AI will fill missing group roles so you have one tank, one healer, and three DPS, and it plays those roles as its instructions tell it to. With The War Within there are quest progression events using follower dungeons, and Delves that use follower dungeon mechanics.

While this is a boon for people who get anxious playing with strangers or who play at odd times of day, others bemoan that continued erosion of community these features bring. After all, MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game — is it really a multiplayer game if you only interact with NPCs?

As this technology grows, are you looking forward to playing alongside more AI NPCs? Does it add to your game experience, or do you miss the interaction from having human beings behind the keyboard of each and every character? Where do you think AI in games will go next?

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