When you see the words "advanced AI" and "video games" in the same headline, you more than likely think about sophisticated computer players that provide skilled opponents for real-world gamers. However, IBM's advanced AI systems are starting to influence video games in a very different way. Software developers are using this technology to change the UX of some of the world's favorite titles, which in turn is leading to some relatively unexpected developments.
One of the biggest changes seems to be coming in the form of AI bots that can pair players together.
A Match Made in Cyberspace
Many so-called free-to-play games have actually encouraged gamers to spend more than ones that feature a one-time price tag. By keeping fans hooked with personalized content, these games have been able to thrive. Gamers love to put their own special touch on things, which is why in-game purchases like weapons, items and game skins have proven so attractive to hardcore players.
According to some engineers, creative AI applications can turbocharge the way that developers study user data and design content around them. Some games are now capable of paying close attention to the way that people play and then matching users together based on their play styles. The idea is that pairing people who will enjoy exploring together will spend more time together online.
Over time, this can increase the amount of money that these people feed into in-app purchases. IBM's Watson AI has been paying close attention to the way that people play Atari's touch edition of Roller Coaster Tycoon in the hopes of figuring out new ways to improve the gameplay and make it more personalized.
IBM and PlayFab, one of the other developers working on the project, say that Watson's special algorithms have helped to create machine learning routines that in turn can lead to some drastic improvements as far as matchmaking is concerned. Over time, they hope to create more personalized content that can better ensure people stay hooked for as long as possible.
A heavy emphasis on personalized content is how some long-running MMORPG titles have been able to last as long as they have. At least one graphical MUD game has been online since 1996, and a few text-based ones predate even that. The reason is that they've allowed players to create their own modpacks that keep the experience fresh for many years after the game in question no longer enjoys a significant amount of promotion.
While it's doubtful that an AI can ever come up with content that's quite as dynamic as that developed by human players, Watson can sure speed up the process and bring creative personalities together to make the overall experience much more fun for everyone involved.
Using an AI to Narrow the Playing Field
Even though we might not see downloadable skins designed by an AI the next time we log into a virtual marketplace, it's obvious that IBM's Watson technology is revamping the way that online games work. However, professional game leagues are also putting this technology to the test.
IBM deployed a Watson-based app at GDC 2019, using it to improve player performance in e-sports competitions as well as create a better fan experience overall. With the esports industry quickly approaching the $1 billion mark, it's starting to host events that can attract more than 100 million viewers.
By leveraging the same technology used to manage the US Open, IBM has been able to scan through hundreds of hours of footage and build a dynamic highlight reel in real time. This can even help to keep on-air conversations by helping commentators stay focused on the action.
The Role of AI in Gaming's Future
Don't count IBM's technology out when it comes to more conventional applications of AI in video games, however. Some gamers feel like an increased focus on online play is starting to diminish the quality of AI opponents. Developers don't always seem to focus on creating a good single-player experience, which is why they're starting to create radically different technologies based on traditional AI algorithms. It's easy to imagine that IBM's Watson can be used to help train the opposition even while it continues to succeed at the many myriad tasks put in front of it.