Activision Blizzard CEO Says AI Will Be A Big Deal For Gaming

There’s always a new tech trend being billed as the future. In 2021, it was NFTs. Last year, it was the metaverse. And now it’s AI. Some of gaming’s biggest companies are already getting excited about the prospect of computer generated graphics and scripts fattening their bottom lines. This week, Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson said gaming would be one of the “greatest beneficiaries” of AI, and Kotaku has learned that Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick recently told staff he feels AI will be as transformative for society as the original Macintosh and could even be incorporated into a future Guitar Hero.

The over 30-year veteran of the Call of Duty publisher was asked during a company-wide meeting last week what role he thought AI would play at Activision Blizzard and in the larger video game field moving forward. It’s a question lots of people are asking as AI-generated stories become a flashpoint in the Hollywood writers’ strike and Google unveils new AI tools that could completely revamp how people navigate the internet.

“I’ve known Sam Weltman and the folks who are working at OpenAI for a long time,” Kotick told staff, based on a recording of the remarks shared with Kotaku. “I don’t know how much people realize that a lot of modern day AI including ChatGPT started with the idea of beating a game, whether it was Warcraft or Dota or Starcraft or Go or Chess. But what is now these large language learning model AI technologies, all started from this idea of beating a game.”

He continued:

And I think one of the things that I’ve experienced over the last year is that same feeling that I had when I saw that first MacIntosh, about how meaningful the impact of AI would be on society both positive and negative. But for what we do, I think it will have a profound positive impact on the things we’ll be able to do in game development for our players. It will enable us to do things that we haven’t been able to do for a long time.

You know if you take an example of a thing like Guitar Hero, I’ve always had this vision for what a new Guitar Hero product could be but without having AI and then the processors embedded either in phones, in computers, or in game consoles that allow you to actually have the speed of processing to enable that AI, we’ve never been in a place where AI is going to have practical reality and applicability for games until now. And I think when you look out over the next five or seven years, the impact in game making is going to be extraordinary.

It’s not clear what exactly Kotick has been daydreaming about when it comes to using AI to reboot Guitar Hero. The storied rhythm-based franchise was a hit for years until it eventually imploded under the weight of rapid release schedules and too many peripherals. Maybe a new Guitar Hero would let players generate their own songs based on popular artists styles and voices, or let them jam alongside iconic musicians on the fly. It could be intriguing, and a licensing nightmare.

Kotick added that he thinks AI tools will help make games more accessible and improve how players learn about them. “If you look at games like Call of Duty we have people playing a fraction of what they can play because there’s a lot there and it’s complex to learn,” Kotick said.

But while executives tout the promise of advances in AI, players and developers are concerned about the impact on creativity, ownership, and privacy. A minor controversy broke out last week among Blizzard fans when a new patent citing machine learning image generation was construed as the studio behind Diablo and World of Warcraft wanting to use AI to make art. Hearthstone design manager Brenden Sewell and Blizzard president Mike Ybarra stressed that wasn’t the case.

“Blizzard will always strive to maintain Blizzard quality,” Ybarra tweeted on May 5. “You’re trying to associate recent AI advances (generative AI) to something completely unrelated. Our approach at Blizzard is to use machine learning and AI in ways that are additive, empathic, and allow our talented teams to spend more time on the highest quality creative thinking and tasks.”

As IGN reported, concerns about companies leveraging AI tools against workers was also a theme in EA’s recent earnings call. “The fear of displacement of the workforce is something we read a lot about and we talk a lot about,” said Wilson. “And as we think about every revolution over the course of time, from the agricultural revolution to the industrial revolution and on, there has been displacement of the workforce in the near term, and then meaningful increases in workforce opportunities over the longer term.”

Kotick tried to spin a more hopeful outlook for Activision’s developers. “With all the talented people that we have and with the resources and with the franchises, I don’t think there’s a time in my 30 years where there’s been more opportunity for the company than I see today,” he told them. Though the CEO might not be around to see that opportunity if a $69 billion deal to sell to Microsoft, which was recently blocked by UK regulators, eventually goes through.

Kotick is expected to leave if the acquisition is still completed, and as Axios reports, could see an extra $185 million when that happens. In that case, someone else would have to figure out how to use AI to resurrect Guitar Hero.

Activision Blizzard did not respond to a request for comment.


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