When I landed my first job in the video game industry in the mid-2000s, I soon realized that there was a caste system in place in the various game dev disciplines. Programmers were at the top, followed by artists, followed by producers, and lastly followed by designers. The salary structure back then bore this out with a vast pay gap between the top and the bottom.
Part of the reason for the existence of this hierarchy is that computer programming is an accredited science. If you can code for video games, you can code for any industry. Artists are also accredited but have the additional benefit of visual portfolios. Both programmers and artists can leverage work experience and build portfolios that demonstrate their capabilities and justify their salaries.
At that time, game designers had no accreditation process. Game design was only beginning to be taught at local colleges and you could not earn a college degree in game design. I recall conversations that I had with veteran game designers and they told me that coders and artists looked down on designers because they truly believed that anyone off the street could design a game. This resonated with me because at the studio I worked for, being a game designer felt very much like being a 2nd class citizen. It didn’t help that certain programmers were smug assholes who felt like it was beneath them to acknowledge my existence.
A History Lesson about a Galaxy Not So Far Away…
Historically, programmers have had a chip on their shoulders. As far back as the earlier video games such as the coin-op Pong, Atari 2600 games, Amiga games, and others, coders were the only people capable of making video games. They had all the power and they knew it.
Graphic user interfaces such as Macintosh and Windows did not exist back then. Given this reality, coders were the designers and artists. They held all the power and the industry evolved with coders at the top, artists in the middle, and designers at the bottom of the game dev totem pole.
Graphics were very primitive back then as well. Due to these limitations, pixel art was all that primitive computers could create. Tools like CorelDRAW and today’s industry-standard Photoshop were not invented until the late 90s and there was no need for all of the art assets that are in video games today. The 3D graphics that we all take for granted today, were simply not technically possible back in those days.
The problem with programmers/coders/engineers is that their personality type is not conducive to good game design. The engineer/coder personality archetype is analytical and is not inherently creative. This is a truism across all areas of product development, not just video games.
If you are in the creative industry, it only makes sense that people who are tasked with being creative have personalities that are conducive to creativity. Forty years ago, this was not the case. The coders ran everything because they were the gatekeepers of the video game industry. Even in 2023, this is true of the very best coders.
The Era of the Game Designer is Upon Us
With the light-speed advent and integration of artificial intelligence (A.I.) into game dev platforms like UNITY, the dominance of coders and artists will soon be coming to an end and that is a very good thing.
Game designers and gamers (who aspire to be game designers) will be able to create their own code and art assets with A.I., they will be able to create their own tools too. No longer will game designers be beholden to coders, artists, and the video game industry.
Introducing UNITY Muse
One big player in the arena of game development, UNITY, has been working on A.I. for the past 5 years. Soon they will be launching an A.I. product called Muse which is currently in beta.
Here are two recent promotional teaser videos for UNITY Muse:
These promotional videos speak for themselves.
UNITY is Going Full Speed Ahead with A.I. Plugins
A revolutionary tool called SparkAI is already available in the Unity Store. It allows you to integrate ChatGPT to create NPC dialogue.
Former EveQuest coder and indie game booster Jason Weimann just released a video where he discusses all the various A.I. plugins and tools that are now available in the UNITY store:
Insightful UNITY CEO Interview
Jason recently conducted an hour-long interview with UNITY CEO John Riccitiello. During the interview, it soon becomes apparent that UNITY believes in A.I. is the future of game dev and has been working on it for many years.
John makes a good point that A.I. will take its rightful place in the pantheon of paradigm shifts in the industry. These are the introduction of 3D video cards, the Internet, and mobile.
With UNITY embracing A.I. you can be sure that Unreal Engine will not be far behind.
In addition, millions of dollars have been invested in A.I. startups that are specifically created to produce game assets. These are Leonardo, Scenario, and others. It is not unreasonable to believe that investors of these companies will protect their investments and face any and all legal challenges from disgruntled artists head-on.
No matter if you love it or hate it. A.I. is not going away.
How I use A.I. In my Indie Game Studio
In my own self-funded studio, I am using A.I. for all character and environmental concepts. I will also be using A.I. to train custom models using the assets that my team of artists has created specifically for my project. I plan on using A.I. for all of the voice acting as well as story development. As development platforms like UNITY launch Muse and other new A.I. tools, I will be fully embracing A.I. to create tools and code for my game.
I am also currently using the new generative tool in Photoshop beta to create basic environmental generative content. This tool learns the style from our signature artwork style and replicates it. It is absolutely amazing and it will become part of Photoshop in the very near future.
A.I. Ubiquity Will Signal the End of Large Woke Studios
In 2023, the price of admission to make a serious video game or MMORPG is far too high and prohibitive. This creates a serious problem in that only a handful of powerful and connected people — those in big corporations — end up dictating what video games are allowed to be made.
The fact that corporations are making games and not gamers, is why most AAA video games suck.
Drunk on unearned power, these low-testosterone soy-slurping masters of the universe are no longer concerned with making good video games and instead are obsessed with wokeness and social activism i.e. whatever their domineering Instagram-obsessed feminist wives are whispering in their ears. We see the exact same problem currently plaguing the film industry.
The ultimate silver lining of A.I. is that democratizing game development will open the floodgates of competition, and as a result, large woke studios will eventually go out of business. A.I. will help to create a more level playing field for game designers, indie game studios, modders, and gamers who want to become game designers without any of the ideological baggage that comes with being part of a large corporation.
In addition to this, they will not have to endure 20 years of slogging away working for soulless video game studios working on games they hate, just to build up experience, hoping they get promoted, so they can finally make games that they want to make.
Bloated corporate video game monstrosities will wither away and the millions of dollars of corporate largesse that are spent on wasteful diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives will no longer exist. Race hustlers and LGBTQ grifters will no longer be coddled and pandered to. Anyone will be able to start their own video game company and release games that they have created without having to pay millions of dollars in brick and mortal expenses and salaries for coders, artists, producers, and others.
The Moral Panic Created by A.I. Luddites
Since the advent of generative art, a sense of moral panic has taken over the activist branch of the art and coder communities. Artists especially, are people who are prone to emotionalism and hysteria. Typically, they are the game devs with pronouns, Ukraine and pride flags in their Twitter bios.
They believe that the rise of A.I. will cost them their jobs and they feel the government should step in. Some have even filed lawsuits. However, I believe these fears are largely unfounded. A.I. is a tool that increases productivity and enhances creativity. There is no doubt that they would have made similar arguments about horse and buggies, stable boys and blacksmiths being put out of work by the mass adoption of the automobile.
I believe this fear has been weaponized by a few top digital artists. Sadly, most of the artists who are against A.I. are mediocre and will never have to worry about their work being stolen and modeled by A.I. companies. They are living vicariously through the rockstars in their field.
The Truth About Art
Art is an ever-evolving creative continuum because artists influence each other. Art is not all sunshine and roses, it is often fraught with disagreements, tension, factionalism, and gatekeeping. The true nature of creativity is to borrow from others and make it your own. If someone wants to combine the styles of Andy Warhol with Leonardo da Vinci, they should be allowed to do without being vilified as thieves.
Any artist who walks into a public art museum cannot help but be forever influenced by the art they see. You can’t unsee something. The human brain is modeling art all the time. No government can stop this.
Art students routinely visit art museums and sketch the works of the masters. Will this non-digital modeling be banned by the screeching A.I. Luddites as well?
Similarly, photographers should be able to take photos of whatever they see in public. They should not require permission, consent, or legal agreements authorizing their use by every single subject matter.
Change is scary for some. I have worked with contract digital artists that are not fond of A.I. I have told them that they need to embrace it or be left behind. I think it’s time to abandon the stifling “artist” title and use “creative” instead. If digital artists want to have any semblance of a future in game dev, they need to master A.I. and see it as a friend instead of an enemy. If they don’t, others will and they’ll be left on the sidelines, integrity intact but unemployed and irrelevant.
A.I. is Not a Panacea
There will be no magic A.I. button that you can simply press and make a clone of Angry Birds or Call of Duty. You will still have to know the fundamentals of good game design inside and out. You will still need to have an original idea. You will need to be a craftsman. You still have to create a design document. You have to have a vast knowledge and appreciation of art and aesthetics. You still have to have an appreciation for the user experience. You will still have the humility to put yourself in the player’s shoes. You still have to understand marketing and understand how to build communities for your game.
Every revolution has its share of charlatans and bandwagoneers. When punk rock and grunge rock became popular in their respective eras, many record labels signed anyone and everyone so they could release crappy fad music and cash in. The same thing will happen in the video game genre when A.I. hits critical mass. There will be unscrupulous hucksters that take advantage of A.I. and use it to produce garbage games. The law of the marketplace will deal with them swiftly enough.
What the printing press did for knowledge, A.I. will do for game development. Yes, this is a bold prediction, but I’m willing to bet on it. I strongly feel that artists and coders should look at A.I. with the glass half full instead of half empty. They should embrace it as a creative tool, just like Photoshop is a creative tool.
Finally, the creators and the dreamers — game designers — will be at the top of the heap. We will be fully in control and with the agency and autonomy to make whatever we see fit. Fatcat studio heads, woke producers, cranky coders, temperamental artists, and useless DIE officers will not be able to hold game designers hostage anymore.
Creativity will explode because creative people will finally have a chance to make their dreams come true without all the barriers, gatekeepers, overhead, and politics of the video game industry. All that will matter is the quality of the game and the player experience. Best of all, gamers will finally be able to find games that they want to play because they will be made by their brothers in arms: game designers.
Here’s a special shout-out to all of the useless frauds and pathetic hacks that have been living in the red stapler rooms of their tenured respective game studios and putting out a steady supply of mediocre crap, a day of reckoning will come for you. You and your merry band of imposters are in for a well-deserved rude awakening.
If anyone thinks this is a fevered pipe dream or a passing fad, they are mistaken. Change is coming at a pace that will make your head spin. I have been astutely following the mind-blowing advances of A.I. and generative art in the past 10 months and I have the fullest confidence that the future of indie game development will be beyond our wildest imagination.