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Video games have long served as test platforms for AI. For decades, researchers have tested the prowess of their AI systems against a growing assortment of video games, taking on -- and defeating -- human opponents in increasingly difficult games.
AI in gaming has proliferated in the last twenty years or so -- since IBM's Deep Blue famously beat a chess master at chess in 1997. AI systems have gone on to conquer games like Quake III, League of Legends, and, recently, Poker.
Beyond serving as a testing ground for AI systems, the video game industry has made steady use of AI for digital marketing and in-game development. Developers and publishers regularly use AI to help eliminate cheaters, drive sales, speed up game design and more easily build better characters, worlds and music into their games.
AI for digital marketing
Like many other industries, video gaming draws on AI for digital marketing tools to help personalize marketing efforts and convince potential consumers to spend money, and then to spend more.
"Video games have weaponized AI for profit," said Mike Capps, CEO of AI-startup Diveplane, which sells auditable, trainable, "transparent" AI systems, and former president of Epic Games, creator of the megapopular game Fortnite.
Many free-to-play games and games with in-app purchases use AI algorithms to encourage people to spend extra money in-game, or watch a stream of advertisements or hand over personal data instead.
Mike CappsCEO, Diveplane
Depending on how much extra money a person spends in-game, Capps said, determines in some games how the game world treats that person. By paying, a player might, in a strategy game, speed up various processes in a game to take minutes rather than hours or days, or in a role-playing game enhance a character's equipment or attributes without needing to clear certain tasks.
"It's getting personalized now," Capps said.
A game will "treat you totally differently if you pay 1,000 a month versus a dollar a month," Capps said. "If you pay a dollar a month, you're there to be killed by the other guy."
That's not true for all games, he said, but it's becoming more common.
Fortnite, for example, doesn't have a pay-to-win scheme, but it is designed to keep people playing for as long as possible, partially by using personalized marketing efforts, powered by AI systems, to draw users back into the game.
Using AI for digital marketing, many free-to-play apps and video games show ads to players in-game. Often, the ads are the only free way to advance in a game and act as a sort of pay wall.
Unity, a popular video game engine, powers an ad platform that reaches well over a billion people, according to Sampsa Jaatinen, director of data science and monetization at Unity.
The engine collects a person's data, and then shows ads that are tailored to each person, to keep them playing the game, as well as to encourage them to click on the ad.
Advertisers pay Unity different amounts to run, and the trick is to show users the highest paying ad, while keeping them playing the game, Jaatinen said.
Speaking in January 2019 at the Global AI Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Jaatinen said an algorithm helps determine the type and frequency of high-paying ads shown to players.
"All of these are going to pay me differently, so the most obvious is to choose the one that pays me the highest pay," he said.
"If we make smart decisions, we will be able to keep you in the game more," Jaatinen continued.
Out of the game
Video game developers, publishers and distributors also use AI for marketing outside of the games themselves.
Steam, the largest digital distribution platform for PC games, recently launched Steam Labs, a new open beta program that uses AI for marketing to create automated videos and trailers, as well as a more interactive product recommendation system.
Now, the program boasts three "experiments": a system that automatically creates six-second micro trailers for games, a system that automatically creates a short show that highlights top games and a sliding recommendation system for consumers.
The program, now looking for consumer feedback, could be used to more effectively market games to increasingly video-hungry consumers.