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In 2024, AI Will Spark an Indie Video Game Renaissance (and Nightmare)

More people are making video games than ever before, but most games are still designed by teams of professionals. There’s a barrier of technical skills that keeps the average person from making their own game, but in 2024, that’s going to change. AI is going to make game development so easy that you’ll be able to pump one out in half an hour and spend the rest of the afternoon playing it with your friends. There’s a flood coming, and in the next 12 months, an AI-driven indie game renaissance will turn the industry on its head. It’s going to fill the market with an unprecedented number of titles, eliminate thousands of jobs, create countless others, and change our relationship with video games forever.

If you’ve ever used an AI image generator, you’ve seen a preview of the coming tidal wave. You don’t need to know how to draw to create visual art, and soon you won’t need to understand code to make a full-fledged video game. Generative AI apps like ChatGPT help computers turn plain human language into useable content, and it can churn out video games too. All you need is AI tools built for that purpose. What you may not realize is they’re already here.

“Large language models and templates will make building many different kinds of games a simple process,” said Aleksander Caban, co-founder and CEO of Auctoria, a platform that lets developers build impressive 3D backgrounds and objects with written prompts and other simple tools. “Let’s say you want to make a sci-fi first-person shooter. It will be as easy as typing ‘make me a first person shooter,’ telling the AI to make the setting a space station, and then instructing it to turn down the gravity.”

Video games are about to have their SoundCloud moment. The same way inexpensive audio editing software paved the way for independent musicians, AI will open the doors for people who would have never had an opportunity to make a game. It will usher in a new era of creativity—and a never-before-seen amount of absolute garbage, raising all kinds of troubling questions about power, economics, and art along the way.

So easy a kid could do it

There are already dozens of AI development platforms and even more about to hit the market, but no company has done more to bring game design to the masses than Roblox. It’s a game creation platform with a child army of players and creators that reportedly counted over half of American kids under 16 years old as users early in the pandemic. Roblox already makes it easy to build out simple games in a matter of minutes using a drag-and-drop interface, and it streamlines more complicated game development with a variety of accessible tools. Building a Roblox game is already so easy that kids do it, but with AI, that process will soon be close to effortless.

“We believe generative AI has the power to completely revolutionize game creation,” said Stef Corazza, the head of Roblox Studio and the platform’s generative AI lead. “It’s a world where your success as a creator is determined by the success of your ideas, rather than the ceiling of your technical skills.”

Roblox Assistant

In 2023, the company introduced a beta version of Roblox Assistant, a new tool that lets users harness generative AI to handle nearly any game development task. When Roblox rolls out the full capabilities of the tool in the next few months, you’ll be able to give Assistant simple commands to build 3D worlds and scenes, make objects interactive, write scripts for dialogue, get explanations for preexisting code, generate code from scratch, and more. Assistant even works in multiple languages including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, and Spanish.

“It’s an end-to-end solution to build an entire game through a chat interface,” Corazza said.

Of course, there will be hiccups along the way. This technology isn’t magic; anyone who’s tried to use ChatGPT to handle more complicated or specific tasks knows there are hard limits to what AI can handle. You aren’t going to be able to pump out the next Zelda with a few lines of instructions, or anything close to it. Just because you can speak English, doesn’t mean you can write a great book. But creating basic games will be easy, and Roblox is opening the door to more advanced ideas by making Assistant as much of a learning tool as an all-in-one game factory. If Assistant can’t do a task for you, it can point to resources to help you do it yourself.

When tools like Roblox Assistant come to fruition, it’s hard to understate the changes they might spark. Corazza said Roblox has already seen demographic shifts among its creators thanks to AI. While game development is traditionally a boys club, Corazza said the platform has seen a disproportionate uptick in the number of women and girls making games on the platform.

There could be an even bigger transition when it comes to the public’s overall relationship with video games. If your 70-year-old grandma can make a game, it transforms our understanding of who video games are for. And right now, gamers are primarily consumers of content that other people create. In the near future, however, making your own game could be part of the fun. An after-work gaming session with friends could start with making a game from scratch.

More AI, more problems

The picture isn’t all rosy. Generative AI works by ingesting vast quantities of existing material and using statistical models to churn out content that looks like stuff the AI has seen before. That means that AI art is inherently derivative, at least to a certain extent. Gamers in China are already revolting against companies using AI to build game assets that fans say feel cheap and soulless, complete with missing limbs and other bizarre AI hallucinations. That’s a problem that’s going to get a lot worse as the ecosystem faces the upcoming glut of low-effort titles.

Plus, there are serious concerns about where the content used to build AI comes from, and whether its artists and creators get appropriate compensation. The New York Times is currently suing OpenAI over allegations the ChatGPT maker stole the newspaper’s copywriter material. Roblox, for example, says its algorithms are built on proprietary data from its users, but the company has already been criticized for turning kid game creators into underpaid laborers.

AI also raises the specter of job loss. In May of 2023, Nvidia introduced a new “Omniverse Avatar Cloud Engine” (ACE) that can create real-time interactive AI in-game characters, complete with improvised voice dialogue and facial animation. Tools like these will eliminate the need for thousands of well-paid game development jobs. That process is already underway. In China, a combination of streamlined tools and government regulation reportedly cut 70% of illustration jobs in the gaming business over the last year.

AI tools from Auctoria and other companies mean anyone can make visually stunning games.
Gif: Courtesy of Auctoria

“AI tools will lower the threshold for innovation and make things cheaper for smaller gaming companies, but it’s going to be a huge opportunity for legacy platforms and developers,” Yory Wurmser, an analyst who covers the AI business for Insider Intelligence, a market research firm, told Gizmodo. “From a consumer standpoint that might be great, because you’ll have many more different visions as far as games go, but it could consolidate a lot of control in the industry as well.”

In part, that’s because big companies will be the ones making many of the most powerful and useful AI tools. There are lots of small companies and startups making AI game development software, but the tech giants are better-positioned thanks to established deep pockets for technical development, and mountains of proprietary data that they can use to train new algorithms.

But the biggest factor in the gaming industry is distribution. Even in a world where anyone can make a game, developers still have to fight to get those games into people’s hands. AI is likely to shift power in the direction of the companies that make the platforms and devices that already have millions of users. Roblox isn’t the only big gaming company jumping on the AI bandwagon. Xbox and Playstation both launched major AI initiatives in 2023. Square Enix’s CEO recently said his studio will be “aggressive” in its push to integrate AI into its workflow. Morgan Stanley recently predicted that the biggest winners in AI gaming will be giant corporations, as AI could lower the cost of AAA game production by up to 15%.

Still, some in the world of AI game development startups like Auctoria’s Aleksander Caban say they aren’t worried. “Yes, big companies have the money to work faster and sometimes better, but a lot of the major discoveries and improvements in AI are made by smaller companies because they have to be more resourceful,” he says. Caban feels there’s a lot of room in the business, especially because smaller players are often driven by passion rather than balance sheets, which can often lead to more creative work.

The last ten years of social media have served as a model for what’s coming in the video games business. Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms introduced content creation and distribution tools that dealt a serious blow to the traditional gatekeepers of the entertainment industry. More and more of our leisure time is spent watching videos created by amateurs, rather than the studios who control TV programming. As a result, we’ve seen a sea change in humanity’s creative output. It’s a revolution, but from a certain perspective, the only thing that’s really changed is who does the labor: independent workers rather than employees. Giant companies still control the faucet, it’s just that more and more of them are based in Silicon Valley instead of Hollywood.

The same kinds of changes are coming to video games. More people get to be artists and we’ll see a whole new world of excitement for people who play the games, but in the end, the real winner is going to be big tech.

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