Video game producers are among AI’s most eager adopters, with employees paying the price.

In the $200-billion-a-year industry, costs have risen faster than revenues and players are always demanding something new and more exciting. Recent best-sellers “The Last of Us Part II” and “Horizon Forbidden West” cost Sony Group Corp. more than $200 million each and took hundreds of workers several years to produce. 

Fifteen years ago, a videogame cost a Japanese producer around ¥40 million—roughly $285,000 in today’s dollars, according to Bloomberg. Now the typical cost is closer to ¥500 million, or more than $3.5 million. 

AI can chop that kind of investment in half, UBS Securities analyst Kenji Fukuyama told Bloomberg.

That also means chopping payrolls by half or more.

The head of one major Japanese studio is preparing for a future where half his company’s programmers and designers will be unnecessary within five years, the person—who remained anonymous—said to  Bloomberg.

“Basically every week, we feel that we are going to be eliminated,” Jia Xiaodong, CEO of Gala Technology Holdings, told Bloomberg. “The impact of AI on the game industry in the past three to four months may be as dramatic as the changes in the past thirty or forty years.”

Outsourcing character illustrations typically has cost game companies around $720 each, Bloomberg found. Ordering them from an AI-powered service company such as Crypko can slash that figure to around $35.

Publicly available AI image generators such as Stable Diffusion and Midjourney offer digital toolkits to create realistic 3D head models for game characters. The task that recently took humans as long as two weeks and cost as much as $28,000 now can be done in half a day.

Human artists are still needed to smooth out any rough spots but that is only until the technology undergoes a few more improvements, Bloomberg said.

“AI might eventually wipe out entire job categories in gaming such as quality control, debugging, customer support, or translation,” gaming industry consultant Serkan Toto at Kantan Games told Bloomberg.

Morikatron has debuted its Red Ram murder mystery, created entirely by AI, that allows players to guide the game’s twists and turns by giving the game their own prompts. It took four engineers just three months to create it.

“This is a game that would be impossible to develop without AI’s power, because you’d need an infinite amount of art and text assets,” company founder Yukihito Morikawa said in a Bloomberg interview. 

The upside: those suddenly unemployed game company employees can become developers, creating rafts of new games to delight devotees—at least for now: some predict that AI eventually will allow anyone to create their own games.

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