China's game art industry reportedly decimated by growing AI use

The widespread use of AI art is reportedly diminishing the work of game artists in China, who worry about how it'll be used in other departments of game development.

"Our way of making a living is suddenly destroyed. [...] I wish I could just shoot down these programs."
-an anonymous artist speaking on using AI programs for work

AI art is being used so much it's reportedly eliminated the need for artists at game developers in China. Per a new report from Rest of World, companies in the country are now relying on AI generators over human illustrators. 

The use of AI generators such as Midjourney and DALL-E allegedly started in February, and since grown exponentially. Studios using this technology range from small indie developers to regional giants such as Tencent and NetEase, who use AI to create materials such as characters, locations, and promotional materials.

Indie developer Xiao Di admitted that he and other developers of his size have resorted to AI as a way to save money. Previously, they would outsource their art to a freelancer, but making characters and backdrops with AI has allowed them to reduce costs. 

Per game industry recruiter Leo Li, illustrator jobs declined by nearly 70 percent in the last year, in part because of AI growth. "Bosses may be thinking they don’t need so many employees,” said Li.

Those who spoke to Rest of World said they're encouraged by their employers to use the generators as a way to increase productivity. Xu Yingying, who provides art at an indie studio in Chongqing, China, told the outlet that AI "is developing at a speed way beyond our imagination. Two people could potentially do the work that used to be done by 10."

AI has a foothold in art, but where does it end?

Beyond art, AI is already making footholds in other departments of game development, such as writing, voice acting, and design.

Artists are often one of the first departments to get involved in a video game's production, and game artists in China told Rest of World their concerns about being replaced by AI technology.

It's a fear felt by artists across the entire creative field. Last year as the tech was becoming more commonplace, websites such as Kickstarter and ArtStation let AI-made art proliferate on their platforms. 

In January, China created a new regulation requiring "deepfake" generators to clearly label content that may confuse civilians. With a recent draft law, that ruling expanded to now include AI-made images and videos. 

Notably, though, it doesn't appear to say anything about informing customers about using AI in games or any other product. 

With how companies are latching onto AI as a way of increasing productivity, it may take some time and effort for the technology to truly go away. But it will be expanding, something Xiao told Rest of World was just an inevitability. 

"AI illustration is just the beginning," he said. "It might be programming or customer service next year, or the year after.” 

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