The Finals Beta: The State of AI Voices
The open beta for The Finals came to a close on Sunday, November 5th. Developed by Nexon subsidiary Embark Studios, The Finals is a first-person shooter centered on team-based matches set in destructible environments.
While the open beta was wildly successful, it also came with a plethora of industry backlash due to the game’s use of AI voices. The Finals seems to be one of the first commercially successful games to use AI voices, or at least to openly admit to it. With little legal guidance or established rules around the use of AI, The Finals is a great case study for game creators to learn from.
Behind the Voices of The Finals
Prior to the open beta, audio designers from Embark Studios discussed the use of AI voices in the game on the studio’s Meet the Makers podcast. On the podcast, they noted that “all the contestant voices like the barks and both our commentators are AI,” but the “vocalization like player breathing, vaulting, jumping” can’t be done by AI yet, so they were recorded.
They went on to explain that they chose to use AI because “it allows [them] to be reactive to new ideas and keeping things really, really fresh,’ which brings the time of creating voiceover for a new idea down to “just a matter of hours instead of months.”
How Did the Voices Sound?
The quality of the AI voices in the game received mixed reviews from players. Most criticism of the voice quality seemed to come from within the gaming industry, whereas opinions were more mixed among casual players. For the most part, the voices are very realistic, but they do stand out more as being AI when the commentators have alternating lines.
During the beta, The Finals went viral with featured articles on IGN, Game Developer, GameSpot, PC Gamer, and many more. Unfortunately for Embark Studios, these articles were primarily covering the harsh criticism the game was receiving on Twitter for their use of AI voices.
Actors featured in games like Fallout 4, Ultrakill, and Genshin Impact took to X (Twitter) to speak out against The Finals. But despite drawing criticism from within the industry, the open beta ended up being a massive success, with 7.5 million players trying out the game.
Embark Studios’ Response
In response to the backlash, a spokesperson for Embark Studios offered further clarification on how AI voices were used. "In the instances we use TTS in The Finals, it's always based on real voices," the spokesperson said. "In the open beta, it is based on a mix of professional voice actors and temporary voices from Embark employees. Making games without actors isn’t an end goal for Embark and TTS technology has introduced new ways for us to work together.”
A major blow to the use of AI in game development came back in June, when a Reddit user reported having his game rejected by Steam for their use of generative AI. Valve released a statement in July in attempt to clarify their policy on AI.
The statement noted that “it is the developer's responsibility to make sure they have the appropriate rights to ship their game,” but it fell short on explaining the exact requirements, leaving developers unsure of what AI models could safely be used.
The Finals was indeed on Steam for the open beta, but it’s unclear whether their rights to use the AI voices were reviewed by Steam or just passed through unnoticed. Either way, this does seem to set the precedent that it’s possible for AI voices to be used in games on Steam.
What Could The Finals Have Done Better?
Embark got off on the wrong foot with the AI voices conversation on the Meet the Maker podcast by only discussing the benefits in speed of implementation using AI voices, without acknowledging the complex ethical issues surrounding the matter. Their response following the backlash did clarify that their text-to-speech use is always based on real voices, but didn’t explicitly confirm whether actors were compensated in these cases.
In a more ideal situation, Embark Studios would have contracted voice actors and agreed on compensation for use of an AI model trained on their voice. Based on their statement, it is possible that this is actually what they did, but since it’s not exactly clear, the response didn’t seem to change the minds of their critics.
Where Does This Leave Us Now?
With the commercial success of The Finals open beta, it's likely that the use of AI voices in games will continue. The strong industry backlash, however, does make a great case for games to be more intentional about how they use AI, hopefully including consent and compensation for talent whose data is used to train AI models. And with reports of the SAG-AFTRA strike coming to an end, perhaps the new agreement will offer new guidance on AI that the gaming industry can pull from, and begin to add clarity to this complex issue that studios are currently navigating.