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Blizzard eyes AI to create art for its games

Update: Blizzard Entertainment president Mike Ybarra provided extra content on the studio's potential use of AI in Blizzard games.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

May 4, 2023

2 Min Read
Key art for Blizzard's Overwatch 2, showing heroes like Tracer, Reinhardt, and Mei.

It appears Blizzard Entertainment may want to integrate AI into the art pipelines for its games. A patent application filed on April 27 (and first spotted by GameRant) shows the World of Warcraft developer wants to patent AI-generated artwork to be used as in-game assets. 

That AI art is machine generated, and learns by using real life art from human artists to produce desired results. So, to create whatever assets it needed, Blizzard's art team would have to use real artwork or a specific art style to train its machine model, which presents a legal dilemma if the submitted art wasn't created by the studio itself.

AI-generated art has been a controversial topic in the video game art community. While it's been viewed as a way to create art assets at a faster pace, game artists have been candid in saying the use of such technology may put them out of a job.  

Were Blizzard to begin using AI art in its games, it could be seen as legitimizing the technology across the game industry at large. The technology has already been popularized thanks to programs like Midjourney and ChatGPT, and shared throughout social media in recent months. 

Outside of artwork, game studios have been using AI in other fields such as voice acting and overall game design. Similar to visual art, AI usage in voice acting has been controversial, with voice actor SungWon Cho calling it "disrespectful to the craft," as several actors claimed they were asked to sign their voices away to AI companies.

Earlier this week, System Shock Remake developer Nightdive Studios said it would be using AI to create in-game art and in "other areas" of game development. Amidst growing concerns about AI's place in the industry, Nightdive said its AI usage would "never be at the expense of using skilled people or their creative talents."

At time of writing, Blizzard has yet to comment on the patent or its general stance on using AI in its games. 

Update: In response to criticism over the potential use of AI in its games, Blizzard Entertainment president Mike Ybarra provided some extra context to the developer's reported plans. 

Ybarra explained that the studio's approach to the technology will be done "in ways that are additive, empathic, and allow our talented teams to spend more time on the highest quality creative thinking and tasks."

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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