Over the past few years listening to gaming executives talk about the industry during earnings calls, I’ve discovered that Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick is one of the most thoughtful bosses in the business. He was coy about the rise of Xbox Game Pass, noting whenever asked that subscriptions are still a small part of the business, and he didn’t declare that NFTs are the future of commerce five minutes after learning about them. It’s a low bar, but it’s slightly refreshing to hear a tech executive respond to buzzwords with something other than the unconditional enthusiasm of a Golden Retriever. That’s what happened on Monday when Zelnick was asked during an investor call what he thought about developments in AI technology, at least at the beginning of his answer.
“You know I’m the first person to deal with other people’s hype,” Zelnick said. “And I would like to note that artificial intelligence means ‘artificial intelligence’ and there is no such thing as artificial intelligence.”
The CEO believes that some of the hopes and fears that artificial intelligence has inspired are overblown, reasoning, for example, that the handheld calculator didn’t stop kids from learning math, so writing bots like ChatGPT won’t mean the end of essays. And he doesn’t think Take-Two’s studios, which include Rockstar, Firaxis, Cloud Chamber (the new BioShock developer) and Hangar 13, are at risk of being replaced by a game-spitting bot.
“And no, [AI is] it’s not going to allow someone to say, ‘Please develop a Grand Theft Auto competitor that’s better than Grand Theft Auto,’ and then they’re going to ship it and ship it digitally and then that’s it,” Zelnick said “People will try, but it won’t happen.”
Beyond that, though, Zelnick thinks AI research is a big deal, and he’s interested in using it to make games. Rather than making development cheaper overall, AI tools will “just raise the bar” for the industry, he says.
“We’re starting a very exciting era of new tools,” Zelnick said on the call, “and they’re going to allow our teams and our competitors’ teams to do very interesting things more efficiently, so we’re going to want to be even more creative.”
Even at this research stage, controversial AI image generators have been used to generate inspiration for game art and even create assets directly, but Zelnick certainly also refers to less impressive applications for machine learning algorithms, the power of which are that they can be harnessed to solve all kinds of problems, from image enhancement to autonomous car navigation. For example, Ubisoft already uses a machine learning-powered animation tool called Anything World for prototyping.
Another interesting application for machine learning is training AI opponents – such as Google’s AI StarCraft player – although this has also opened up uncharted territory for cheaters, as Rocket League players recently learned firsthand (opens in new tab). He tends to pick up on every interesting development in the field of machine learning, but for better or worse, even wise ol’ Zelnick thinks we’re on the cusp of a new era. Not one that will replace the big development teams of this era, but one that will see them do more, as he put it.