The upcoming 12th annual Game Developers Conference, or GDC, opens in San Francisco on March 15th, followed by a week of presentations and panels on everything from VR to AI to indie game development, earning it the title of the worlds largest game developer conference. With over 13,000 participants in attendance, GDC is the place for the industrys top talent to reveal their latest projects and discuss the state of the industry.

In 2019, we will see the release of the first massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that is created using artificial intelligence (AI). Based on a popular fantasy series that has sold over a billion copies, with its own online game, which is played by many millions of people, this ambitious new MMO combines a deep, richly illustrated world with complex gameplay and a quest system designed to enable players to develop their characters on a journey from level 1 to level 50.

As the world’s largest gaming conference, the Game Developers Conference (GDC) attracts hundreds of game developers from all over the world. From day one of the GDC, thousands of game developers gather to share their latest work and ideas.

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At GDC 2021, there’s a bit of a trend involving online card games, particularly TCGs, and smart tech/deep learning AI. NetEase’s Yiheng Zhou said at a conference this week that bots in general have a long history of usage in gaming. TCGs benefit greatly from the combination of behavior trees and turn-based games, but AI isn’t restricted to being your adversary or occasional friend.

Tian Ding, Hearthstone Lead Data Scientist, took us through a few of the ways Blizzard utilizes the technology, but one of the most fascinating (and important) applications for our readers is deck building. As a TCG enthusiast, I found Ding’s explanation of how the AI decides what to use it for to be basically the same as what most skilled players do, with the exception that Blizzard feeds the AI data from high-end players who create the meta rather than the general playerbase. This may be used to assist new or returning players avoid beginner mistakes, but the same technology might also be applied in other genres for the same reason.

Ding mentioned card synergy, overall strength, popularity, mana cost, win rates, and even themes as examples of what Blizzard gives the AI. Players may either start from the beginning or add a few favorite cards for the AI to construct a deck around.

On the one hand, this narrows the talent gap even further, implying that mid-level players will have to work harder for victories. Newer players should be able to learn strong and/or popular combinations to build decks around if they are given the option of having better decks constructed using their available resources.

HEX_TCG_robotPlayers may not learn everything about constructing a deck since the AI does it based on the meta rather than any preconceived deck-balance ideas (i.e., in Magic the Gathering, you typically want around 24 land cards per deck), but they may notice certain patterns. This encourages more players to join the game and feel successful, thus a mid-level player’s lines should be shorter and the community more strong, even if she doesn’t necessarily win as much.

This instantly reminded me of MOBAs and ladder match PvP games, where talents/loadouts are often significant indications of a player’s ability to succeed. A generalist build with skills that may not work in a PvP setting, for example, may shine when the perfect time hits, but a build with talents that may not work in a PvP environment makes the player more of a liability. When I asked Ding whether the stated AI will be used in other games, such as World of Craft, he said it was a “nice idea.”

I’m sure we’ve all created those awful builds when we realized we missed out on a fantastic combination or left out a few crucial skills that might have given our build more emphasis as MMO gamers. However, we’ve almost certainly been in groups where others did the same thing, maybe after reading a popular but out-of-date piece.

More new players might have competitive builds in talent-based games if Smart Tech was used to create a sort of “Talent Suggestion” tool. While talent will always be important, it may be one less barrier to overcome throughout the onboarding process. Once players have a general understanding of what’s possible, they may either free-form build or just enjoy the game without being as burdensome as they would be if they merely clicked a few talents and marched into a battle.

Keep in mind that the AI’s decisions are influenced by high-level player-driven metas. This implies that high-end players still have a say in how the game is played, but new and returning players have a better idea of what’s going on. While stated users may attempt to “poison” what the AI learns by gaming the system, it would come at the expense of their own rating and win/loss ratio.

It should also be noted that the AI does not consider the meta as a whole, but only rank and player competence (such as matchmaking criteria). As many of us are aware, the meta among low-rank players who may be missing a certain card/character/equipment may vary significantly from that of high-end players who have access to anything they want. This implies that having the AI propose a deck/build isn’t a one-and-done situation; it needs players to realize when they need to improve their gaming skills or design a new deck/build, perhaps even without the AI’s assistance if they reach a certain skill level.

I’m sure PvE games could monitor stats and try to do the same thing for PvE talent development, which would help raid commanders by increasing the pool of possible raiders. When players fail to mesh with a game, as Batu Aytemiz, a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz, pointed out in his presentation on utilizing AI to help players, they may feel rejected by games and communities. Any method that can assist players go through the learning phases with the least amount of suffering has the potential to help the game’s community expand, and everyone benefits.

Andrew Ross of MOP is covering GDC’s summer digital event in 2021! More of his reporting may be found here:

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