Report: games taking longer to develop despite new AI tech

A new report from Unity has found that it’s taking longer for game studios to develop new products despite the use of AI tools. Yet developers aren’t unhappy.

The popular perception, of course, is that AI tools streamline workflows and are, in general, quite simple and immediate solutions. But this does not yet appear to be the case, at least in the world of game development.

In its 2024 Gaming Report, Unity, an American platform for developing 3D content used to create video games, said it took 304 days for an average game to reach launch in 2023. In 2022, before AI tools hit the mainstream, development time averaged only 218 days.

What’s more, the integration of new tools and systems has proven a challenge for 37% of surveyed studios, and 40% of them admitted that “trialing new technologies” slows research and development efforts.

According to the report, AI tools are used by 62% of studios, the representatives of which took part in the survey – mainly for conceptualizing, prototyping, and worldbuilding.

However, 43% of surveyed developers who still hesitate to try AI say they simply don’t have enough time, while nearly a quarter say they are uncertain they have the technical skills to use it correctly.

According to Unity, though, AI’s usefulness in game development will soon materialize. The current struggles are allegedly related more to issues in honing new skills before properly utilizing them.

Seventy-one percent of studios that reported using AI celebrated its benefits in the report, noting the technology’s usefulness in improving "delivery and operations" such as character animations, writing code, narrative design, adaptive difficulty, and more.

“I am experimenting with AI. There are many disciplines that go into making a game, and I am trying to understand how each and every one of them can benefit from it, like tools that can aid prototyping and content generation, level design, and narrative,” said Fabio Franconeri, head of games engineering at SYBO, a Danish video games company.

Unity says that AI could allow developers to reduce tedious production work by delegating monotonous tasks to AI tools or to “distill” complex concepts into understandable steps. Testing and troubleshooting code is also easier.

Finally, devs are encouraged to use third-party neural networks as they “can power ambitious features that wouldn’t be possible with traditional coding.”

“Solve complex development challenges and build on-device features like object recognition, dialogue systems, performance optimizations, and more by plugging third-party models into your projects,” urges Unity.

Such excitement could soon hit jobs in the industry, though. According to a talk that Cosmic Lounge’s co-founder Tomi Huttula gave recently, his studio has developed a generative AI tool that can prototype games in “five to six hours” – obviously, humans need more time.

The extremely profitable gaming industry has been dominated by layoffs at the beginning of 2024. In February, Sony announced that it would be laying off 900 employees from PlayStation – around 8% of the console maker’s global workforce.

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