Microsoft’s Chinese arm leveraging AI to make video game characters “sentient”

Xiaoice, an artificial intelligence enterprise under Microsoft China, recently announced the official establishment of a new game studio, ICEGamer. The team will develop an open-world mobile game based on the popular anime Aotu World, which will leverage the company’s AI Beings NPC. ICEGamer has attracted veteran talent from other Chinese game companies, including Changyou, Perfect World, and NetEase.

While technology in the games industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace, some would argue that innovation in game genres and gameplay has stagnated a bit. ICEGamer believes its AI can help in this regard by changing the way players interact with game characters, making them feel more real like the protagonist in the film Free Guy.

ICEGamer’s AI Beings can appear more “human” with their own thinking, logic, and personality. The studio claims that they are “sentient” and will interact much more naturally with human players. As AI becomes more sophisticated, virtual worlds will feel more realistic as the NPC inhabitants start to blur the line with actual human players. Xiaoice has previously partnered with Pokémon to develop interactive characters, and its technology has been used by companies like Tokyo-based DMM to create NPCs for their video games. AI Beings are a natural extension of the firm’s evolving tech, which has included XConversational AI, natural speech generation technology X-GAN, and neural network rendering technology XNR.

There’s a long way to go before games feel as real as the world of Free Guy, but there have been a number of Chinese firms in recent years advancing the cause, including and Sensetime., for example, has provided its services to Lilith for its global popular game, Rise of Kingdoms, and to AliGames for Sangokushi Strategy, the most popular and profitable SLG (simulated life game) game in China in the past several years.

More robust AI has also been growing in importance to game creators because it can reduce the workload of the whole team. When a studio needs to design many different models and conduct repeated tests which typically have relied on developers’ experiences or the accumulation of big data algorithms, AI can be leveraged to optimize development and improve efficiencies.

ICEGamer’s AI could have big implications for a variety of game genres, especially those with large worlds and numerous NPCs. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure: Global Profiles™, RPGs, action-adventure games, and open-world games are particularly popular among players in China, and these are precisely the genres that could benefit from sophisticated AI-driven characters. Meanwhile, players in Indonesia show a strong preference for life/pet simulation games, which also need strong AI for its characters to feel real.

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