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Survey: Nearly 3-in-4 game devs are excited about AI NPCs

Inworld Team
March 07, 2024
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Last year, we published our Future of NPC report which surveyed over 1,000 gamers about their feelings towards AI NPCs. Gamers told us unequivocally that they wanted AI NPCs. 99% believed they would improve some aspect of gameplay. Meanwhile, 78% would spend more time playing games and 81% would pay extra for games with AI NPCs. 

With clear demand for AI NPCs, this year we wanted to better understand what the future looks like for AI NPCs in game development so we conducted a survey of 524 game devs with the help of market research firm Censuswide.

The resulting report, The Future of Game Development with AI NPCs: How devs will drive engagement with gameplay innovations has many interesting findings – including that nearly 3-in-4 game devs are excited about AI NPCs. 

We’ll summarize the research’s most important findings below or download the full report here.

Not all AI is created equal

GDC’s 2024 State of Game Industry survey found that while 78% of respondents felt generative AI would have a positive or mixed impact on the industry, 42% were very concerned about the ethics of using generative AI. 

Our survey results suggest devs are more concerned about the impact of certain forms of AI than others. More game devs answered they were excited about generative AI in game development when they weren’t asked how they felt about all forms of AI. 

Tools likely to be used: 

  • Generative animation
  • Generative textures 
  • AI NPCs

Tools among the least likely to be used: 

  • Generative assets
  • Coding assistance
  • Procedural generation

Nearly 3-in-4 game devs are excited about AI NPCs

Our survey found that an overwhelming majority of game devs - nearly 3-in-4 – are excited about adding AI NPCs to games. 

What game devs told us they’re most excited about…

  • Novel gameplay: Devs are looking forward to more enjoyable game loops, the potential for relationship progression mechanics, more challenging opponents, more social interaction in games, more populated and immersive worlds, more dynamic onboarding, and infinite replayability. 
  • Improvements over current NPCs: Devs want more lifelike interactions, better emotional connection to players, NPCs with their own goals, motivations, and histories, and NPCs that can learn and adapt over time.
  • More player agency and choice: Devs are excited about more player-centric narratives, narrative outcomes that can be customized to player actions, dialogue that can be personalized to players, customizable NPCs, and more accessibility options for disabled players.

Half believe over 40% of studios will adopt AI NPCs in next 5 years

Nearly 50% of game devs (48%) believe over 40% of studios will be implementing or considering implementing AI NPCs in the next five years. 

But game devs might be underestimating industry adoption. When asked whether their own workplaces would be implementing AI NPCs, 54% said they think their studio will. 

Given that game devs have a better read on their own studio’s attitudes towards AI NPCs, it’s likely that industry adoption will be broader than respondents anticipate.

Factors that will encourage adoption

The answers for this question focused on a few themes:

  • A desire to use AI NPCs in innovative ways: Game devs want to be the first to integrate AI NPCs and want to use their implementation to fundamentally change core loops and gameplay. 
  • The quality of AI NPCs: Factors like high quality interactions, and contextually aware game dialogue with emotions, quality voices, animations, expressions, mood and gestures were important.
  • Buying not building: Game devs don’t want to start with a large language model API. They want easy to implement AI NPCs with gaming native features and functionalities already built in including safety features, NPC-to-NPC interaction support. 
  • Safety: Devs want to know the tech is safe for their use case and that IP issues have been resolved before using it. 

Devs are focused on buying, not building

So, what do game devs want from the tech that powers AI NPCs? 

  • Innovation: Game devs want to deploy AI NPCs in ways that create original gameplay or game mechanics. The goal isn’t just to tweak games – but to transform what’s possible. 
  • Features: At the top of game devs’ must-have feature list is the ability to script dialogue, long-term memory, in-game generation of characters, and NPC-to-NPC interaction support.
  • Safety: Both gamer and IP safety are critical considerations for game devs before they integrate AI NPCs. 
  • Predictability: Predictability is critical at scale. Game devs want AI NPCs they know will always perform at low latency – and they need predictability on costs. 
  • Flexibility: The ability to script some dialogue, use voice actors, and offer multi-lingual support for localization is critical.

56% believe AI NPCs will generate more than a 40% ROI 

The majority of game devs believe that AI NPCs will generate more than 40% ROI when implemented. Of that group, 32% believe they’ll generate over 60% ROI. That suggests the biggest motivators for implementing the tech is likely to be a desire to generate additional revenue. 

How will gaming companies generate that ROI? This is how they plan to monetize: 

  • Game purchase (33%)
  • Single game AI NPC subscription (31%)
  • Season pass/battle pass (31%)
  • Paid side quests with AI NPCs (28%)
  • Multi-game AI NPC subscription (28%)
  • In-app ads (28%)
  • Playable ads (27%)
  • DLC packs (25%)

Fun fact: Gamers are willing to pay $10-$20 for subscriptions

Our survey of gamers in 2023 found that around half of gamers would be willing to pay between $10-$20 a month for a subscription that allowed them to talk to AI NPCs in their games.

Add AI NPCs - boost engagement, replayability & more! 

AI NPCs are expected to drive significant improvements in game metrics. Here’s how they’ll do so: 

  • Player engagement & immersion: Giving players the agency to impact the narrative in meaningful ways through your actions and also talk to NPCs as though they’re real people will inevitably make gaming more immersive and engaging. 
  • Replayability: From the ability to change your player profile to a different faction and automatically make certain NPCs your enemy or friend to the capacity to build relationships with NPCs over time, players will want to try different ways to play their fave games. 
  • Daily Active Users (DAU): Being able to interact with AI NPCs in more dynamic ways coupled with features like long-term memory that ensure those NPCs remember your previous interactions with them, is expected to drive increases in daily active users.
  • Session length: A number of factors are expected to increase session length – from how the increase in player agency boosts flow to the additional immersion and replayability AI NPCs add. One game found that in early tests adding AI NPCs increased session length by 5%
  • Customer lifetime value: Our Future of NPC report’s findings align on this. It found that 77% of gamers would be more interested in buying an expansion pack if it included AI NPCs and 72% would be more likely to buy a sequel.

You might be surprised where you’ll see AI NPCs

Unsurprising: Expect AI NPCs in Sandbox, Sims, and RPGs

Sandbox, Sims, RPGs, and Open World games are all high on the list of genre devs expect to see AI NPCs in. That’s not surprise given it aligns with what our Future of NPCs report found last year. 

Surprising: They’ll also be Shooters, Battle Royale, and MOBA

Devs think AI NPCs are almost as likely to be added to these genres as RPGs. Expect to see AI NPCs as AI players in multiplayer games, onboarding NPCs, and core NPCs. 

The twist: Devs think their genre is more likely to adopt

Just like devs believed their studios were more likely to adopt AI NPCs than the broader industry, they’re also more likely to believe the genre they work in is going to implement AI NPCs. The difference was particularly strong in Roguelikes, Metroidvania, and Platformer games.

The full report: What’s in it?

This post is just a quick overview of our reports’ findings. Download the full report for: 

  • More detailed breakdowns of results
  • Demographic outliers
  • Findings about studio types and genres
  • Recommendations for creating your studio’s AI NPC strategy

Enjoyed this report? Sign-up for Inworld to ensure you receive the next two reports from our survey that focus on how AI NPCs will impact gameplay and narrative design.

Inworld AI 

Inworld is the leading AI engine for video games and interactive experiences. Whether you’re looking to unlock novel gameplay, create content at scale, improve player immersion, or future-proof your AI infrastructure, Inworld enhances game development with AI.

There are three products in the Inworld product suite:

  • Inworld Engine powers real-time experiences with groundbreaking game mechanics, dynamic NPCs, and worlds that evolve with each action.
  • Inworld Studio consists of a suite of tools that enhance game design. Using AI to streamline workflows, the Studio enables developers to workshop, draft, and outline storylines, narratives, dialogue, quests, and more.
  • Inworld Core is our custom solution for future-proof AI infrastructure, including custom models, training, serving and security.

Download the full report here! Or sign-up for Inworld Studio to try out our tech. 

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