Will AI Art Take Over In the Board Game Industry?

OPINION
AI generated painting of a lady's face

Some AI art renderings are indistinguishable from art created by human artists.

AI (artificial intelligence) is a rapidly growing field of computer science that has seen unprecedented leaps in technological advancement over the past few years. AI can be used to create virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, chatbots on websites and apps, image recognition software, autonomous drones, self-driving cars, and much more. However, many professionals within the art and design industry have always assumed that their trade is, to some degree, AI-proof. After all, can a machine "think" creatively? It turns out that, while machines still have a ways to go in the area of creativity, AI-generated art has come to a point of threatening traditional artists' livelihoods. They indeed can be creative, or at least create the illusion of being creative. As an artist, I find this to be somewhat worrisome, but as an admirer of technology, quite interesting.

Can Human Artists Compete with AI Art?

AI painting of a tower on a mountain with mountainous scenery in the background

In previous years, I have worked as a freelance graphic designer in the board game industry. Some of the games that I did a great deal of design work on include Mantic Games' The Walking Dead: All Out WarThe Walking Dead: Here's NeganStar Saga, and Kings of War: Vanguard, among others. I also did some concept designs for Mantic's Hellboy board game, so I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to work on some interesting projects. I still work, to a smaller degree, on indie board games such as Noble Quests' Omens of Destiny, but have backed off a bit in recent years to focus on new endeavors.

Having been involved in developing graphics for board game companies, especially smaller ones, and lately becoming involved in creating my own self-published fantasy miniatures wargame (Spell•Reign, stay tuned folks), I have become personally acquainted (financially and mentally) with the hardships of funding such projects.

So, having a unique perspective in that I have both served in the board game industry as a professional freelance artist and as an amateur game project manager, I must say that this has created quite a conflict within me. On the one hand, I fear that such technology, which will only improve over time, will cripple and ultimately extinguish human creativity as a trade. On the other, I feel like such advancements could enable indie game designers to produce products that can match bigger companies' efforts, at least aesthetically. 

It is commonly known that highly skilled artists command a hefty price for their art, which is justified given the time and skill required to create such pieces. Creating high quality artwork can be quite time consuming. In my work for Mantic, the pay that I received, when worked out to take into account the time I spent, totaled approximately $7 an hour. Some of that was due to my needing to learn new techniques and the fact that I tend to be a slow worker. I also don't want to imply that this was an unfair price, as I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to have worked on these amazing projects; it was a price that I agreed to with great excitement. All I am saying is quality art takes a lot of time to create, and the money spent on it can be well worth it. But when I can spend about $25 on an AI app like Wonder, or buy credits for a web-based AI art generator for peanuts, and pump out high quality art on the fly, this sort of thing is concerning for those who make their living in creative fields.

3 characters in woods that have some AI glitches in the face and hands

While impressive, some details within AI generated art, such as shown in the above can be strange.

AI Art Generator Limitations

The only real saving grace at the moment is the limitations that AI is currently facing in producing the specifics that a client would need for unique pieces of art. If Marvel, for example, needed a battle scene between Wolverine and the Incredible Hulk, where Wolverine is jumping toward the Hulk with claws fully brandished, AI will most likely produce a scene where an actual wolverine (the animal) is doing something bizarre, and it is untelling what the AI will think "The Hulk" means. AI can struggle with details such as hands, and can often misinterpret the text being submitted. I find it interesting that when I submit the text "fantasy devil with horns and wings", more often than not, AI will produce a female succubus with feathery wings. Even adding "male" to the text string seldom fixes the result. So, as for now, AI is not threatening artists when it comes to this sort of thing.

In my own game design project, I have explored the limitations of AI when it comes to interpreting the pieces that I need. Up until now, I have happily commissioned artists to produce the pieces that I will use for my game, and have paid quite a bit over the years for this. I feel that the art that I have received from these artists has been overall great, and do not regret hiring them for this project. However, given that my budget is quite limited, I have lately considered AI art generators for things like scenery art, as well as art for characters (or monsters) that do not necessarily have a specific look or hardline aesthetic features. My game features dragons, giants, trolls, ogres, and so forth, which have a look that is not all that unique. The unique characters that my game features have already, for the most part, been done by human artists, so as a supplementary tool, the AI art generator should be able to enhance the look of my game for a very small investment.

AI generated art of woman in woods

As I mentioned above, this innovation opens the door for independent game designers, both in the board game and video game industry, to create games that visually look amazing. This is the exciting thing about AI art generators. It enables small budget content creators and game designers to produce excellent looking games. Of course, even this perk comes with some issues, as there could be a lot of games that flood the indie market that look beautiful, but are otherwise trash. But such is the nature of the indie board game scene (or any board game scene); you don't know what you're getting until you try the game out. There are a lot of poopy looking indie games that are a blast to play and a lot of pretty board games that suck. So maybe this isn't a worthy point to make? Judging a game by the quality of the box art is not a logical thing to do, yet many of us do this. High quality art means a larger budget for the game, and in turn, implies that every other area has been done to a grander standard. At any rate, it is clear that AI generated art will be a major element in indie game design going forward.  

Will AI Art Take Over the Board Game Industry?

So, will artificially created artwork take over the board game industry, effectively destroying art and graphic design as a profession? Probably not for the near future. But ultimately, as AI improves its understanding of user inputs, these creative fields will significantly diminish. Creative services like Canva, Squarespace and Wix have already taken a large bite out of the graphic design and web design industries. So maybe this is the natural order of things as far as human "progress" goes?

AI generated card game layout

AI generated concept for a collectable card game design.

Can machines truly replace human creativity and genius? Perhaps artists who do work in unique styles may be able to weather the AI storm. Who knows, but if AI art generators continue to be significantly cheaper to utilize, it is difficult to imagine game developers not utilizing these technologies, at least to some degree. Slashing an art budget in half is too lucrative for game companies of all sizes to ignore. It's coming folks, let's come to terms with this.

A Silver Lining?

AI generated art of a cat in a space suit

While contemplating the above, there is a potential silver lining in all of this for artists and graphic designers. AI art generators could be a tool to enable artists to accelerate their projects for their clients. If an artist has skill in the style of a given AI generator's style, they may be able to use the AI generator to do a basic rendition of the piece, and focus their talents on digitally modifying the piece to match their client's instructions. This could save artists a tremendous amount of time, making their trade more profitable. Some may feel that this is dishonest, and I would imagine that many artists would be too proud to do this, but it is something to consider. Is it ethical? That's certainly a debate worth having, as in today's digital age, there are a lot of techniques and shortcuts currently being utilized by most digital artists to achieve the look that their clients are needing. Photoshop alone offers many filters that accomplish interesting effects without the artist needing to master a particular technique. Artists can use masking and layering techniques to perfect their designs, and craft unique brushes that create textures they would otherwise lack the skill in creating. Given the impossible task of defining what constitutes legitimate art, I would say that the above concept is yet another tool in the digital artists' repertoire.

So what do you think? Will AI destroy the professional art industry? Will the board and card game industry embrace AI generated art? This is certainly a topic worth debating. But no matter how you feel about AI art in the board game industry, the technology is coming, and to a significant degree is already here.

AI generated black and white art of a female elf wearing a hat
AI can mimic a variety of artistic styles.

 

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  • Cartoon pic of the authorJay C. Shepherd
  • Content Creator
  • Jay is a graphic designer, board game enthusiast, and professional wrestling fan who loves all things 80's, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and of course, video games. He is one of the rare few that believes that one can be a Trekkie and Star Wars fan at the same time.