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Why are gamers excited about smart AI NPCs?

Ilya Gelfenbeyn
February 23, 2023
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The text says the future of NPCs and it has a black NPC character with colorful dreads in a white, green, and orange vest.

We recently published one of the first comprehensive studies of gamers’ attitudes towards NPCs and found a whopping 99% of gamers believe advanced AI NPCs – like those Inworld helps developers create – will positively impact their game play. 

So, why are players so excited about smart AI NPCs? And what pain points are gamers currently experiencing with NPCs that are driving that excitement? Some of which developers might not even fully appreciate are interfering with players’ game experience? 

In this post, I’ll break down what we found and why all developers should read the report carefully. 

Gamers care about NPCs

On a purple background there's a futuristic looking NPC with tattoos and an undercut and a space captain NPC in purple and gold.

Despite all the jokes gamers make about NPCs, the truth is they really like them. In our report, The Future of NPCs: What Gamers Demand From Next-Gen Characters, an overwhelming majority of the 1,002 US-based gamers we surveyed said that NPCs were important to them. 

  • 84% of gamers feel NPCs make a difference to gameplay. 
  • 79% always or sometimes talk to NPCs
  • 40% talk to as many NPCs as they can for optional story content
  • 59% love learning about NPC backstories

This is particularly true in the Gen Y and Millennial demographics that game developers are particularly focused on winning over. 

  • 88% of 16 to 24-year-olds believe they’re important
  • 87% of 25 to 34-year-olds believe they’re important 

Pain points gamers experience with Current NPCs

On a starry background there's an Asian futuristic looking NPC spacewoman and a black space captain NPC in profile with a brown jacket.

While gamers make do with current NPCs, it hasn’t been without complaint. NPCs are mocked because gamers are so frustrated with how unnaturally they act. To the point that they parody or troll them. 

Here are the top dislikes of gamers: 

  • Repetitive dialog (52%) 
  • Walking in circles (33%) 
  • Inability to adapt to changes in games (30%) 
  • Lack of awareness toward the player (28%) 
  • Stupid responses (25%) 
  • Lack of awareness of surroundings (25%) 
  • Inability to interact with the player (24%) 
  • Awkward moments (22%) 
  • Irrational behavior (20%) 

Players crave more interactivity with NPCs

There is a portal with a video game world beyond that has no NPCs in it.

In an ideal world, NPCs would be able to have complex interactions with players. They believe this is critical to improving gameplay.  

  • 76% would like more awareness and adaptive behavior from NPCs 
  • 61% want to see more focus on traits that positively impact gameplay 

How advanced AI NPCs can put an end to player frustrations

Advanced AI NPCs are NPCs that are powered by multiple machine learning models designed to mimic the dynamic social nature of human interaction. These include natural language, text-to-speech, machine vision, and emotional processing models that allow advanced AI NPCs to engage in complex, real-time unscripted conversations and show awareness of players and their surroundings. 

When presented with examples of these characters responding in-character and with humor to real-time player questions, gamer reactions were overwhelmingly positive. 

  • 79% were excited about advanced AI NPCs 
  • 37% were extremely excited about advanced AI NPCs
  • 88% think they will make a game more immersive 
  • 88% think they will improve the gameplay experience 
  • 84% are excited to play a game with advanced AI NPCs 
  • 76% think chatting freely with NPCs over voice chat makes for more exciting interactions 
  • 68% want all main NPCs to be advanced AI NPCs 

Gamers were nearly unanimous on improvements to game play

On a purple background there's an futuristic looking NPC in a leather jacket and tech around his eye.

You might be surprised to know that gamers agreed on something. So, were we. Of the gamers we surveyed, 99% believe advanced AI NPCs will improve their game play.

That includes in these ways: 

  • Higher levels of immersion (62%) 
  • More interactive gameplay experiences (62%) 
  • More fun (57%) 
  • Make the game world feel more real (54%) 
  • More unique and personalized gameplay experiences (53%) 
  • More memorable gaming moments and experiences (48%) 
  • More enjoyment from speaking to NPCs (44%) 

Gamers will spend more time AND pay more

On a firey background there's a female wizard NPC looking out while her hair blows around her.

Unsurprisingly, gamers who are more immersed in their gaming experience and having more fun while gaming are liable to spend more time – and money – on gaming. Our study found that gamers would play more and pay a premium for games with advanced AI NPCs. 

  • 78% of gamers would spend more time playing
  • 79% would be more likely to buy a game with intelligent NPCs
  • 81% of gamers would be willing to pay for a game with advanced AI NPCs. 

Advanced AI NPCs = more of what they love + less of what they hate

It’s not surprising that gamers loved the concept of advanced AI NPCs. Many of the traits that gamers would like to see more of from NPCs can be easily implemented with more advanced AI technology. And those traits they hate? More advanced AI would make them a thing of the past. 

There’s a lot more information in the report that can help developers better understand why they should be focused on upleveling their NPCs. I recommend you take some time to read through it carefully to fully understand gamers’ opinions. 

Here are a few comments they made about Advanced AI NPCs: 

“The potential this kind of tech has for making game worlds more authentic and immersive is astronomical!”

“I really like them more than the normal NPCs because AI can provide everything you need such as interaction, backstory, and your relationship with them.”

“It feels like a real person that I am communicating with.”

How Inworld’s AI NPCs work

On a green background there's a female Indigenous warrior NPC with traditional jewelry and bubbles around her to explain her characteristics and personalityndercut and a black space captain NPC in profile with a brown jacket.

At Inworld, we make creating advanced AI NPCs easy for studios of all sizes. We have a no-code studio where developers, narrative designers, or producers can come up with new characters in minutes by just typing, adjusting the character’s personality dials, and adding background information on the game world. 

That’s it. You can then test and refine the character so their personality and answers are aligned with your game world. 

Our characters are avatar agnostic and can be easily deployed in Unity, Unreal Engine and Node.js experiences through our integrations. 

Studios can choose a mix of scripted and unscripted dialogue by creating triggers for certain lines. It’s also possible in our custom plans to use actors to voice characters that have existing voices.  

Inworld characters are also able to be situationally aware and have in-scene actions or respond to player actions. They’re also able to talk to other characters in-character. 

The tech behind Inworld NPCs

On a blue background there's a male Asian star captain  and bubbles around him to explain him characteristics and personality

How do we do it? We use over 20 machine learning models to work to generate different aspects of our characters. We break those things down into three categories. 

Cognition

All the things that make up who a person is – like how quick they are to laughter – or anger. 

  • Personality
  • Background
  • Memory
  • Goals 
  • Emotions

Perception

All the things that help AI characters understand and react to what’s happening when you’re interacting with them over text, voice, and in virtual worlds.  

  • Audio
  • Visual
  • Event triggers
  • Object interaction
  • Haptic input
  • Progress signals

Behavior

All the things that help characters respond in real-time to players or things happening in a virtual world. 

  • Speech
  • Gestures
  • Object interaction
  • Body language
  • Movement
  • Event triggers

That all adds up to much better NPCs than what you’re currently using! 

Intrigued? Try it out!

Check out the report! After that, the best way to understand what Inworld can do is to look at some samples projects and reviews: 

  • Origins: A game demo we created to showcase how our tech could be used
  • MattVidPro Review: A review showing how easy it is to integrate Inworld’s NPCs with game engines
  • Disney Demo Day: We created a Droid builder with Disney’s ILX Lab (starts at 19:20). 

You can also check out our studio and start designing advanced AI NPCs yourself – or get in touch with our Partnerships team at partnerships@inworld.ai to learn more. 

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