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Xbox says AI will soon QA test your video games

  • Justin Caffier

Speaking at PAX West in early September, Microsoft’s Head of Xbox Game Studios, Matt Booty, said that he envisions a future where AI does all the quality assurance testing of video games and has made it his mission to figure out how to make that happen.

Developing increasingly complex and complicated games has put a great deal of stress on the industry’s already overworked, underpaid, and overlooked human QA drones. And with more scrutiny than ever on the industry to make sure nobody’s subjected to arduous “crunch” cycles and the aforementioned underclass of the industry threatening unionization, Booty’s dream of electric bug swatters isn’t baseless.

“Some of the processes we have, have not really kept up with how quickly we can make content. One of those is testing,” he opined before delving into some of the repetitive, time-consuming practices that differentiate games from linear media and suck up a ton of type and resources in the development cycle. He continued by expressing his admiration for the present and future potential utility of AI, offered an open plea to any AI experts who might be listening in.

“What I always say when I bump into the AI folks, is: ‘Help me figure out how to use an AI bot to go test a game.’ Because I would love to be able to start up 10,000 instances of a game in the cloud, so there’s 10,000 copies of the game running, deploy an AI bot to spend all night testing that game, then in the morning we get a report. Because that would be transformational.”

To be crystal clear, Booty is advocating for a position that employs an army of people within the industry to stop existing. This would invariably only further widen the profit margins of AAA tiles produced by the sort of developers who work with Xbox or are owned by Microsoft. And as Booty makes no mention of reinvesting those gains back into the humans that make up the companies that make games, we can presume that these fruits would be primarily enjoyed by shareholders, making the entire endeavor just one more avenue for wealth to travel and concentrate upward.

Sadly, QA testers have long been the industry’s favorite whipping boy—a proverbial homework-eating dog to be blamed any time a product is released to less than stellar reviews. Last year, when former industry darling CD Projekt Red released Cyberpunk 2077 as a buggy, borderline-unplayable and undeniably unfinished mess, the feverish anticipation that had preceded the game’s launch soon gave way to universal derision and mockery, culminating in Sony removing the title from its digital store until the issues were addressed—an unprecedented rebuke for a title of its stature. Finger pointing ensued in the wake of the imbroglio and QA testers were thrown under the bus.

It matters little that it’s rarely the “lack of enough testing” companies like CD Projekt Red assert as the culprit behind their game’s bugs or janky launch state. More often than not, titles could be released in proper working order if the humans making them were given the time and pay needed to thoroughly do their jobs. But as the industry is a full-on cash cow for Wall Street at this point, and meeting quarterly earnings projections matter infinitely more than say, being an ethical and good employer, I think we all know AI testers are a likelier outcome than execs across the industry suddenly turning their backs on the core tenets of capitalism.

So, while it’s undeniably bad that an Xbox exec is salivating over sweeping an entire wing of the development community into the gutter, perhaps we can find the silver lining of their plight in this possibly being one of last instances where they’ll be forced to suffer such indiginities.