Sony’s AI subsidiary develops smarter opponents and teammates for PlayStation games

In 2019, Sony quietly created a subsidiary dedicated to research artificial intelligence. It has still not been clear what the company plans to do exactly with this technology, but a recent business strategy meeting offers a bit more information.

“Sony AI […] has started a collaboration with PlayStation that will make gaming experiences even richer and more enjoyable, ”say the notes of a recent presentation of the strategy given by Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida. “By leveraging reinforcement learning, we are developing in-game AI agents who can be a player’s opponent or collaborative partner in the game.”

That’s pretty much what you’d expect from a partnership between PlayStation and the Sony AI team, but it’s always good to have a confirmation! Reinforcement learning, which relies on trial and error to teach AI agents how to perform tasks, has proven to be a natural fit for video game environments, where agents can operate at high speed under close monitoring. This has been the subject of extensive research, such as that of DeepMind StarCraft II HAVE.

Other large tech companies with interests in the game such as Microsoft are also explore this space. But while Microsoft’s efforts are geared toward pure research, Sony seems more focused on getting that research out of the lab and into video games, pronto. The end result should be smarter teammates as well as opponents.

Tom Holland will play Nathan Drake in the upcoming Unexplored film adaptation – which is part of Sony’s continuing ambitions to expand its franchises to television and film.
Picture: Tom Holland via Instagram

This tidbit was just a point of the presentation, however, in which Sony laid out many plans for its future growth. Here are some of the other ambitions mentioned:

  • Extend Sony’s proprietary titles and franchises to mobile. “PlayStation has a large catalog of diverse proprietary IPs that can upgrade to smartphone gaming and complement our AAA games or live service games,” the notes say. (While it’s interesting to note that Sony established a subsidiary dedicated to making smartphone games in 2016, and it hasn’t had a huge impact yet.)
  • Turn more Sony games into movies and TV shows. This will be done through the company’s PlayStation Productions subsidiary. Sony gives the example of the next Unexplored film, starring Tom Holland as Nathan Drake.
  • Expand the PlayStation Network, PlayStation Now and PS Plus networks. The company says it currently connects to around 160 million users, but would like to increase that number to 1 billion (I mean, of course, who wouldn’t want more customers?). Getting there will require expanding the company’s various online services and subscriptions, including PlayStation Plus, which has grown steadily, but not explosively. It’s interesting to compare that to Microsoft’s huge push for subscription gaming through Xbox Game Pass.

Sony’s PS Plus network has grown steadily, but not explosively.
Image: Sony

For more details, you can check out Sony’s presentation by yourself here. However, be prepared to wade through an absolutely amazing corporate speech. We particularly appreciated the opening statement that the company has now “implemented a structural reform that has freed us from a deficit paradigm”. In other words: they changed things so that Sony made money instead of losing it! I have to dress this up somehow I guess.

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