by Wendelin Reich

This is the third post in our series on artificial behavior and modern game AI. Find the whole series via our homepage.


We at Virtual Beings are on a mission to develop the knowledge and the tools that will allow anyone to create believable non-player characters (NPCs) for games.

An NPC is believable if it behaves and interacts with players in ways that align with their innate and acquired psychological expectations (see my previous post). Believable NPCs feel as if they're alive - even if the player knows that that's not true.

Over the past year I've had the chance to talk to dozens of players and industry professionals about our mission, and I've observed the same pattern over and over again:

I found this last argument quite puzzling. To me it's like saying we "don't need" 3D games because players loved Super Mario Bros. But Virtual Beings is a research spin-off, and so I decided to investigate the issue. This post provides the results, showing clear evidence that ...

1. Players want better NPCs

When a lot of people are annoyed by something, they tend to be vocal about it on the internet. Bad NPCs should be no exception, and I therefore decided to search through the obvious places: Reddit, YouTube and so on.

They want them on Reddit

Reddit is undoubtedly the main site where gamers share opinions on the things they care about. In order to get a sense of their views on today's NPCs, I searched systematically for positive and negative threads on game AI. To find positive ones, I used Google with keywords 'good OR great game ai' (without quotes), for negative ones 'bad game ai'. I limited myself to the first 15 pages of results, and excluded all irrelevant hits as well as hits for genres such as strategy, racing, sports or boardgames (where game AI is mostly about strategic gameplay and NPCs are either absent or highly scripted).

The results are striking. Not only are there fewer positive results, they also produce far less engagement than the negative ones. This is despite the fact that positive information generally spreads faster than negative on social media.

In sum, players on Reddit feel that 15-year old games got their NPCs right (for the time being), and that there's been no real progress since.