Artificial Intelligence

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

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In 2019, Sony quietly established a subsidiary dedicated to researching artificial intelligence. What exactly the company plans to do with this tech has always been a bit unclear, but a recent corporate strategy meeting offers a little more information.

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

This is pretty much what you’d expect from a partnership between PlayStation and Sony’s AI team, but it’s still good to have confirmation! Reinforcement learning, which relies on trial and error to teach AI agents how to carry out tasks, has proved to be a natural fit for video game environments, where agents can run at high speeds under close observation. It’s been the focus of heavy-hitting research, like DeepMind’s StarCraft II AI.

Other big tech companies with gaming interests such as Microsoft are also exploring this space. But while Microsoft’s efforts are tilted towards pure research, Sony’s sound like they’re more focused on getting this research out of the lab and into video games, pronto. The end result should be smarter teammates as well as opponents.

Tom Holland will be starring as Nathan Drake in the upcoming Uncharted movie adaptation — part of Sony’s ongoing ambitions to expand its franchises into TV and film.
Image: Tom Holland via Instagram

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

  • Expand Sony’s first-party titles and franchises to mobile. “PlayStation has a huge catalog of diverse first-party IP that can transition to smartphone gaming and complement our AAA games or live service games,” say the notes. (Though it’s worth noting Sony established a subsidiary dedicated to making smartphone games in 2016, and it hasn’t had a huge impact yet.)
  • Make 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 upcoming Uncharted film, starring Tom Holland as Nathan Drake.
  • Grow the PlayStation Network, PlayStation Now, and PS Plus networks. The company says it currently connects to about 160 million users but would like to grow that number to 1 billion (I mean, sure, who wouldn’t want more customers?). Getting there will mean growing the company’s various online services and subscriptions, including PlayStation Plus, which has seen steady, but not explosive, growth. It’s interesting to compare this to Microsoft’s huge push in subscription gaming through Xbox Game Pass.

Sony’s PS Plus network has seen steady but not explosive growth.
Image: Sony

For more details you can check out Sony’s presentation for yourself here. Though, be prepared to wade through some absolutely incredible corporation-speak. We particularly liked the opening declaration that the company has now “implemented structural reform that liberated us from a loss-making paradigm.” In other words: they changed things so that Sony makes money instead of losing it! Got to dress that up somehow, I guess.

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