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Xbox Slammed For AI-Generated Art Promoting Indie Games

‘Tis the season to promote indie games with AI-generated junk, apparently. A Microsoft Twitter account recently posted low-effort, energy-intensive art promoting indie games on Xbox before later deleting it after getting roundly mocked by fans and developers alike.

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“Walking in a indie wonderlaaand,” the ID@Xbox account tweeted on December 27. “What were your favorite indie games of the year?” The post was accompanied by an AI-generated image of children sledding down a hill with a giant green Xbox logo on it.

It looked harmless at first, but a second or third glance immediately revealed telltale AI anomalies like children maneuvering their sleds with cranks attached to nothing and fishing in the snow for presents with weird black tendrils. A man playing a gaming handheld in the center top of the image has had his top lip replaced by teeth. A child jumping through the snow appears to have a mustache. It was a really bad look considering ID@Xbox is supposed to be the human-facing team within the megacorporation championing individual creators and small independent teams.

“Bro not Xbox using ayy-eye to promote indie devs,” wrote pixel artist TAHK0. “Nothing says ‘we don’t care about indie developers’ like using AI,” wrote artist NecroKuma3. “ If you can’t hire an artist to do advertising, I highly doubt you’ll do it with independent developers.” The company quietly deleted the post overnight without acknowledging the backlash. Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While not posting half-assed AI art to promote artists seems like a no-brainer, we’re seeing more and more companies do it lately. There was the AI-generated promotional image for Amazon’s Fallout TV show, AI-generated art promoting a new Pokémon GO event, and even Ubisoft accounts representing offices where staff had recently been laid off putting out AI-generated Assassin’s Creed art.

When this stuff first started happening it felt shitty but low stakes. Increasingly it feels clear, however, that companies are taking the same approach to AI art that they have with every other internet age advancement, operating under the assumption that people will complain at first but eventually they’ll get tired of it and move on to being angry about something else. Boil the frog slowly enough and eventually it won’t realize it has 11 fingers, 13 toes, and weird spindly wires coming out of its back.

Read More: AI Creating ‘Art’ Is An Ethical And Copyright Nightmare

As a cheerleader for AI technology, however, Microsoft’s role in this is especially egregious. The company is already promoting tools for AI-generated content in games, and encouraging all 20 Bing users to play around with its AI art tools. Never mind that no one is actually quite sure how the technology will make money, or if it’s even legal. If it can replace human creativity with predictable slop and reduce headcount, it must be a win-win.

According to the MIT Technology Review, every AI-generated image requires as much energy as an entire smartphone charge. And Microsoft’s own internal environmental report blamed the technology for a 34 percent spike in its water usage to cool all the racks of computing power required for, among other things, enabling users to shitpost about Kirby doing 9/11. As Immortality game director Sam Barlow put it following the AI-generated ID@Xbox post, “Really impressive that just as we were finally starting to address the climate emergency, we invented stupid ways to undo all our progress.”

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