Has Name of Responsibility lastly peaked? | This Week in Enterprise
What the obnoxious present of online journalism suggests for the generative AI future
I suppose an explanation for that headline is called for here.
For a few years now, we've been seeing a specific kind of plagiarism of our work. There are a surprisingly large number of websites out there populated by stolen writing that has been passed through a word replacement filter to avoid detection.
On the surface, it's almost a clever idea, using a thesaurus to swap out synonyms and winding up with a seemingly original piece of writing that avoids identification as a cheap knock-off.
In practice, it has... issues.
QUOTE | "Has Name of Responsibility lastly peaked? | This Week in Enterprise" – The headline of one such plagiarized article from November of 2021.
QUOTE | "Has Call of Duty finally peaked? | This Week in Business" – The headline of the source article, a This Week in Business column where I wondered if the Activision shooter series had begun its inevitable decline. (Spoiler: It had not.)
The headline is weird enough, but the body text takes it up a notch.
QUOTE | "2008's World at Struggle was an opportunity to carry a few of the shine of Trendy Warfare again to the World Struggle 2 setting that spawned the army shooter growth within the first place (and launched the favored Zombies recreation mode)." – An excerpt from the knock-off article.
QUOTE | "2008's World at War was a chance to bring some of the shine of Modern Warfare back to the World War 2 setting that spawned the military shooter boom in the first place (and introduced the popular Zombies game mode)." – The same excerpt from the genuine article.
Clearly, this sort of plagiarism runs into problems when it encounters proper nouns made up of standard words, an idea further backed up by that column's discussion of other Name of Responsibility titles like Name of Responsibility Cellular (Call of Duty Mobile) and my personal favorite, Black Ops: Chilly Struggle (Black Ops: Cold War).
It's pretty easy to see where the replacement technique fails. It also actually works just fine in a few parts. But taken as a whole, the copied article is an incoherent shambles.
(You could certainly argue that description fits the original article as well, I hope most readers would recognize one as an artisanal incoherent shambles compared to the other's lifeless and mechanical imitation of an incoherent shambles.)
So why would any site run stories like this that would destroy its credibility and ensure readers never came back?
Plagiarism-driven sites don't need readers to ever come back because they don't need credibility. News doesn't work the way it used to even in the early days of the internet
STAT | At least 20 – The number of ads the plagiarizing site served to me upon loading up that one article.
The answer is this site doesn't need readers to ever come back because it doesn't need credibility. News doesn't work the way it used to even in the early days of the internet. The percentage of people who visit a site's home page and click around to see all the content that site has put up is dwindling as Google and the big social networks build their businesses by directing traffic algorithmically, shoveling links to people that will fuel engagement and grow advertising dollars.
So if you have something that looks vaguely website-like, you might be able to make a little money by populating it with things that look enough like content for Google, Bing, and so on to crawl them and serve the stories up to their users, and then you load down every single story with tons of chumbox "From around the web" links and programmatic advertising where advertisers care less about the site their money is supporting than the personal information in the audience's cookies.
I don't imagine search engines and ad networks are tremendous fans of these operations, as they no doubt dilute the actual value being offered to advertisers. It's hard enough getting visitors to click on ads on a real site; they're probably not going to be in a buying mood after being tricked into a garbage site of this sort. That said, money is still money, so maybe they prioritize the short-term ad money these sites bring in over the long-term harm it does to their business model.
Besides, it's a game of whack-a-mole with these sites. Their fly-by-night nature ensures that when one shuts down today, another can pop up tomorrow.
So what's that got to do with AI?
These plagiarism-driven sites exist because people can profit by populating their site with an inexpensive and automated supply of content, even if that content is obviously garbage. I believe generative AI will facilitate the supply of inexpensive and automated supplies of possibly less pungent garbage content.
The added cost of using an AI model to write the stories instead of a synonym replacement algorithm could very well be offset by the improvement in the content on such sites, giving them longer lifespans before being ferreted out by media outlet legal teams or blacklisted by search engines and ad networks.
From my perspective as a career games journalist, generative text AI looks like the next evolution of these algorithmically generated plagiarism sites. It is a way to create something that appears to be original human-created writing, at least if you squint hard enough (or if you are a search engine algorithm).
Actual humans may be able to spot the difference very quickly, just as we understand the proper number of appendages a person should have in a way that often eludes generative AI art and From Software enemy designers alike.
And while I'm deeply skeptical of many of the promises being made around the generative AI programs, I will concede that they have made strides in recent years and may improve further still.
For many purposes and many people, ChatGPT is already close enough for jazz. They just want something that sounds fluent enough in corporate speak to politely translate their "Go stuff yourself" email to "Let's put a pin in this for now," or to take that "Let's put a pin in this for now" email they just received and summarize it back down to "Go stuff yourself." They don't see inherent value in the (often tedious) writing being replaced, so they aren't going to mind that it's not perfect.
So what does this mean for game journalism, a field in which few people seem to see inherent value and one where the most lucrative aspect of it – guides – is practically the definition of tedious?
I expect the few remaining outlets will be competing with an abundance of AI-driven content farms churning out re-writes of that original work
Barring significant changes in the way search engines, social networks, and online advertising operate, I expect it means the few remaining outlets (and the declining number of people they employ) will be competing with an abundance of AI-driven content farms churning out increasingly difficult to spot re-writes of that original work.
Sure, not all of it will be accurate or factual. In the case of guides specifically, any player who tries a tactic or puzzle solution that doesn't work may vow to never again visit the site that provided the misinformation, but given modern browsing habits, they were probably never going to be coming back anyway.
Besides, traditional games journalism has always had problems with the game of telephone, in which an original story is picked up by another outlet and regurgitated with factual errors added in, something that already happens frequently due to human writers misreading, misunderstanding, and making assumptions. But with these generative AI models lacking comprehension and more or less picking the odds on what a sentence or an article should look like based on others it has seen, these added mistakes are likely to grow in number as well as variety. I can only imagine the groundbreaking journalistic trainwrecks we're likely to discover in a future with AI models trained off an internet increasingly written by other AI models.
Human curation from the search engines and social networks could of course limit AI-driven content farms from gaining traction, but the tech companies behind search engines and social networks are among generative AI's biggest backers right now. They have also always been very interested in scalable solutions free from the messy taint of human judgment and far less interested in the harmful knock-on effects of their businesses (see: Facebook, genocide) and seem uninterested in anything that could put the brakes on its adoption.
QUOTE | "The pressure from [Microsoft CTO] Kevin [Scott] and [CEO] Satya [Nadella] is very, very high to take these most recent OpenAI models and the ones that come after them and move them into customers' hands at a very high speed." – In a meeting with Microsoft's AI ethics and society team after it was cut to just seven people last October, corporate VP of AI John Montgomery tells the remaining team members that the pressure he was under mattered more than the negative impacts AI was having on society, according to The Verge. What was left of the ethics team would be laid off as part of Microsoft's recent cuts to 10,000 employees.
As if that weren't worrying enough for the field of journalism (not to mention the rest of the world), any efforts to curb the rise of AI-driven content farms would be further hampered by supposedly legitimate sites (like CNET, for example) making AI-written articles part of their standard offerings, particularly if they decide to be less than upfront about what's being written by humans and what's been written by AI (like CNET, for example).
It's particularly concerning for anyone who uses these established websites as references, whether it's Wikipedia trying to substantiate user-submitted facts, or just someone trying to put together a weekly column for a gaming site discussing how the issues we face in the present are often rooted in or informed by the past.
I've been down on the future of journalism ever since I was going to school for it in the late '90s. One of the things they made sure to teach us was what a questionable career decision we were making and how badly screwed we all were.
I never had a teacher, a mentor, or a boss who expressed anything but grave concern over the ramifications of the move to the web, the death of classified sections, the gutting of local journalism, the consolidation of the field by a handful of layoff-happy conglomerates, and plenty of other factors large and small.
Some days I feel like a dinosaur looking up in the sky at a dozen approaching asteroids blotting out the sun, wondering which one will get here first
In games journalism specifically, the media used to be the way companies communicated with their fans. As evidenced by social media channels, publisher-specific showcases, and the lack of a need for E3, that functionality is greatly diminished.
Whatever role we played in companies' marketing plans has also been impacted by influencers and streamers, some of which I would classify as journalists but the majority of which are doing something very different. And then there's uncertainty in the long-term stability of the advertising model; a number of sites have looked at subscriber and supporter measures to address this dependency, but I can't help wondering how much-needed privacy legislation and trends like Apple's opt-in privacy tracking or Google's Cookiepocalypse will shake-up the field.
Yes, journalism is still around, and quite a few skilled journalists have endured and continue to produce good work. But so many more have washed out, burned out, been laid off and unable to find a new role, or simply had to leave because they needed a better, more stable income to provide for a family.
STAT | 26% - The actual decline in US newsroom jobs from 2008 to 2020, according to the Pew Research Center's analysis of US Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
STAT | 9% - The US Bureau of Labor Statistics' projected decline in news analyst, reporter, and journalist jobs from 2021 through 2031.
Some days I feel like a dinosaur looking up in the sky at a dozen approaching asteroids blotting out the sun, wondering which one will get here first. The arrival of generative AI is just another new incoming celestial body making it that much tougher to see the sunlight.
With all these trendy struggles, can you blame me for worrying that journalism has lastly peaked?
Sign up for the GI Daily here to get the biggest news straight to your inbox
The rest of the week in review
QUOTE | "[With generative AI output], how do you determine who made 'the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work'? Is it the person who wrote the code of the generative AI? The person who chose what materials to train it on? The user who input the prompt?" –Kostyantyn Lobov, co-head of the interactive entertainment group at London-based law firm Harbottle & Lewis, says the law frequently takes some time to settle on answers raised by new technologies in a guest article about the legal challenges of using generative AI.
QUOTE | "We're the last company to unironically use the term metaverse. We don't have a better term for it. It truly is the best way to describe it." – In talking about Epic's strategy for the metaverse, executive vice president Saxs Persson acknowledges the hype around the term has faded significantly in the past year or so.
QUOTE | "We continue to support employees' rights to express their views and values. you have the right to express those views on public and private company-provided communications channels – but abusive behavior is never okay." – In a letter to employees, Activision Blizzard chief administrative officer said the company shut off employee chat functions for its all-hands meetings not because employees were discussing wages and working conditions (which would be illegal), but because they were being abusive to other employees. The National Labor Relations Board didn't buy it, and neither do I.
If employees are harassing each other on the company Slack, Activision Blizzard has plenty of options to punish them that would fill the stated objective of protecting employees and keeping the all-hands chat free of abuse. Then again, history tells us that punishing employees for harassment is not one of Activision Blizzard's core competencies.
QUOTE | "We have always believed, and still believe, that the Competitive Balance Tax was lawful, and it did not have an adverse impact on player salaries. The tax was never levied, and the leagues voluntarily dropped it from our rules in 2021." – After being sued by the US Department of Justice for keeping pro player wages down with a soft salary cap in the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, Activision Blizzard notes that no team ever went over the salary cap as if it is a point in the company's favor.
Personally, I think seeing that tax levied against a whole bunch of teams because they didn't see it as significant would be a better argument that the cap wasn't keeping player salaries down. A deterrent measure that never has to be invoked is actually just a super-effective deterrent.
Also, I just want to say it's very funny that Activision Blizzard could have avoided adding to its collection of legal fights with state and federal government agencies if the pro players were unionized and could have negotiated to accept that salary cap scheme like their counterparts in MLB and the NBA.
STAT | 745 – The number of people the NHS' National Centre for Gaming Disorders has seen since October of 2019, some as young as 13.
QUOTE | "Taking that 745 figure at face value (which is tough to do because it includes patients and family members in the count) and setting it against the roughly 85% to 90% of the UK's 7.5 million people aged 16 to 24 play games – the clinic's initial treatment cohort – gaming disorder affects 0.01% of people." – In a guest editorial, former UKIE head of campaigns and communications and current director of policy communications at Taso Advisory George Osborn argues that concerns over gaming addiction are an overblown moral panic because his math suggests it only affects 1 in 10,000 kids who play games.
But this isn't a new medication that happens to have bad side effects for 1 in 10,000 people but treats a more serious condition. Especially in the case of free-to-play games where only a single-digit percentage of the user base ever pays a dime and an even smaller subset of whales keep the lights on for years and years, these are consumer products that deliberately and explicitly cultivate unhealthy play patterns in an attempt to give that 1 in 10,000 case a lot more company.
The fact that "only" 745 children in the UK have been treated for gaming addiction in the last few years is not a source of solace here. It's an indication of just how much collateral damage the industry is willing to accept as its primary success metrics have shifted from sales to engagement.
STAT | $4.9 billion – The amount Saudi Arabia's Savvy Games Group is paying to acquire Scopely, the mobile publisher behind Marvel Strike Force, Star Trek: Fleet Commander, Stumble Guys, and more.
STAT | £7.05 billion ($8.78 billion) – UK consumer spending on games over the course of 2022, according to trade body UKIE. That's down 5.6% from 2021's total.
STAT | #1 – According to an Ampere Analysis assessment of dozens of markets, Electronic Arts consistently has the largest monthly active user share of any publisher on Xbox and PlayStation, hovering between 16% and 17% of the total. A Call of Duty-fueled November surge from Activision Blizzard brought its share within 1% of EA's, but every other month saw gaps of 3.9% or more between EA and second place (either Activision Blizzard or Epic Games, depending on the month).
QUOTE | "[Mobile apps] will not be the primary path of future Mario games." - Shigeru Miyamoto spells out the obvious while also reinforcing the idea that Nintendo still isn't quite comfortable with working on mobile.
QUOTE | "We grew up where switching costs between mediums was really difficult. If I was watching a TV show and wanted to play a video game, I had to go behind the TV, flip a whole UHF converter, switch over to channel 3 and boot up my console, and that was really hard." – Skybound CEO David Alpert makes me think all the old cranks saying "kids have it too easy these days" when I was a kid actually had a pretty solid point.
Sign up for the GI Daily here to get the biggest news straight to your inbox