EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI)

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Computer Science

Abstract

Digital games have extraordinary economic, social and cultural impact. The industry is one of the fastest-growing in the world, larger than film or music, with revenues expected to increase from $138 billion in 2018 to $180 billion by 2021. 2.6 billion people worldwide play digital games (21 million in the UK), with an average age of 35 and equal numbers of females and males. The Wellcome Trust-sponsored game Senua's Sacrifice, made in the UK, won 5 Baftas for its interactive and educational portrayal of psychosis.

The UK games industry is a global leader - UK game sales are valued at £4.3bn with 12,000 people directly employed. The games industry is innovative and hungry for innovation - recent research breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have arisen through games research undertaken at Google DeepMind in the UK. Rolls Royce makes better jet engines using 3D technology pioneered in games. Games are leading the "data and AI revolution" of HM Government's 2017 Industrial Strategy.

Games have become a massive lever for social good through applied games for health, education, and science. The mobile game Pokémon Go added 144 billion steps to physical activity in the US alone. The Alzheimer's Research-funded Sea Hero Quest game collected data equivalent to 9,400 years of dementia lab data within 6 months.

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI) first received funding in 2014, and has since been a huge success: raising the level of research innovation in games, with the highest-possible ratings in our EPSRC mid-term review. The next phase of IGGI will inject 60+ PhD-qualified research leaders and state of the art research advances into the UK games industry.

The two core themes of IGGI are:

(1) Intelligent Games: increasing the flow of research into games. IGGI PhD research in topics such as AI, data science, and design will empower the UK games industry to create more innovati and entertaining games. IGGI research has already enhanced the experience for millions of game players. IGGI will create engaging AI agents that are enjoyable to interact with, tackling fundamental challenges for the future of work and society that go beyond games. IGGI will spearhead new AI techniques that augment human creativity by automatically 'filling in the details' of human sketches.

(2) Game Intelligence: increasing the use of intelligence from games to achieve scientific and social goals. Every action in a digital game can be logged, creating huge data sets for behavioural science. For example, current IGGI students have assessed traits such as IQ, agreeableness, or attention from large game datasets. IGGI students will investigate more intelligent, adaptive games for education and to improve mental health. IGGI will maximize the enormous opportunity for scientific and social impact from games by laying the research groundwork for further data-driven applied games for health, science, and education.

IGGI will massively advance these research themes, and train 60+ PhD students to be future research leaders. To accomplish this, our updated training programme and 60+ research supervisors will provide students with rigorous training and hands-on experience in AI, programming, game design, research methods, and data science, with end user and industry engagement from day one. Recruiting and empowering a diverse student cohort to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion through games, IGGI will drive positive culture change in industry and academia. Students will work with leading UK experts to co-create and disseminate standards for responsible games innovation. Directly working with the UK games industry through placements, workshops, game development challenges, and an annual conference, they will advance research knowledge and translate it into social, cultural and economic impact.

Planned Impact

The IGGI Centre for Doctoral Training will impact upon

1. The Digital Games Industry: Answering a national talent shortage, IGGI will inject a cohort of 60+ exceptional PhD graduates into the UK industry, able to translate AI, data, and design research into business value. They will catalyse a deeper industry understanding of the societal and ethical impacts of games, and champion a culture which encourages and supports equality, diversity and inclusion. Industry partners are fully supportive, Sony Interactive Entertainment's letter of support states "In an industry that's moving so fast, IGGI is essential for incubating the next generation of creators and innovators".

Talent flow alone can't satisfy the knowledge and innovation needs of a games industry dominated by small businesses. IGGI offers the opportunity for step change, yielding increased profits through an internationally distinctive UK games industry which is technologically advanced and research-aware. Collaborations and placements will transfer knowledge and skills needed by the industry: GameSparks (acquired by Amazon) found that "bringing in an IGGI student meant we were able to build new machine learning models into our toolset that delivers direct value"; other IGGI students have brought, for example, procedural graffiti to Media Molecule and automated game balancing to MindArk.

2. Game Players and Wider society: Large and growing numbers of people are playing digital games with unprecedented enthusiasm. Developing games which engage a wider range of players and which increase the social value obtained through playing games can have massive benefits: both economic ones and ones which harness the massive "cognitive surplus" implied by game players who are clocking up thousands of game hours. Potential benefits here are educational (e.g. teaching data literacy), therapeutic (e.g. detecting mental health issues), and cultural (e.g. through new interactive festival installations).

3. Creatives: Games provide new forms of interactive engagement, challenging traditional approaches to media and art, and technology developed for games provide creative opportunity for a wider and more diverse group of stakeholders. The BBC believes that "Convergence of the broadcasting, film and games industries will play a significant part in shaping the future of public service delivery." New human-like AI agents will lead to creative new gameplay genres; AI-supported design tools empower professional creatives and make creative expression more accessible for novices and people with disabilities.

4. Scientists: IGGI research shows that gameplay data provides population-scale insight into traits like fluid intelligence, and gamified citizen science platforms like Zooniverse are already engaging millions of volunteer players in scientific data collection. IGGI will make game data mining and gamified citizen science readily accessible with validated methods and tools and will develop a game-specific responsible innovation framework, enabling scientists to harness this massive opportunity and ensure their work has socially desirable consequences.

5. IGGI graduates: IGGI provides a beacon for innovation in digital games, with heavy competition for PhD places allowing recruitment of top students. For each IGGI graduate, learning and conducting research alongside a strong cohort of students having related but different interests and expertise, with extensive interaction with industry, will give rise to a highly rounded and employable PhD graduate, sought by both UK games industry and the growing games research community.

IGGI investigators, supervisors and students will develop a long-term understanding of the digital games industry, which will result in a stronger industry, a wealth of fascinating new research questions, and real benefits for wider society through the now-ubiquitous medium of digital games.

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