KATYA MACHUGANOVA: THE GAMES AI PLAYS

interview by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Dragomir Ushev

The iGaming and digital media professional on the presence and future of games and why does it concern everyone

Katya Machuganova 3.jpg

Women are increasingly making their own way into iGaming: as players, creators and developers. Katya Machuganova is one of them. The iGaming and digital media professional became producer and product owner at GAN, the US leading online gaming platform, in just a couple of years, after she decided to leave her established business and career path and explore new territories. Today, the mother of two girls is an ISTQB Certified Quality Assurance specialist, Master in Digital Media and Video Games and is studying Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer. We talked to her to learn more on the role of video games in our lives and how AI is affecting the field.

You just returned from Global Gaming Expo, in Las Vegas, a major industry event. What is your take on it?

I had the privilege of attending the G2E thanks to a prestigious all-access scholarship bestowed by Global Gaming Women (GGW). During the event I engaged in an array of panels, such as "The Influential Role of Female Gamers in Shaping Game Design," "The Evolving Landscape of Player Marketing: Influence as a Novel Currency," "Leveraging AI and Machine Learning for the Detection and Anticipation of Risk-Associated Gambling Behaviors," and more. These discussions deepened my industry acumen and insights, and provided a fertile ground for dialogues that are affecting the trajectory of our industry.

I was also honored to be a featured guest at the "Kick Up Your Heels" event, orchestrated by GGW, where I engaged in substantive discourse with esteemed industry professionals. This gathering served as a platform for robust discussions that extended far beyond the immediate purview of our field, propelling a collective contemplation of the future and evolutions inherent to our dynamic domain.

Why are video games a significant aspect of the contemporary media landscape?

Video games demonstrate a predisposition to function within the intricate interplay between the tangible and the fantastical, the material and the transcendental, commerce and spirituality, commodity and utopia. Their most vibrant external manifestations, disseminated on diverse media and through all available channels – have heralded a fresh interpretation of games and a contemporary, innovative mode of their application. Video games encapsulate contemporary sociocultural dynamics and assert themselves as a prominent presence among the emerging art forms that mold societal values. It is precisely this blend of visual and conceptual expressiveness that places them in the sphere of interest of both the media and the realm of academic discourse.

I consider all kinds of games a vital component of the modern media landscape. Reevaluating their essence and role in contemporary society is imperative. Through games, a novel interpretation of the everyday emerges, as they have the power to create new, media-centered archetypes, a power that is gaining unprecedented momentum.

In light of the evolving communication landscape and corporate influences, online games have expanded their artistic narratives. They have converged with the principles of an economy inherently driven by commodification while approaching the realm of universal digital art. Proficiently wielding the dual forces of graphic design and narrative, online games have become a self-perpetuating cultural phenomenon within the ever-hungry media machine. Modern mass media molds collective perceptions of value through meticulously crafted and thought-provoking representations aimed at a broad audience.

How AI technologies are shaping the current gaming landscape and what changes they inspire?

AI has made substantial contributions to the gaming industry. We have witnessed a shift towards more dynamic and adaptive gameplay, thanks to AI-driven algorithms that can analyze player behavior in real time and adjust game challenges accordingly. Additionally, AI-driven procedural content generation has allowed for the creation of vast, open-world environments with unprecedented levels of detail and complexity.

During the G2E, the thematic underpinning of AI applications was prominently emphasized. Of particular relevance was the discernment that AI-driven techniques wield the capacity to scrutinize and prognosticate consumer behaviors aligning with gambling-related vulnerabilities. This underscores the pivotal role that technological advancements play in augmenting responsible gaming practices. The integration of AI in the context of gambling signifies a profound paradigm shift.

How did AI impact game narratives and storytelling?

AI has had a profound influence on game narratives. It enables branching storylines and character interactions that respond intelligently to player choices. This creates a more personalized and immersive storytelling experience. AI-driven character behaviors also contribute to more realistic and engaging narratives, as non-playable characters can exhibit complex emotions and adapt to changing circumstances.

How has AI streamlined games' design and production process?

AI-powered tools are streamlining various aspects of game development. AI-driven procedural generation can rapidly create game concepts, design and art assets, and polish the source code. AI algorithms can help identify and fix bugs and improve game testing by simulating player behavior on a large scale. AI also achieves personalization by analyzing player data and preferences. It can adapt gameplay difficulty, suggest in-game content, and even tailor storytelling elements to match a player's choices and style.

How do you envision the future of AI in the gaming industry?

The future of AI in gaming holds tremendous promise. We anticipate the emergence of even more sophisticated AI-driven characters, the integration of natural language processing for player interactions, and the continued evolution of AI-generated content to the extent that it becomes nearly indistinguishable from human-created material. Furthermore, AI is poised to play a pivotal role in elevating virtual reality and augmented reality gaming experiences, enhancing their immersion and interactivity.

Yet, critical questions about intellectual property and rights loom large and ethical and boundary-related inquiries arise as AI algorithms autonomously generate in-game assets, art, and even music.

As we confront these challenges, it becomes evident that we need robust legal frameworks. They must adapt and evolve in tandem with the ever-changing landscape of AI's role in game development, striking a delicate balance between innovations and safeguarding the interests of all stakeholders.

What do regulations and policies regarding AI look like today? What is their future?

A global consensus that the AI field should be regulated is gaining momentum. The prevailing sentiment recognizes that AI simultaneously holds immense promise and presents multifarious challenges that warrant meticulous attention. Areas such as patent ownership, innovation, technology transfer, intellectual property management, licensing, commercialization, trademarks and designs protection, entrepreneurship, unfair competition, know-how and trade secrets, copyright in the digital environment, and the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence, will emerge as prominent subjects warranting in-depth exploration and scholarly inquiry. Many people are yet to fully grasp the profound significance of this moment, where the convergence of technologies like AI and machine learning is quietly reshaping the world.

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