Pokémon Go publisher Niantic has aroused fans’ suspicions after a promotional image showed some telltale signs of potentially being AI artwork, rather than something made by an actual human artist.
The image in question appears in promotional material for Adventures Abound, the next season of the mobile collectathon game, set to run from September 1 to December 1. If you open up the official Pokémon Go website’s page, you’ll see a colorful image of what looks like a city. But further inspection reveals some strange artistic decisions that has fans suspecting it might be AI, such as blurred lineart and the fact that the environment itself lacks any sort of cohesion, as if it was made without any sort of planning. The detail that most stuck out to me is that there’s a subway car that doesn’t really look like it has a tunnel to go through. Plus, there’s nothing about it that really signals it’s meant to be Pokémon art. The barren cityscape contains exactly none of your favorite critters.
After some fans pointed this out online, Kotaku reached out to Niantic for comment, and a studio representative sent a statement that stopped short of either outright denying the AI suspicions or crediting any specific artist for the work.
“Niantic uses a variety of tools and software to create visual assets,” the statement reads. “We don’t disclose specifics around our processes.”
If this piece is AI-generated that’s a huge bummer, considering the Pokémon franchise offers a rich well of talent to draw from if Niantic wants good assets for Go’s upcoming season. Pokémon Go itself has had some lovely art show up in both promotional assets and when you boot the app, so the possibility that Niantic and The Pokémon Company could be choosing AI over real artists is really sad to see.
Companies choosing to use AI tools instead of hiring real artists is an unfortunate trend these days, and Pokémon is hardly the first video game franchise to raise questions about its use of this technology. Most recently, an ad for Amazon’s upcoming Fallout TV show also appeared to be made by AI instead of a person. It seems feeding a prompt into a machine to mediocre result is cheaper than paying an artist for good work. Capitalism comes for us all.
Niantic laid off over 200 employees in June, which led to canceling its previously planned Marvel game called World of Heroes and shuttering its basketball game NBA All-World.