Last month, it was revealed that AI.implant was switching to a new business model for developers. Here, we look at what that means for the industry and find out more from vendor Engenuityâ?¦

Rethinking game AI

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but as every journalist knows it’s a statement that cuts both ways. There are certainly plenty of people who will offer you a dinner gratis, and by the end of the meal, your belly will be full without having spent a dime. The assumption, of course, is that you may have paid for those courses with something other than money: an obligation perhaps.

The same is true of software. In the hard case of open source, the deal is straightforward: you have to share the benefits of your work with the rest of the community. But other types of free software can come with hidden risks too.

In the case of the new commercial ‘no-cost’ licence for AI.implant, which includes a perpetual source code agreement, access to the AI online learning forum and comprehensive AI.implant documentation, the only official demand is for marketing exposure – such as a logo listed on the finished box – when your AI.implant-powered game is released.

The rub in this case seems to involve how much future development vendor Engenuity will carry out in terms of optimising and maintaining the product for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, especially as AI.implant’s founder Dr Paul Kruszewski and director of operations Aaron Davey have left the company. There’s also the issue of the switch of support from being an official part of a paid-for licensing agreement to a more adhoc web-based community approach.

But as Andrew Elvish, vice president of marketing at Presagis – the simulation division of parent company CAE in which Engenuity now sits – argues, the freedom for developers to take the code and embed it into their internal toolchains, maintaining and optimising it themselves, has been accepted by AI.implant clients.

“We undertook this transition very carefully, and ensured that it was a good fit for our customer’s business model,” he explains.

“There was growing demand from the game developer community for a change in our licensing model, and it was, in fact, Dr. Paul’s plan for a very long time to answer that request in a way that benefited future game development and our current business by using the licensing model we announced. His leaving us was not related, in any way, to this new license orientation.”

As for the industry’s response, Elvish pointed to positive feedback from the likes of Midway Games, BioWare and Vivendi.

“More tellingly, since the announcement, we have received numerous requests from development studios to become a part of this program,” he says. “Bottom line is AI.implant is in a leadership position in the middleware market and we are doing everything in our power to keep that position. That is the reason we have created this exclusive perpetual licensing agreement for game developers.

“Our production demands are constantly evolving, and we’re thrilled that Engenuity has developed an innovative licensing program that answers our development needs,” commented Brian Leake, vice president of technology at Sierra.

“The program enables us to leverage years of investment by Engenuity yet continue to create advanced, customised technology solutions to differentiate our games.”

Behind the scenes, however, the reason behind this decision appear to be more to do with CAE’s focus on the increasingly profitable military simulation market than the needs of much less lucrative game developers.

Ironically, it was AI.implant’s strength in this particular market that saw Kruszewski’s original company BioGraphic Technologies bought out by Engenuity in November 2005. Engenuity, in turn, caught the attention of CAE, which has also acquired companies with military simulation expertise such as MultiGen-Paradigm and Terrain Experts, as it looks to expand its military simulation business with the creation of integrated, commercial off-the-shelf software.

“There was a bit of a misalignment in terms of the games market and CAE’s core market,” says Cory Kumm, a BioGraphic veteran who now steps into the role of AI.implant product manager.

“We wanted to modify our business model so we focus more on the training and simulation side. Military simulations have different needs to games. They tend to involve much larger environments and require us to handle hundreds of thousands of entities.”

Interestingly though, he says one area of the games industry with which Engenuity wants to remain firmly engaged is the serious games sector.

“We feel strongly that using game technology is a business we want to be in. We’re working with the people who use games technology for serious games. The core of AI.implant will remain and the online community will be able to keep that alive,” he explains. It’s even likely there will be a PSP version of AI.implant as the military people start to use the PSP.

“The only piece we’re not going to be working with so closely is the console developers,” Kumm says.

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