Friday, September 13, 2013

EVE's Amazing AIs

Over the past decade, CCP has very quietly developed and deployed a powerful AI that simulates an EVE player.  This "playerlike AI", as it is called, was initially developed from earlier code which was designed to pilot NPC ships to give the EVE universe a more lived-in feel.  (Internally, it is still codenamed "Player-Like AI eXtensions".)  It was first deployed about 7 years ago in small numbers.  As it became successful, deployments increased.  New technology allowed CCP to increase deployments radically around the time of Quantum Rise, in November 2008.  Starting around that time, hundreds of these AIs were deployed per month for years.  CCP is not forthcoming with data, but it is estimated that currently perhaps 30% of the "players" playing at any given time are AIs.  This percentage may go as high as 50%.

The goal of the playerlike AI is simple: to fill up the EVE universe with highly realistic "players", so that the real, paying customers will feel like there are people out there they are interacting with.  CCP knows that shooting Guristas does not give people the rush of adrenaline from PVP, nor does prevailing in PVE feed the human need to dominate.  However, fighting the playerlike AI does activate these and other human emotions.  This is why CCP has not bothered to invest more than a pittance into increasing the realism and difficulty of the game's PVE.

The playerlike AI is very powerful.  It acts much like a person would, so much so that you cannot tell it apart from a human.  It is programmed to seek profits intelligently via various in-game activities, and to PVP (although often not well).  Sometimes it "cries" in local when it loses a ship.  It passes the Turing Test, at least when the test is limited to doing stuff via the EVE client in EVE.  Certainly it still does some pretty stupid things, but then so do humans, so this is no way to distinguish it.  In fact CCP sees its still considerable stupidity as a feature, so long as it is plausibly human-type stupidity.  An AI that never chose ridiculous fittings would eventually be detected.

AIs are programmed not to all be on at once, but rather to pad the existing player population proportionately.  They use offline time to compute their longer term plans, compute fittings, etc.

There is only one downside to the playerlike AI: computing human-equivalent output is hard.  Each AI requires a modern CPU dedicated to the task.  No basic PC will do: most of the heavy computation requires a modern graphics card as a coprocessor, for vectorized simulation of neural networks.  This is not cheap.  CCP estimated about a year ago that to run each instance of their AI requires about $500 in hardware costs upfront.  There are also ongoing costs to keep the hardware running.  Electricity costs are estimated at about 25 cents per day per machine.  And there are fairly high maintenance costs: a veritable army of techs are required to keep all those machines running.  Again, the actual amount CCP is paying is not known.

Fortunately, CCP has found a way to pass on the all of costs of the playerlike AI to random gamers on the internet.
Playerlike AI Extension

You see, what I've been talking about is the design of the PLEX system.  Everyone who plays this game paying with PLEX (as I do), is from CCP's perspective a superbly designed AI that they don't have to pay for.  We are part of the environment of EVE, making it the fun place it is for the paying customers.  We mine, do PI, run missions, manufacture, etc.  We do all of the game's scutwork to earn the ISK we need for PLEX.  This frees up the paying customers to not do that stuff, while still maintaining a true market price for everything, and keeping space full of targets.


  1. Your analogy falls apart when it comes to paying customers also doing the exact same "content creation" activities plex players do, and plex players who pay for their subscription solely through npc ISK faucets.

    The difference between a paying customer and a "content creator" is 550m ISK/month. That says nothing about the specifics of their activities.

  2. `Very well said. Smart. Deep.
    10/10, would read again.