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Helen Todd is co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared and the human behind Creativity Squared.
Rudi Bonaparte is the Director of Corporate Operations and Strategy at gaming giant Riot Games.

Ep46. Rudi Bonaparte: A.I. & the Future of Gaming

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Ep46. A.I. & the Future of Gaming: Riot Games’ Rudi Bonaparte on A.I.’s Impact on the Gaming Industry and Simulating Real-world Future Society Scenarios

Are we in a gaming simulation and don’t know it?

That’s the question Creativity Squared host Helen Todd almost instantly poses to Rudi Bonaparte, Director of Corporate Operations and Strategy at gaming giant Riot Games, kicking off their conversation during a recent episode with a bang…and the discussion only gets more interesting from there! 

As a strategic leader driving innovation at the gaming studio responsible for the iconic ‘League of Legends,’ the most-played PC game in the world, Rudi brings a wealth of experience and insights to exploring the intersection of artificial intelligence, creativity, and the future of the gaming industry.

As a gaming executive with a professional focus on creating systems and spaces that empower creators to do their best work, Rudi helps senior executives and game development teams set clear goals, build exciting new capabilities, and thoughtfully allocate resources by combining strategic thinking and tactical implementation.

Charged with a new task in his role, Rudi ensures that Riot Games not only designs the most player-focused gaming experiences in the world but is also the best and most creative place to develop these games. 

Before joining Riot Games, Rudi led strategy and analytics teams at Teach for America and consulted with clients in the tech, telecom, and media industries. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.

In this episode, Rudi discusses the state of the gaming industry, from the economic realities to the exciting possibilities of innovation emerging from recent disruption, and shares his perspective on A.I. gaming, and IP along with how Hollywood and gaming are converging.

Rudi and Helen also explore gaming as a testbed for ideas that could shape society, what Rudi would build into a virtual environment to nurture the best of humanity, and the lessons that in-game currency and incentive structures hold for the real world.

They further touch on some of Rudi’s favorite works of speculative fiction and why he believes the future will be brighter than many imagine.

To discover more about Rudi and Helen’s conversation, continue reading below! 

The State of the Gaming Industry and the Power of A.I.

From the seat where Rudi sits, A.I. has no shortage of implications for gaming.

Despite the tremendous growth experienced across the gaming landscape during the pandemic, as people turned to games for entertainment and connection, Rudi acknowledges the challenges that have come with the return to normalcy. 

“The industry right now is in a really interesting place,” Rudi shares. “There are two conversations going on right now at the same time.” The first, he explains, is unavoidable. “We have to deal with the fact that there’s been a whole bunch of layoffs across the industry.” Despite these challenges, Rudy sees hope in the form of new market entrants — experienced developers who, having been laid off from big studios, are now starting their own ventures.

These individuals bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table, reimagining what the future of gaming might look like.

When it comes to the use of A.I. in game development, Rudi admits that Riot Games hasn’t yet fully embraced the technology. Nevertheless, he sees immense potential for A.I. to revolutionize game development processes.

“A.I. can be really helpful in terms of…helping folks get to prototypes fast. You can…write out…your basic idea for a game, for a concept for a level, for a piece of art, for a character design. And…these various tools can basically generate that for you.”

Rudi Bonaparte

By leveraging A.I. to quickly generate assets and iterate on ideas, developers can streamline the creative process and bring their visions to life more efficiently.

However, Rudi also emphasizes the importance of considering the ethical implications of A.I.-generated content, particularly when it comes to ownership and rights assignment.

There is not, Rudi explains, “carte blanche to, like, run off with other people’s effort.” Developers, he insists, “will need to be really, really careful” about what data is used to train their models. 

Rudi also stresses that, as the gaming audience continues to diversify, representation both in the games themselves and among the creators behind them remains critical. With the barrier to entry lowering thanks to A.I. and other technologies, he sees an opportunity for new voices and perspectives to emerge.

“Particularly mobile games…you’ll see some difference among gaming platforms, consoles versus PC versus mobile. But…there’s an increasingly broad audience that interacts with games that may not call themselves gamers.”

Rudi Bonaparte

In embracing this diversity and creating content that resonates with a wide range of players, Rudi says, the gaming industry can foster a more inclusive and dynamic ecosystem.

Immersive Experiences and Creating a Great Place to Make Games

Helen and Rudi’s conversation next turns to the increasing convergence of gaming and other forms of entertainment, such as film and television. Rudi highlights the incredible level of detail and immersion now possible in games, blurring the lines between interactive and passive media.

“The level of detail that we’re able to achieve sometimes is absolutely mind-blowing,” Rudi enthuses. “I remember the first time I saw the trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Projekt RED,” he goes on, describing how a scene in the game finds the player interacting with a character played by Keanu Reeves. “They digitized Keanu Reeves and put him in this game and he voiced it over!”

As games become more cinematic and movies embrace interactive elements, the possibilities for immersive storytelling expand, captivating audiences in entirely new ways.

With a new charge in his role, Rudi is tasked with ensuring Riot Games not only designs the most player-focused gaming experiences in the world but is also the best and most creative place to develop these games. 

Rudi explains that gaming sits at the intersection of technology, art, and entertainment.

By investing in around-the-game experiences, such as esports and animated series, Riot Games aims to build a robust ecosystem that engages players on multiple levels and creates a sense of community and shared passion.

“The idea is that…even if you know nothing about ‘League of Legends’…you can watch this animated series and say, ‘Oh, that’s a cool world, tell me more,’ and maybe be attracted to other areas that interact with Riot. So that would be a huge chunk of Riot’s overall thesis—we’ve got games at the center, and then these other experiences that enhance that.”

Rudi Bonaparte

Throughout his conversation with Helen, Rudi emphasizes the vital role creativity plays in game development.

From crafting unique gameplay experiences to developing compelling IP, he explains, developers must constantly push the boundaries and find innovative solutions to meet evolving player needs.

Riot is also extending some of its game universes to include animated streaming series, like Arcane: League of Legends, which is available on Netflix.

Whether iterating on established formulas or venturing into uncharted territory, creativity remains the driving force behind the gaming industry’s continued growth and success.

“Creativity is a core part of making a great game…Why is this game different? And how is this going to meet players’ needs in a different way?”

Rudi Bonaparte

The Rise of Esports

The conversation also touches on the state of esports in the US, and the challenges faced by the industry.

While esports has gained significant traction in other parts of the world, Rudi acknowledges that monetization and creating a sense of community remain hurdles in the American market.

However, he also highlights the accessibility and immediacy of esports as potential growth factors. Unlike traditional sports, where fans may watch a game but not necessarily participate themselves, esports allows viewers to immediately jump into the same game they just watched professionals play.

“After you watch, like, the league championships, or the Overwatch championships or watch the fighting game tournaments at Evo,” he explains, “you can literally boot up your PlayStation and do that.”

This unique aspect of esports creates a powerful connection between fans and the games they love, fostering a sense of engagement and community that could fuel future growth.

Gaming as a Testbed for Future Societies

One of the most intriguing parts of the discussion centers on the idea of using gaming as a testbed for ideas that could shape future societies. 

Rudi explains how the escapism inherent in games allows developers to create virtual worlds with different rules and structures, providing valuable insights into human behavior and social dynamics.

“…the rules of physics are different, the rule of law is different, there’s rules of magic, sometimes…So there’s lots of different ways that you can interact. And when you give people certain tools and take away other tools, watching how they interact, and can give you some really interesting insights into how people think.”

Rudi Bonaparte

He cites the example of EVE Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) where players organize into complex political structures, forming corporations and alliances with player-driven narratives emerging organically. By observing how these virtual societies function and evolve, developers can gain valuable insights that could inform real-world decision-making and policy.

The conversation also explores the role of incentives in shaping player behavior and the potential impact of tokenization on gaming economies. Rudi explains how in-game currencies and reward systems can encourage certain actions and discourage others, providing a fascinating glimpse into the power of gamification.

“In-game incentives shape player behavior, providing insights into human nature.”

Rudi Bonaparte

He also discusses the challenges and opportunities associated with tokenization, the process of converting in-game assets and currencies into tradable digital tokens.

While the idea of a unified digital wallet for various gaming ecosystems is appealing, Rudi highlights the complexity of ensuring fairness and equity when moving assets between different games with unique economic structures.

Designing a Utopian Digital Society

When asked about what elements he would include in a virtual environment designed to nurture the best of humanity, Rudi emphasizes the importance of purpose, direction, and hope. He argues that a successful digital society must provide individuals with a sense of meaning and the support they need to achieve their goals.

“If you were designing a game space that was going to model what a better reality might look like, helping everyone find their purpose, I think, would be a huge component of providing them support.”

Rudi Bonaparte

By creating structures that facilitate connection and collaboration, and by offering a clear path to progress and achievement, developers can craft virtual worlds that bring out the best in their inhabitants.

Throughout the conversation, Rudi references various works of speculative fiction that have influenced his thinking on gaming and society. From William Gibson’s Neuromancer to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, these books provide a rich tapestry of ideas and possibilities that can inform game design and spark the imagination.

“The main thing is just to read a bunch of different stuff,” he shares. “I think I’ve benefited the most from being able to be fortunate to have access to lots of different types of materials, fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, fantasy, technical manuals, like economic books,” Rudi elaborates. “All of those kind of just add up to an understanding of what might be or what’s possible as a way to associate these different ideas together.”

By drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources and disciplines, game developers can create richer, more immersive experiences that resonate with players on a deeper level.

A Brighter Future

As the conversation draws to a close, Rudi leaves listeners with a message of hope and optimism: Despite the challenges facing the gaming industry and the world at large and the concerns around A.I., he believes that the future will be brighter than many imagine.

“It’s worth leaving some room for hope. Because there’s a lot of really cool stuff that’s coming out. There’s a lot of really cool opportunities for people that do and be more. So just, like, leaving some space in your head and some space in your heart for that.”

Rudi Bonaparte

By embracing creativity, diversity, and the transformative potential of technology, the gaming industry can play a pivotal role in shaping a better tomorrow. As developers continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, they invite players to dream bigger, imagine new worlds, and become active participants in the ongoing story of human progress.

But what about the question that opened the episode: Are we in a simulation?

Rudi’s answer may or may not be much comfort to readers and listeners, but like all of his insights, it is interesting: “I think the only reasonable answer’s: yeah, almost certainly.” 

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Thank you, Rudi, for being our guests on Creativity Squared. 

This show is produced and made possible by the team at PLAY Audio Agency: https://playaudioagency.com.  

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