The Finals, which is currently trending on Steam after entering open beta, has faced criticism for using AI-generated voice overs instead of casting actors.
Voice actor Gianni Matragrano, who appears in Evil West, Vertigo 2, and more, criticised developer Embark Studios’ decision to use AI-generated voices on X/Twitter. Matragrano said the sound in The Finals “doesn’t sound good”, but he and other voice actors also highlighted the impact of AI on their livelihoods and the controversy around using it.
Matragrano pointed to a July 2023 episode of Embark Studios’ own Meet the Makers podcast, where two audio designers only referred to as Andreas and Carl confirmed they used “incredible” AI tools to create the voice overs in The Finals.
“We use AI with a few exceptions,” Andreas said. “So all the contestant voices, like the barks, and both our commentators are AI text-to-speech. For things we call vocalisations, like player breathing, vaulting, jumping, that’s something we use us in the studio to record, just grunting. We can’t really get the AI to perform those kind of tasks yet.”
Genshin Impact, Dying Light, and Ghostrunner 2’s Kit Harrison slammed this statement on X/Twitter. “What really sticks with me is that they needed to bring in real actors to get the grunting, effort, and breathing sounds because the AI can’t do it,” the voice actor said. “It can’t replicate the noise that I make when I stand up from my chair, but it wants to take my job? Don’t make me laugh.”
It was also criticised by Elsie Lovelock, who appears in Baldur’s Gate 3, Wargroove, and more. “The kicker is, it still sounds like crap regardless of how realistic they think it sounds,” she said on X/Twitter.
The Finals Screenshots
Gearbox Software narrative director Sam Winkler shared a similar message. “Shipping content with AI voice over is bad, flat out,” he said on X/Twitter. “Especially for a game that has so clearly polished every other aspect of its presentation to a gleaming finish, this sticks out like an infected thumb.”
Embark Studios’ Andreas defended The Finals’ use of AI voice over on the podcast episode, however. “The reason that we go this route is that AI text-to-speech is finally extremely powerful,” he said. “It gets us far enough in terms of quality and allows us to be extremely reactive to new ideas and keep things really, really fresh.
“So, for instance, if a game designer comes up with a new idea for a game mode, we can have voice over representing that in just a matter of hours instead of months. We don’t have to do [temporary] recordings that need replacing. I think we’re really coming into a new dawn when it comes to video game voices. And if it sounds a bit off, it still blends kind of well with the fantasy of the virtual game show aesthetically.”
Matragrano pointed to Andreas’ use of “far enough in terms of quality” as a damning statement, and refuted the idea that implementing voice actors takes months.
“We are constantly banging out rush order sessions for like, within a day or two,” he said. “You can literally get pro-grade voice over for less than a grand total, bang out a couple recording sessions, and bam you have all the audio you need.
“When you need more, you can book another session. We actually make it very easy. And then it’ll just sound good and not be something even players who don’t really care about AI ethics keep complaining about.”
Somewhat ironically, Embark Studios also has a “Making The Finals” series on YouTube which has an episode dedicated to “capturing authentic sound”. IGN has reached out to Embark Studios for comment.
The use of AI in video games and beyond has been a hotly debated and controversial topic as of late, even coming at the centre of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike.
The guild also voted in September 2023 to authorise a strike as a part of the resumption of bargaining over its Interactive Media Agreement, which governs voice, motion capture, and other actors working in video games. While this doesn’t mean a strike is currently happening, it does mean that SAG-AFTRA negotiators have the power to call one if negotiations continue to stagnate.
“We want to ensure that they don’t replace all the humans with computers,” Interactive Negotiating Committee member Zeke Alton told IGN in September 2023. “Not a prohibition on it, but just as we move forward with the technology, how do we move with it and not get left behind.
“We’re having the argument now specifically about these AI algorithms and they are wiping out large portions of the workforce. And so if we lose that and set the precedent for corporations to remove the lower levels of their workforce using algorithms, that then proliferates into every workforce on the planet, and that can have disastrous results for the economy and for society as a whole.
“That’s why this is an existential fight, not just for us, but to anybody else out there watching: you’re next. And would you like to have the precedent of being protected or the precedent of being removed?”
Video game voice actors previously called out AI-generated explicit Skyrim mods, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate voice actress Victoria Atkin called AI-generated mods the “invisible enemy we’re fighting right now” after discovering her voice was used by cloning software. Paul Eiding, the voice actor behind Colonel Campbell in the Metal Gear Solid series, also condemned its use.
The biggest developer to use AI voice over so far is CD Projekt Red, though this was only done to replace a deceased voice actor after gaining permission from the family.
The Finals’ use of AI certainly hasn’t made the game any less popular, with its open beta clocking a peak of 267,874 concurrent players on Steam in its first weekend available, according to data from SteamDB. Made up of ex-DICE developers who worked on the Battlefield series, the team-based first person shooter even hit its player capacity within a few days.
In our preview of the game, IGN said: “The Finals is a fast-paced first-person shooter that focuses on arcadey game styles and game-show mechanics. What makes it unique is that everything, and I mean everything, can be destroyed. It’s a lot to take in, but after playing a bunch of it, all of the elements manage to work really well together when the game isn’t stuttery and buggy.”
Ryan Dinsdale is an IGN freelance reporter. He’ll talk about The Witcher all day.