In December, Wizards of the Coast committed to not using AI art in Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons, saying it requires its artists, writers, and other creative contributors “to refrain from using AI generative tools” to create its products. Despite that, MtG fans are accusing the company of using AI to create the backdrop for a promotional image of new cards—something WotC flatly denies.
Wizards shared the image on Twitter on January 4, writing, “It’s positively shocking how good these lands look in retro frame.” And frankly, I think it does look pretty good: The Edison bulbs, the old-timey pressure gauge, the out-of-focus books and pipes and stuff on the walls in the background—there’s definitely a vibe going on, and I dig it.
An awful lot of other people feel differently, though. Almost as soon as the image was posted, people began questioning whether AI was used in the creation of the image—and before long, the questions morphed into flat-out accusations. The complaints were spurred by perceived discrepancies on the gauge, the bulbs, and various other bits of retro-tech bric-a-brac in the image. Wizards flatly denied the accusations, however.
“We understand confusion by fans given the style being different than card art, but we stand by our previous statement,” the company tweeted. “This art was created by humans and not AI.”
That denial hasn’t convinced many followers, however.
“created by humans” Right… pic.twitter.com/gf9TUXWSPAJanuary 5, 2024
To an extent that doubt is understandable. In August 2023, AI-generated art was found in a preview for the upcoming Bigby Presents: The Glory of Giants sourcebook for Dungeons and Dragons. Wizards of the Coast acknowledged the use of AI in that case and followed up with the statements swearing off it in the future.
Just a few months later, it faced new accusations about the use of AI art in another publication, but in that case the claims were false.
Despite that false positive, it’s clear that people remain on high alert for the use of AI, particularly in commercial projects like Magic and D&D. It is understandable, but it’s also almost certainly going to create headaches in the future as internet detectives struggle to determine whether a piece of art (or, for that matter, writing) was generated by AI or is just a little janky, or flat-out bad as the case may be. That’s only going to get tougher in the future, as technology improves and machine-made art becomes increasingly indistinguishable from the more organic kind.
The waters will be further muddied by the fact that there are often layers to these processes: Wizards contracts artists for its games, but presumably isn’t monitoring every step of their work. It’s not really practical to provide point-by-point proof that every single image that appears in its products isn’t generated by AI, but if fans refuse to take the company’s word for it, as is the case here, what then?
I hate to say it but I suspect that at some point in the probably not-too-distant future, it won’t matter, either because we lose interest in the whole thing or it simply becomes impossible to tell what’s AI art and what isn’t. That will leave us with a choice: Believe companies when they say they haven’t used AI-generated art, or don’t and… well, that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? Some “features” of the future are easy to avoid if we so choose (I’m looking at you, self-checkouts) but others are going to be far stickier to deal with.
In this particular case, Wizards of the Coast isn’t budging. In a statement provided to PC Gamer, a rep repeated its earlier message on Twitter: “We stand by our original statement: This art was created by humans and not AI.”