Apr 12, 2023

The Forge and AI-generated content

5 min read - Published: a year ago

Hi everyone,

One of the biggest topics in general right now, and especially among the TTRPG community is AI, and AI-generated content. There are a lot of discussions, questions, opinions, and emotions, mired in agreement and disagreement within the community. To what extent AI will affect the industry and our lives in the future is a hard question to answer.

Like many other companies in the TTRPG community, The Forge has had to review and make a decision when it comes to AI-generated content sold on its platform.  We've been evaluating the topic for months, and we can now announce The Forge's stance on AI-generated content.

Time for the hard decisions

We've been monitoring the discussion online regarding AI art. As we're sure many will agree, this discussion has been incredibly controversial and polarizing. We do not feel popular opinion alone is sufficient to justify a decision, but it's certainly an important factor in making one. Unfortunately, there is no clear agreement among the TTRPG community, at least from what we've observed. Opinions seem to be evenly split on the subject.

Other factors are also in play in making our decision. One factor is the ethical aspect of using AI-generated content, from models that were trained on a large dataset of copyrighted content without consent. Another important factor is the legality of AI-generated content. There are multiple lawsuits in progress, and decisions have been made by the US Copyright Office against attributing copyright to AI-generated content.

Is AI-generated content ethical or not? Is it legal? Is it considered a derivative work or transformative work? What is the threshold to determining human intervention for copyright purposes? Is it the tool of the future that will make art bloom and give a new age of renaissance to artists, or will it be the death of creativity and negatively impact artist's livelihood forever? Will any decisions taken today still make sense a month from now, considering how fast the technology changes? And is it even within the realm of possibilities to enforce any kind of policy when it comes to AI-generated art?

These are all big questions, ones that we cannot answer at this time (we could, but it would only be one more opinion not grounded in factual certainty). However, we have spent weeks reading articles, thousands of comments/opinions in various threads and forums, and discussed the subject at length with dozens of artists and users. We have formed an opinion on AI-generated content, and taken a decision on it in regards to its place within The Forge's Bazaar marketplace.

AI content on The Bazaar

AI-generated content will no longer be approved for sale on The Bazaar. This specifically concerns content created using ethically-ambiguous AI models such as Stable Diffusion, DALL-E or Midjourney, and does not impact creators using AI features in programs like Photoshop or Dungeon Alchemist. AI-generated content already approved for sale will not be removed from The Bazaar at this time.

Creators who submitted AI-generated content will be allowed to retain their Bazaar Creator roles, for future non-AI generated content that they might wish to upload. We hope that we will continue to see content published by these creators.

This policy does not impact users who upload AI-generated content to their games, only Bazaar Creators wishing to sell content on our platform.

As things stand, there are unresolved legal and ethical questions that need to be decided before allowing AI-generated content on our marketplace. We do not want a situation where users purchase AI-generated content, only to lose access to this content due to a court ruling against AI models like Midjourney or Stable Diffusion.

We may revisit this policy again once there is sufficient legal and ethical precedent.

Explaining the decision-making process

In light of this decision, you might be wondering if The Forge (as a company, or its staff members as individuals) is against AI. This is far from the truth. As a matter of fact, we, as a technology-focused company could not be more excited about what the future brings with regards to AI technology, and the accessibility to art (among other things) that these AI-generative tools are bringing to the world.

However, there are four main issues that we need to consider:

  • The ethical aspect. While we do not believe that the use of AI-generated art, or the training of large data models on images without the consent of their creators necessarily constitutes an ethical breach, we recognize that ethics is a complex and multi-dimensional concept. What one person considers ethical may not be universally seen as such, as it is highly subjective and influenced by many factors.
  • The legal aspect. With the ongoing legal situation regarding AI-content generation, the question of whether or not someone holds copyright or authorship to AI-generated content is still hard to answer. Our own opinions on the subject is varied, and we cannot come to a comfortable conclusion while these questions are ongoing.
  • The financial aspect. AI-generated content has been a source of anger in the community with creators expressing concerns that it constitutes theft, threatens their livelihoods, or could make them obsolete. We feel that the consequences are still very hard to predict. We believe that AI has the potential to create a resurgence of art in the world and make the work of artists easier in some ways. Automating some of the more tedious aspects of the creative process could lead to higher levels of creativity for example. However, we recognize that not everyone may be willing or able to adapt to this technology, which could lead to undue suffering for artists worldwide.
  • The quality/logistics aspect. One of the significant problems with AI-generated content, in our view, is that it becomes too easy for individuals to produce a deluge of low-quality content that is unusable and challenging to sift through for users seeking usable content for their games. It is also difficult to decide if AI-generated images being sold were significantly edited by the creators submitting them, and impossible to determine if copyright and licensing is properly attributed or not. Does the content take inspiration from known work, or does it contain recognizable imagery or trademarks? Policing this becomes an untenable challenge.

In conclusion, we believe that AI tools and AI-generated content are promising technologies that are here to stay and will undoubtedly shape the future of humankind. However, their use is still the subject of controversy and ethical debate. Until these questions are answered and the legal system catches up with this technological evolution, making informed decisions about the matter will be extremely challenging.

While we do not see any particular issue with using AI-generated content in a game or freely available content (such as our own blog posts), the situation changes when payment is required. In a marketplace, where creators compete for visibility and low-quality content can flood the market, AI-generated content has no place.

As of April 2023, The Forge's stance reflects this perspective. However, considering how quickly the technology is evolving (including the recent release of ethically sourced models), our decision may soon become outdated. We are monitoring the situation carefully and listening to artists and users alike in order to develop policies that are fair to everyone and have the most positive impact on our community.

Thank you for reading.