Fans Are Pushing Back Against AI-Created Marketing in ‘Magic: The Gathering,’ ‘Apex Legends,’ and More

magic the gathering apex legends ai art marketing
Jason Reed/Firefly

AI-generated content has exploded in popularity over the past year, with programs like MidJourney and Adobe’s Firefly making it easier than ever to create art. All it takes is an idea or prompt, and a picture can be popped out in seconds without needing a skilled artist. And the technology is getting better every day — algorithms that couldn’t create hands a year ago can now churn out photorealistic humans.

(Quick disclaimer: Ironically, our graphic designer made the above header image using AI… but we’ll keep it because it’s relevant to this story and a sardonic example of what kind of art these programs can easily churn out.)

But while AI can be a great tool to enhance the work of designers, overall, using AI art without transparency is an ethical minefield. Artists and onlookers alike are aware that as the technology gets even better, it could be used to phase out an entire industry by greedy capitalists at the helm of multi-million dollar corporations. Those companies also have something to lose, with researchers recently finding that some generative AI models sometimes output copyrighted content, with vague prompts like “animated sponge” popping out images of Spongebob.

Some companies still seem to be moving forward with using AI art. Multiple brands were accused of using AI art in their marketing materials this week without letting their customers know what they were up to. On Jan. 2, users noticed that Wacom, in a now-deleted Twitter post, may have used artificial intelligence to make a couple of dragons in its promotional materials.

The image spread quickly around social media, with TikToker Megan Rose Ruiz pointing out in a video with over 681,000 views that there could be multiple AI artifacts, including that one dragon’s tail doesn’t attach to its body, and the other has teeth that morph into hair. 

“My professional speculation is that these images are obviously AI-generated,” Ruiz said in the video. 

Just a couple of days later, on Jan. 4, keen-eyed gamers found that in the latest trailer for a collaboration between battle royale “Apex Legends” and RPG series “Final Fantasy,” there are a few shots that seem to be created with AI. Users on social media pointed out that fingers and faces didn’t look alike, while some pieces of clothing clipped into the character’s skin. Users in a post on the “Apex Legends” subreddit with over 3,300 upvotes called the content “lazy,” “disappointing,” and “fucked.”

Though neither of these examples was confirmed to be made by robotic hands, there was one example so egregious the company admitted and apologized within days. 

In a now-deleted Twitter post on Jan. 4, the trading card game “Magic: The Gathering” showed off a selection of new cards amidst a collection of scenery. Fans were quick to point out how odd some of the valves and machines looked, but Magic’s game publisher, Wizards of the Coast, doubled down in a now-deleted post, writing, “This art was created by humans and not AI.”

But it turns out the art was created by AI, with the account releasing an apology post on Jan. 7 saying that their team “made a mistake” and that AI components popped “up in industry-standard tools like Photoshop.”

Hasbro, the toy giant that owns Wizards of the Coast, has been caught using AI in the past, most recently announcing in August 2023 that an artist had used AI to create an image for one of their “Dungeons and Dragons” sourcebooks. In a statement on Twitter, the company wrote that they would be “revising our process and updating our artist guidelines to make clear that artists must refrain from using AI art.”  

However, this Magic usage does seem like a snafu that could have been avoided. Hasbro laid off around 800 employees at the beginning of the year and another 1,100 employees in December. With fewer human eyes to look over the work, it’s possible this mistake just slipped through the cracks before it was too late to fix it.

As the technology gets better and corporate CEOs look to take bigger paychecks, AI will only become more commonplace in marketing materials. But there’s still hope, as these stories make clear. As long as fans are vocal about their distaste and mistrust of robotically defined artwork, then companies are going to have to think twice about using it online. Marketing is (mostly) about trying to get people to buy your products — not getting people talking about how cheap and unethical you seem.

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