Puerto Rico 1897 Special Edition Promo Art Pulled After AI Allegations

03/02/2024 09:19 am EST

A planned "special edition" of the award-winning game Puerto Rico was caught up in controversy when promotional art used for the game appeared to be made using generative AI. Last week, Awaken Realms announced plans to produce a special edition version of Puerto Rico, with a Gamefound campaign set to release later this year. However, shortly after the game's announcement, fans pointed out that both the cover art used to promote the game and a promotional piece released for the game contained hallmarks of generative AI, with one person shown with six fingers and a cart drawn using only part of a wheel. The cover art, which still appears on BoardGameGeek, can be seen below: 

A tweet from Dice Tower previewer Ella Ampongan showcased some of the alleged AI hallmarks, which can be seen below.

Several days after the art was criticized on Twitter and in comments on the Gamefound page, Awaken Realms pulled the artwork from the Gamefound campaign and replaced the cover art with a blurred version of the original cover art for Puerto Rico 1897.

ComicBook.com reached out to Ravensburger, the original maker of Puerto Rico, for comment about whether they had signed off on the use of AI-generated artwork for the new version of the game."Awaken Realms has the license to develop and publish Puerto Rico 1897 Special Edition," a Ravensburger spokesperson told ComicBook.com. "As the licensor, Ravensburger reached out to Awaken Realms, who has already removed the temporary images that were being used to promote their project's crowdfunding campaign. Ravensburger also reinforced with Awaken Realms that Generative AI cannot be used in any part of the art process for this Ravensburger game." 

Awaken Realms is also the founder of Gamefound, a rival crowdfunding campaign to Kickstarter that specifically focuses on tabletop games. While Kickstarter has an AI policy that requires projects to disclose whether generative AI was used in the making of their project, Gamefound has no such policy. Additionally, many commenters on Gamefound and other tabletop message boards have wondered whether Awaken Realms uses AI-generated artwork in its games or promotional artwork, as several images released by the company appear to have AI-art hallmarks. Awaken Realms has never publicly commented on the use of AI in their games, despite a robust social media presence that includes regular Q&A sessions with its CEO Marcin Swierkot. 

Ravensburger is also an investor in Gamefound, having announced back in 2022 that it had partnered with Awaken Realms as an "an investor and strategic partner" in the crowdfunding page. 

Generative AI continues to be a hot button topic in the games industry. While many companies have publicly pledged not to use AI in their games, companies like Wizards of the Coast have had to pull artwork from products or marketing campaigns due to artists using generative AI without their knowledge. Other companies, such as Terraforming Mars maker Stronghold Games, has embraced the use of AI-generated in their games. Generative AI has come under criticism for both legal and ethical reasons. Several lawsuits are currently ongoing about whether generative AI programs infringe on the copyrights of the content they use to train programs. Additionally, others have criticized those who use generative AI as attempting to cut corners by producing artwork without the use of artists.

In addition to the generative AI issues, Puerto Rico 1897 and the original Puerto Rico games have both faced serious criticism and issues. The original Puerto Rico game, while praised during its initial release, received fierce criticism for gamifying colonialism, including whitewashing the widespread use of slavery during the time period depicted in the game. Ravensburger sought to fix this issue with the release of Puerto Rico 1897, a new version of the game made in consultation with various cultural experts, but its release was plagued by production errors and rulebook issues, leading to the game getting pulled from shelves during its initial 2023 release. 

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