AI art isn’t “about to shake things up”. It’s already here.

For a while, I’ve been seeing people commenting about how AI art is on the cusp of shaking up the art world. Quite frankly, at this point I consider such sentiments to be behind the times. AI art is not “on the cusp” of disrupting such things. It is already here. Using only capabilities that are straightforwardly and publicly available right now, AI art has radically transformed the budget for certain types of project that require art.

Let’s give a basic example. I play card games of various types—games like Magic: the Gathering or similar—on a highly competitive level. I’ve even been involved in testing and development for some such games, so I’m familiar with that process as well. I am not a professional game designer, but am fairly involved with some aspects of the field.

For one of these games, a typical budget for an individual card illustration of sufficient quality is, as I understand it, in the realm of $200-1000 USD. A single “set” of cards might require 100+ such illustrations. That means that you’re looking at paying $20k in art costs on the low end, and that this is a recurring cost every time you want to make a new set that isn’t just reprinting old cards—and even then, sometimes new art is used for reprints!

Except, well, that was then and this is now. Now, if I were in the business of making a card game set, my art budget wouldn’t be $20k-100k. It would be… a $30/​month Midjourney subscription with $20/​month private visibility enabled, and quite frankly high quality Midjourney images look better than many of the images already being used for art in these games. [1]

I’m going to highlight that again. The price for the art needed to create a set of a hundred cards just went from twenty thousand dollars—at the low end—to fifty bucks a month. This is an extreme shift, and it is already here. This is not something that is based on a press release or future development that hasn’t arrived yet. This is something that I could do today, using only techniques that are widely known and publicly available. If you assume you can get the art needed in one month of Midjourney time, that’s four hundred times cheaper.

There are many other areas where this applies. What’s the price for a book cover? Quite frankly, that’s not my field—but whatever it is, I’m going to bet that Midjourney is often going to be cheaper and better. What’s the price for the internal illustrations in a role-playing game manual? Again, whatever it is I’m going to bet that AI art is already beating it.

Further, AI art is much easier to work with than professional artists. This is not intended as an insult to professional artists by any means! However, if I am working with a professional artist on an image, it may take them a significant amount of time to produce the image and get back to me on that. By contrast, if I don’t like the Midjourney output I can write a variation on the prompt and get a new set of images extremely quickly. And I don’t have to worry about people missing or misreading my emails, a potential language barrier, or time zone issues. [2]

Now, there are admittedly some things that AI art isn’t good at (the really big one being art with integrated text). You know what? That’s true. There are definitely some things that AI art does not handle well. It’s not a perfect substitute yet. However, given the outrageous cost savings, I am perfectly fine with that. I am altogether willing to change the focus of my card illustrations a bit in order to avoid areas where AI art generation does poorly if it means paying four hundred times less for art for my game, and I suspect others will soon be choosing the same.

So, yeah. AI art isn’t some hypothetically disruptive thing that might happen in the future. The capabilities are straightforwardly available right here and right now—and the fact that there are some flaws and foibles still to be worked out means that it only has room to grow further. If AI art generation already offers this much of an advantage over traditional art commissions, how much more obvious a choice will it be once we’ve seen some more iteration on these systems?

[1]”But wait,” you might say. “Don’t companies with lots of revenue have to pay a higher price for Midjourney?” They do, but that price is $600 USD/​year, and it comes with the private visibility option so the yearly price is actually the same. You do get somewhat less GPU time than a standard membership but can still buy extra time if needed.

[2] “Language barrier” and “time zone issues” may seem like weird problems to have, but as I understand it many game companies are getting art from artists who live in Eastern Europe or Asia. This is a good strategy in some ways but also has its downsides.