Ubisoft is asking fans to contribute art and music to Beyond Good and Evil 2, and is promising monetary compensation for those whose work get chosen. However, there are some that have quickly pointed out the problems with working for the possibility of payment.
How is Ubisoft doing it?
During their E3 press conference, Ubisoft announced that fans could help with the development of Beyond Good and Evil 2. In order to do this, Ubisoft teamed up with the company HitRECord, and their founder, actor-turned-entrepreneur Joseph Gordon-Levitt appeared at the E3 press conference. The Space Monkey Program, powered by HitRECord, allows fans to submit works into a variety of categories. Others can remix and comment on those works, which will ultimately be evaluated and sent to Ubisoft. Monetary rewards will be given to those whose work is chosen.
This plan quickly caused critics and developers to have questions about how this would work. Couldn’t full-time, salaried developers do that work instead? If someone’s work isn’t accepted, is all their work for nothing?
Why is it a problem?
Scott Benson, co-creator of Night in the Woods and vocal worker’s rights advocate, pointed out the HitRECord seems to rely on “spec work“. It’s a common but ethically dubious practice where someone produces something a buyer might pick up and pay them for. Scott laid out his concerns in this chain of tweets.
HitRECord, which will split a $50,000 pot between the chosen works’ creators and given out almost $3,000,000 since 2010, spoke via an email by executive producer Jared Geller:
At HR, people build on each other’s ideas, and our website (and community) keeps track of how projects evolve—and how ideas influence one another.So any contribution that is included in any of the songs or visuals (guitar parts, vocal stems, etc) delivered to the Beyond Good and Evil 2 dev team will get credited and paid. If your contribution isn’t used, you don’t get paid.
In an email, founder Joseph Gordon-Levitt also argued that alternative payment models would sap HitRECord’s creative spirit:
Skepticism is good, but I would encourage skeptics to come see for themselves how our collaborative process really works. I dare say it’s pretty unique. One key difference is that we’re NOT soliciting submissions for COMPLETE works. People build off of each other, often in unexpected ways, layering remix on top of remix. And EVERYONE whose work is included in the final deliverable, whether a big piece or a marginal idea, gets paid and credited.
More on the problem
Creators have some say in how profits will be distributed, but the power dynamic is still highly in the favor of the company. NoSpec, an organization that advocates against spec work, pointed out some other complications:
When people who participate in spec work know that the chance of payment is slim-to-none, it invites the fastest possible turnaround, and we’ve found that spec websites (those that sell design contest listings) are rife with plagiarism.
When asked, a rep from Ubisoft said they went with HitRECord in order to help create the feel of a multicultural universe in Beyond Good and Evil 2. “These assets… are the ones that will address our desire to enrich the multicultural feel and diversity of our game, and more specifically one of our major cities, Ganesha,” the rep said in an email.
For more on this story, Nathan Grayson from Kotaku has a good summary on this issue.
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