In Defense Of Ubisoft: Crowdsourcing Game Content Creation Is Actually Fun And Non-Exploitive

from the cwf+rtb dept

Crowdsourcing has obviously now been a thing for some time. Along internet timelines, in fact, crowdsourcing is now something close to a mature business practice and it’s used for all manner of things, from the payment for goods created, to serving as a form of market research for new products and services, all the way up to and including getting fans involved in the creation and shaping of an end product. The video game industry was naturally an early adopter of this business model, given how well-suited the industry is to technological innovation. Here too we have seen a range of crowdsourcing efforts, from funding game creation through platforms like Kickstarter to empowering supporters to shape the development of the game.

In that last example, it was Double Fine and Tim Schafer getting gamers involved in what would otherwise be the job of the creative team behind their game. The personalities here may matter greatly, because Ubisoft has recently unveiled an attempt to further get their fans involved in the game-creation process, yet many people are up in arms over it. Let’s start with what Ubisoft is attempting with its anticipated next installment in the Beyond Good & Evil franchise.

The long-awaited sequel to a 2003 Ubisoft game that was critically loved but flopped at retail, Beyond Good and Evil 2 will take place in an open universe full of strange creatures and cultures. During its E3 press conference, Ubisoft said that fans will be able to help populate that universe with their own music and artwork through a partnership with a company called HitRECord, with that company’s founder, actor-turned-entrepreneur Joseph Gordon-Levitt, appearing on stage.

The HitRECord-powered Space Monkey Program allows fans to submit ideas and works into a series of musical and visual categories like “devotional music,” “anti-hybrid propaganda,” and “anti-establishment art.” Other fans can then comment on and remix those works, which will ultimately be evaluated by HitRECord and—if they fit the game well enough—sent along to Ubisoft. Everybody who’s contributed at all to an accepted work will be paid.

If you’re anything like me, your reaction to this was purely positive. Fans of Ubisoft titles and Beyond Good & Evil get to contribute to the game in a way they will recognize and be paid some amount of money for? How cool is that? Collaboration with fans on the creation of art is squarely in the realm of our CwF+RtB formula. To add some compensation to that makes this all the better. And, in my opinion, if this were anyone but Ubisoft doing this kind of thing, nobody would be pushing back on it at all. But because of Ubisoft’s sketchy reputation, many are viewing this through purely cynical glasses and seeing nothing other than a company trying to avoid paying the full rate for the creation of its game.

Almost immediately after Ubisoft’s conference, critics and developers started asking questions: Why not just pay full-time, salaried developers to do this work? What happens if fans’ work doesn’t get accepted? Do they not get paid? Did they do it all for nothing?

Scott Benson, the co-creator of the indie game Night in the Woods and a vocal advocate for workers’ rights, pointed out that HitRECord’s business model seems to rely on what’s known as “spec work,” short for “speculation.” This is a common but nonetheless ethically muddy practice in creative and design fields. When you do work “on spec,” you’re producing something that a buyer might decide to pick up and then pay you for.

Great, except this isn’t being done in the “creative industry” at all, but rather directly with fans of the game franchise. Were Ubisoft trying to strong-arm artists for content it would otherwise pay for up front, then, yeah, this would suck. That’s not what it’s doing at all, though. Instead, the company is going directly to fans and asking them, rather than coercing them, to get involved in the project in a way those fans will find meaningful. Does this have the happy coincidence of being somewhat less costly? Sure. There’s no denying that. But so what? If fans of a game are able to compete with the art created by the creative industry and want to do that type of thing under this platform, where exactly is the ethical dilemma? Were Benson to have his way, fans should be denied this opportunity because… why? Because someone else might not get paid? Where is the sense in that?

There’s also something to be said for HitRECord’s meta-crowdsourcing experiment here and how interesting it will be to see if it can be pulled off.

“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,” HitRECord executive producer Jared Geller said in an email, noting that the company has paid out a total of nearly $3 million since it was founded in 2010. “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.”

So it’s not just milking a fanbase for cheap labor, but allowing that fanbase to them play off of one another and build a community product, which will then be injected into the game and for which they will be paid. I mean, come on, if everyone could take their labor union hats off for just a second, they’d have to admit how cool an experiment this is. And, while HitRECord will have the ultimate decision-making authority on how compensation is divvied up between creators, it even takes feedback from multiple creators into account when making those decisions.

The one area where there might be real concern is copyright infringement.

There are other possible complications, as well, said a representative of NoSpec, an organization that advocates against the practice of spec work.

“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,” wrote the rep in an email.

There is truth to this and Ubisoft and HitRECord have better have their shit in order if they don’t want to turn this into some hellscape of accusations about plagiarism and copyright infringement. But if they can pull this off, the end result is going to be the injection of the voice of the fan directly into its game, which is about all we could hope for coming from a content producer.

I’ll end this with a thought experiment. Imagine for a moment if I had written this same post, except I did a find/replace for “Ubisoft” and replaced it with “Sole game creator.” Does anyone really think the same level of outrage would exist? If not, then this isn’t a moral question at all, but a monetary one. And if that’s the case, it should go without saying that Ubisoft’s reputation shouldn’t prevent it from being able to try something good and cool with its fans.

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Comments on “In Defense Of Ubisoft: Crowdsourcing Game Content Creation Is Actually Fun And Non-Exploitive”

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Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Does anyone really think the same level of outrage would exist?

Yes. Because corporations are more powerful than most individuals. That’s why corporations cannot enjoy the same level of liberties and privileges that individuals do — they would abuse it to exploit individuals.

Just as an example: corporations can spend more on lawyers than most individuals.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Does anyone really think the same level of outrage would exist?

Exactly. How many people would have to agree with your political opinion before you lose your right to have one? How many people would have to be standing around you in a crowd before you are stripped of all your human rights?

There’s good reasons why corporations cannot be denied rights, and the biggest and best one is every corporation is made of people who have rights.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 How many people would have to agree with your political opin

You, as an individual person, have a right to your opinion. But a corporation is not a person, and has no such right.

The US Supreme Court does not agree.

Anonymous Coward says:

No. Ubisoft could have made Beyond Good & Evil 2 of high quality and slightly larger scope than the first game easily, years ago, with the tech and talent available at the multitude of support studios they have. Has anybody else seen the ridiculous length of the credits sequences in the Assassins’ Creed games?

Instead, they chose to make some pseudo space sim of ridiculous size and scope, likely to chase a trend with the whole “persistent online world” bullshit, and want to fill in asset gaps with art and talent from people outside of their studio.

I’m pissed at Ubi for taking their sweet time making this sequel, and the manner in which they have decided to create said sequel. At this point I consider it likely that they made that old trailer during the 360/PS3 era just to shut people up for a bit, and then reviving the game with some much-too-big plans last year with the big announcement at E3. They really have the gall to go “Hey, fans, you can get paid to get your art in the game!!”? It all just has this scummy stink to it that I can’t ignore.

Anonymous Coward says:

opening the floodgates of copyright and trademark infringement?

The BIG question is how the company plans to identify the infringing content from the non-infringing content that gets submitted, because obviously failing to do so will be expensive if not disastrous. Even professional artists occasionally get nailed this way, unintentionally.

Considering the extreme risks involved, this crowd-sourcing plan could well be just a gimmick to generate interest among fans. We’ll see if they change their mind and decide not to use any fan art in the end, and if so, that may have been the plan all along, because it will have cost them nothing yet generated a fortune in free publicity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Err people that have capital

People that aleady have capital should not be trying to scam, I guess it makes sense since Capitalism is like Trump or GwB about grifting but it’s a little obvious

Whatever these are B arc people and will seed us with the hairdressers, phone sanitzers and other useless people

I mean that is where the Capitalists belong.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

I remember BG&E. It was alright, I s’pose, even if it felt slightly annoying and disconcertingly French, at times. I never got round to finishing it. It’s good to see it’s getting a sequel. Hopefully, it’ll be more fun to play.

I think the whole crowdsourcing thing is something that can only really be properly judged in terms of how it all shakes out in practise.

It may go well, giving the game a unique flavour and making fans and contributors very happy, as well as saving money – I’d be happy enough with that, as an uninvolved onlooker. If everyone else seems happy enough with the results, I might even be tempted to actually buy the thing, something I’m otherwise unlikely to do, given Ubisoft’s reputation for being a big, fat bag of corporate dicks.

Then again, it may go very badly, given the clear potential for inadequate work, the possible plagiarism issues as mentioned in the article and everyone involved conceivably ending the day feeling ripped off in all directions.

In the worse case, it might lead to a slew of comparable efforts across the industry, potentially resulting in the mass-defunding of dev-teams everywhere, in favour of cheap, lower-quality, crowdsourced labour.

I think I’ll just have to wait and see.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In the worse case, it might lead to a slew of comparable efforts across the industry, potentially resulting in the mass-defunding of dev-teams everywhere, in favour of cheap, lower-quality, crowdsourced labour.

Crowdsourced development is not new, just look at the free and opensource software ecosystem where devloppers are employed to work on many of its projects. Also, when job hunting, potential employers want a demonstration of being able to do what you claim, and an acknowledged contribution to a crowdsourced effort will tick that box along with the team player box.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Somehow, I don’t think a FOSS project is quite the same thing as a Ubisoft project.

Having now looked over this project a bit more, it really doesn’t appear to be a bad thing, here at the outset: HitRECord don’t come across as asshats and the push for this initiative is apparently creator-led – with no small amount of enthusiasm – rather than accountancy-led, which seem to be very good signs.

There’s every chance that it could deliver an excellently diverse and rich game-world – and, hopefully, all the contributors will be fairly rewarded.

I can see why Mr Geigner’s excited about it. It does all depend on Ubisoft management behaving themselves, however. They’re not known for showing their paying customers much more than complete disdain. I can only hope that they’ve somehow learned a shred of respect.

Moreover, even if Ubisoft do support their new community properly, if this becomes the success I hope for, it really remains to be seen how many other companies will jump on the same bandwagon, but with no better intentions than to rip off their developers and external contributors.

Time will tell.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Hesitant support

So long as they’re upfront about everything(‘no this is not a job, no you should not go into this expecting to be paid’), I think I’d lean towards this being a good move, as it strikes me as basically ‘make fanfic/pics, and if we think it’s good enough we’ll give you some money and add your stuff to the game itself.’

If someone submits their stuff as though they’re trying to score a paycheck, then yeah, this is probably not a good idea, but through the lens of fans getting involved in something they are interested in and maybe getting something of theirs cannonized, it seems like a cool idea.

Of course this is Ubisoft, so we’ll have to see how well they handle it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m a bit more concerned about how copyrights are going to be handled for the submissions that don’t make the cut. Because that’s another thing always stuck into the fine print of these kinds of crowdsourcing contests: that even losing submissions still become property of the contest holder. If Ubisoft did make it clear that they weren’t forcing mass copyright transfer then I’d have less of a problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That is a concern. “Contests” always have that niggling little rule that saying that even your kid’s crappy drawing becomes theirs.

Hey, if they gave it away, not like they’re going to miss it or need it for a project of their own someday, right? Sometimes things you thought were shit years earlier become useful later in life.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You don’t have to engage in weird speculation.

“Contributors retain rights to their work, whether it’s used or not. When you upload original content to HITRECORD, you grant our company a non-exclusive license to monetize and therefor pay you for it. You’re always free to do whatever you want with it elsewhere.”

Anonymous Coward says:

I can’t believe this is a thing. In 2018. If you don’t like the idea, DONT SUBMIT ANYTHING. If you’re an amateur artist who has no way of being hired, and a fan of the game, this sounds like a great way to have some fun with something you love.

People are shitty and ruin everything. fuck twitter. It always makes news because twitter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Tim you said your reaction was positive, and while I do think this is a good idea, I wonder about the terms of use Ubisoft has for submissions.
Previously TD has talked about someone effectively (yes they aren’t ACTUALLY stealing the copy right… but from what I can tell the effect is about the same) stealing copyright from minors (school children).

discordian_eris (profile) says:


Ubisoft and HitRECord seem to be aiming at the modding community and trying too get them involved before they release the game.

For many games the modding community, and the creative work they do, can be as important as the games developers themselves. From Dooms groundbreaking use of WAD files, to Skyrim and its Creation Kit, modders have long been very important parts of gaming. Many modders have jumped ranks from their amateur modding to the ranks of paid artists and developers. Some have become much more – think Counterstrike. It makes some sense to engage the community early, as many of the modders will create content regardless, they will just release it after the game comes out.

Not sure about the ethics of it, will have to wait and see how Ubisoft and HitRECord deal with it, and how they try and screw people over.

Anonymous Coward says:

Only indie games should be crowdsourced. I’m sick of seeing multi-million dollar studios that have been around for decades turning to this crowdsourcing model. They already HAVE the money, but they want everyone else to fund their project? And then buy it, too? Fucking greedy, if you ask me. Hell, Atari was doing that for their latest hardware offering. ATARI of all companies. Jesus, when will it stop? What next, crowdsourcing life-saving medication?

Also, Tim Schafer is a tool and an SJW cuckold. Let’s not give that idiot any praise, he doesn’t deserve it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Hell, Atari was doing that for their latest hardware offering. ATARI of all companies”

The Atari you’re thinking of ceased to exist a long time ago, being spilt up and sold off in various ways. The current company has not long exited bankruptcy proceedings.

“What next, crowdsourcing life-saving medication?”

When the likes of Martin Shkreli are setting the prices, and while the US is still based on a for-profit healthcare system, that probably happens a hell of a lot more than you think it does already.

“Also, Tim Schafer is a tool and an SJW cuckold.”

Well, no wonder your mind is short on facts, you obviously don’t hold intelligent company if those are your go-to insults.

ECA (profile) says:

Crowd sourcing..

Is abit STUPID..
First they get TOns of money, then they give out a few copies for free, that can be abit over priced, THEN they sell the game/item AGAIN for Over priced.

Star Cit. seems to be the HIGHEST paid for program Ever made, from Crows sourcing.. They got Millions, and in 3-4 years little has REALLY been made of the plans they had. EXCEPT to make millions more..

“I WOULD THINK”, that after something is Sourced that the goods would be Fairly CHEAP, and the profiteering would almost vanish. But it hasnt, and doesnt.
Many that I have watched have Jumped on the old bandwagon to make TONS of profits, after the device is made/designed/proven..THEn they go back tot he watering hole and DO IT AGAIN..even after all the profit they made is still coming in..

USA corps are Scared, and Just USING CHINA and other countries.. IF we allowed the Better comapnies in China access to the USA directly(with non-competitive products, we get most of it anyway from other countries) the USA WOULD FALL FLAT..
We have what I Call ” closed markets” Where a company or group, Does everything that is needed to get a Product to market in the USA, from Handling, shipping, distribution, Trucking, Fuel…Everything, and THEN marks up the prices to cover it all, and THEN SOME.. Then gets to Write off most of it as Costs to make the product.

Christenson says:


Tech dirt has repeatedly told us that context is very important in a copyright context and computers aren’t good at it. The reactions here are a classic illustration — Ubisoft has a sketchy history, not everyone believes they will be good.

As to corporations, they are like the government: a covenant entered into to accomplish social ends. The devil is of course in the details, but philosophically I hope we would all agree that the larger the concentration of power, the more the constraint compared to individuals.

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