Ubisoft Once Again Crowdsourcing Content For Video Game, Once Again Gets Unwarranted Backlash

from the cwf+rtb dept

Between crowdsourcing and the explosion of indie video game developers, many of which are far more permissive in IP realms and far better at actually connecting with their fans, we are perhaps entering a golden age for fan involvement in the video games they love. And it’s not just the indie developers getting into this game either; the AAA publishers are, too. One example of this came up last year, when Ubisoft worked with HitRECord to allow fans of the Beyond Good and Evil franchise to submit potential in-game music creations. On HitRECord, other fans would be able to vote and even remix those works. At the end of it all, any music Ubisoft used for Beyond Good and Evil 2 would be paid for out of a pool of money the company had set aside. Cool, right?

Not for some in the gaming industry itself. Many who work in the industry decried Ubisoft’s program as denying those who make music professionally income for the creation of the game music. Others called Ubisoft’s potential payment to fans for their creations “on-spec” solicitations, in which companies only pay for work that actually makes it into the game, a practice that is seen as generally unethical in the industry. Except neither of those criticisms were accurate. Ubisoft specifically carved out a few places for fans to put music into the game, not the entire game. And the “on-spec” accusation would only make sense if these fans were in the gaming music industry, which they weren’t. Instead, Ubisoft was actually just trying to connect with its own fans and create a cool program in which those fans could contribute artistically to the game they love, and even make a little money doing so.

Fortunately, Ubisoft has apparently not let the criticism keep it from continuing with these experiments, as the company has put out the call for the same sort of program for its next Watchdogs game.

Last week, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt ‏announced on Twitter that his music production company, HitRecord, would once again partner with Ubisoft, this time to help the publisher create 10 songs for its upcoming open world hacker game, Watch Dogs: Legion. This immediately re-ignited an old debate about the ethics of soliciting work for big budget games from fans.

“10 original songs. Collaboratively made for #WatchDogsLegion. By YOU. Come play w/ us,” Gordon-Levitt tweeted on July 11. According to the FAQ on Ubisoft’s website, the publisher will be paying $20,000 for the original music which will be played during the game, like, as one example offered, while you’re driving around the game’s version of London. At $2,000 per song, the proceeds will end up being paid out through HitRecord to whichever of the platform’s users helped create the music.

Once again, you have to really, really work hard to find something unethical in any of that. And, yet, all of the same criticisms are arising. On the one hand, sure, it’s mildly understandable that creatives don’t like being routed around by gaming companies. On the other hand, it’s hard to come off as more anti-fan than complaining about a $20k payout for 10 fan-made songs within a professional game. And yet again, here come the complaints about this being some flavor of on-spec work.

“This sucks,” tweeted Mike Bithell, developer of Thomas Was Alone and the upcoming John Wick Hex game, under the “nospec” hashtag. “Pay people for their labour. Stop exploiting fans and hobbyists, while devaluing the work of those with the gall to actually expect consistent payment for work done. Do better Ubi, we’re counting on you.”

“I am still not a fan of what read[s] as ‘spec work under a proprietary open non-exclusive license’ model, & prefer the ‘pay someone to browse SoundCloud to find cool music for which you then talk to the creator & pay them too,’” tweeted Vambleer’s Rami Ismail.

And yet the fans appear to love this, having contributed to the previous game enough that Ubisoft wanted to do it all over again. Here’s the thing: if professional video game music composers are confident in their work, they really shouldn’t see this as some kind of a huge threat. And I say that as someone that loves video game music. A game company trying to get fans involved in certain parts of the game creation isn’t some great evil. It’s CwF+RtB, which is something we like around these parts.

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Companies: hitrecord, ubisoft

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Comments on “Ubisoft Once Again Crowdsourcing Content For Video Game, Once Again Gets Unwarranted Backlash”

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Jesse Maddox says:

Re: Re:

It’s worth noting that all the payments for the previous game they did this with are still pending. Not to mention its literally spec work because there’s no guarantee for anything. It’s just give me stuff and I might pay you… They haven’t even shown that they can pay the last group and they’re going at it again?

TKnarr (profile) says:

And what’s wrong with on-spec work? Professional authors do it all the time, it’s rare for an author to be guaranteed payment for a book even under contract. More often the author writes the book for nothing (and sometimes they’re contractually obliged to write the book) and hopes the publisher buys it for publication, and if the publisher doesn’t like the book the author gets zilch (and if under contract for a certain number of books has to keep writing books until the publisher likes enough to satisfy the contract). Same with bands, their contracts are usually for a certain number of albums with no guarantee the label will accept any given album and they just have to keep recording albums and not getting paid until they come up with ones the label likes and buys.

Of course anyone writing music for Ubisoft under this offer had better be doing it the same way professional authors and bands do it: the publisher has right of first refusal, but the rights remain with the author/band until the publisher actually buys the work. If the publisher doesn’t want the book or the album, the author/band is then free to offer it to any other publisher and the original publisher has no more rights to the material. Labels may screw the artists more in the music industry, but no professional author submits their work these days without a signed agreement to a strict limit on how long the publisher can sit on the manuscript (too many authors got burned, I recall authors getting shirty about terms back in the late 80s).

Anonymous Coward says:

Interesting how those complaining define "creatives" only as already-successful bigger name composers. I guess fans who write music and aren’t known or well-known yet aren’t creative, apparently.

Further, do the pros complain every time someone else gets a contract instead of them? As if someone owes them work.

If Ubi hasn’t paid out yet for previously a
used works as stated in the comments, that’s a problem with Ubi, not the model, and has nothing to do with pros. $2k seems a bit lowball to me for big name games, though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Interesting how those complaining define "creatives" only as already-successful bigger name composers. I guess fans who write music and aren’t known or well-known yet aren’t creative, apparently.

It gets telling when the same people demanding for greater copyright protection typically use this as their biggest counterargument for "more music/art/content is being created more than before". "There’s more crap," they piss and moan.

Which their system of stronger copyright would do fuck all to solve anyway, since anything and everything is instantly copyrighted upon creation. (And we all know what their response to the alternative is, considering that a judge’s recent decision that yes, you DO need to actually own the copyrights to the shit you sue for caused Malibu Media, the RIAA and John Herrick Smith to collectively piss themselves.)

Anonymous Coward says:


Looks like a great idea up front. Then one thinks about the counter arguments, which seem reasonable until you think about it.

  1. The "but spec work". a) its only for a small component of the game, and b) those successful are being paid. (They could be not paid, and then the content people would be screaming louder — "stolen work").

  2. They call for people scouring soundcloud and identified songs having their distributors contacted. But, that’s just another form or unpaid work by those searching soundcloud.

This really looks like the acknowledged creators trying to deny any others into the industry a.k.a anti-competitive practice.

So, yep, great idea.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Hmmm

Or alternatively, "acknowledged creators" who make a living writing music/whatever trying to prevent Ubisoft from converting their market to amateur hour.

In theory Ubisoft could take up the fan creations for one game and use them in other games, thus reducing that game’s budget for professionally composed music. And that doesn’t even get into the question of whether the fans are actually getting paid as advertised.

I’m all in favor of market disruptions between competitors who are actually dependent on their sales to earn a living, but this program is another step down the slippery slope of underpaid labor in the "gig economy" that keeps millennials living with their parents.

ladyattis (profile) says:

Missing the point...

This isn’t about the legal aspects of crowdsourcing that has folks up in arms but the fact that businesses regularly assume some kind of entitlement to extract more labor from customers and fans as part of their development process of games. For example, years ago game developers would HIRE testers to run through their games and even required to them have some skill in following down the rabbit hole of certain use cases. Today? They rarely depend on them and even make users pay for the "privilege" to play the game in early access (basically alpha/beta stage of the code). This isn’t illegal but it sure is cynical and greedy on the part of developers. Similarly, crowdsourcing music that will appear in a game is really lazy and greedy when they could you know hire composers to get the work done. Jesper Kyd, Jeremy Soule, and company are still around so it’s not like there’s a lack of composers in the gaming industry. So you can say that it’s bad to mock the cynical cash grab and greed of a company all you want but don’t complain when people don’t contribute to it or mock it.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Missing the point...

If Ubisoft isn’t actually paying out as promised as some are claiming then that is a serious problem. If they were sourcing all the music for the game this way, then I could definitely see it as a cynical cash grab (and also a reasonable business decision – why pay more for stuff than is necessary, if high quality stuff is available for cheaper?*). But letting fans get their work into the game doesn’t sound greedy to me. I’m not an artistic type but I think it would be awesome to play a game and see or hear something I made in it, and $2000 on top of that is great too.

This is a totally voluntary program, so nobody is being exploited. Anyone who isn’t interested or doesn’t think the money is enough is free to not participate. If the public thinks Ubisoft is being terrible, they are also free to not buy the game. Video game publishers get that message pretty dang quick. And musicians are free to boycott Ubisoft too. Though "we demand you stop using music from other people because they’re not us" is not a particularly strong position IMO.

  • there may be reasons some businesses do, such as wanting to support the providers of the "stuff" but it’s not something one can expect every single business to do forever
aerinai (profile) says:

Re: Missing the point...

But they are still hiring a composer… this is just for ancillary music for a small part of the game. In the Watchdogs: Legion, you are talking about modern day setting with music coming from cars, stereos, malls, etc. This is a part of world that you don’t need compositional work. I see this no different than if Grand Theft Auto decided to have an ‘indie’ radio station in their next game and did something similar to this.

We aren’t talking about the main theme for the game. And I will bet you that whoever is in charge of the music isn’t just going to grab a hodgepodge of 10 random songs… There is still a curation process. It would be a lot easier (albeit probably more expensive) to just go out, find some songs they like, throw money at it, and move on. OR… they could give someone the opportunity to have their original song in a game, pay them for it, and have a good story to talk about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Once again, you have to really, really work hard to find something unethical in any of that.
Really? Watch this!

Ubisoft pays a pittance for talented works. In turn, demands all copyrights of said work (this is written as a pay for contract). The music is put into the game, and instantly locked behind copyright.

To license it, one must pay Ubisoft for the use, for life + 75 years. None of the license payment will go to the original artist.

This is 100% unethical on Ubisoft’s part, who are clearly evading having to pay higher fees to musicians for in-game music (of which, most musicians keep their copyrights).

On the face, this is a "Fans! Here’s your chance!" but the history of Ubisoft and its copyright protectionism says "Fans! We’re going to abuse you while reaping what you sow!"

Sorry. I’m with those advocating this is something Ubisoft shouldn’t be doing.

If Ubisosft wants to embrace fans, then it should contract the works as though they were in the music industry, which means royalties for future licenses and they keep their copyrights.

As much as I hate the paid mod scene Bethesda recently entered, I don’t have as much a beef with it because those who make the mods are both contractually paid for their creations and share in each sale.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ubisoft pays a pittance for talented works. In turn, demands all copyrights of said work (this is written as a pay for contract). The music is put into the game, and instantly locked behind copyright.

This is about the same result as signing with a label, but carried out honestly, by quoting terms, as opposed to dishonestly, by using creative accounting to keep the profits.

Also, for a new musician, my music made it into the game is useful advertising.

Anonymous Coward says:


So… you are upset that Ubi is negotiating a contract with the general public?

I mean really what the hell are you talking about, how is it an ethical problem if they offer their contract publicly? They have merely announced what they would like to pay, and people who are fine with those terms (and the very clear chance that they get nothing) can participate.

Why is it any of your business how two or more consenting parties handle their business?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

_Ubisoft pays a pittance for talented works. In turn, demands all copyrights of said work (this is written as a pay for contract). The music is put into the game, and instantly locked behind copyright.

To license it, one must pay Ubisoft for the use, for life + 75 years. None of the license payment will go to the original artist._

So… don’t work for them? Seriously, wtaf?

dan8mx (profile) says:

It would be different if Ubisoft implied that the people creating music were going to get paid, but then didn’t pay them (e.g. write some music for us for $x! Later: oops, we didn’t need it, so we don’t have to pay you. Ktnxbye!)

That doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here – Ubisoft seems to be pretty upfront about the fact that most of the people who participate aren’t going to get money. They can use that to figure out whether they might get something they are looking for before creating and submitting music (which might be more that just money – experience, prestige, collaboration, and just loving what you do as a hobby are things too!)

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