So Let's Talk About This Ubisoft/HitRecord Stuff


#1

I’ve been in a decent amount of discussion with people over Ubisoft’s plan to have fans submit art assets to their game, select what they want, pay a bit of money to the creator and then “feature” them in the game.

What’s your take on it?

For me-- as a musician, filmmaker, someone who did a lot of freelance video work in the past-- this is another step in the wrong direction for the creative community and, seriously, our economic outlook as a country in general.

Ubisoft made… was it 2 Billion last year? How is it not exploitative for them to ask professional quality work (it HAS to be pro level work or it will stick out like a sore thumb in a AAA game) from their fans, not pay them for their time and even if it IS selected, give them peanuts? No matter what they say, they are saving money by doing this-- they are having the fans supplement the company’s payroll by doing professional work without getting a fare wage or compensation for it.

I think one of the real problems lies in the fact that many are assuming the HitRECord model is somehow infinitely scale-able-- there is a huge difference between a low budget passion project where everyone is collaborating for the art of the thing with little to no compensation vs the same model after we introduce a hugely profitable corporation that is going to take your work and make it part of a project they will most likely make millions off of.

Finally, I also hear the old mantra of “Well, if you don’t like it, don’t do it. No one is forcing you to”. You can argue that all you want, the onus of the morality in this situation doesn’t lie with those who get exploited, even if they do it willingly. It’s a separate issue to look at the exploitative practices of the powerful and rich corporation and decide if it is moral. Just because people willingly work for Walmart doesn’t mean the company and its practices are any less karmically bankrupt.


#2

This whole thing has been completely messy and not the right way at all to handle this. What Ubisoft and HitRECord are doing is called For Spec. If you haven’t looked into what the phrase For Spec means, please check out NoSpec.com.

Also this whole things make me worried for artists within the game community since it could be a test bed of “let’s just make these folks freelance and then we save more money.” Or it could be that they just didn’t think this thing through at all. It’s a real mess.


#3

I think they absolutely DID think it through and came to the conclusion of CHA-CHING! There is no way a suit or bean counter looked at this proposal and didn’t understand that it meant getting pro-work for peanuts. They may have underestimated what the backlash would be like, or that people have become wise (at least some people) to the exploitative nature of the “Gig Economy”, but they’re going to ride this rocket to the ground-- they’ll squeeze whatever they can out of it and then do an about face once it’s not popular-- “We heard you and we’re no longer going to prey on the poor and talented! Big round of applause for us!”

People try to get my film/video students to work for free all the time and I have to talk them through it so the can at least decide what they stand to get out of it if anything. Most of them are gung ho about it because most of them, as undergrads, have never had to support themselves out in the world.


#4

It really bothers me, and I am also just not a fan of the whole “Gig” economy. It makes me sick whenever I hear about the “side hustle”, because corporations LOVE that shit. No benefits, no insurance, no severance, no vacation, ugh.

Like stated in the Waypoint Podcast about the Ubisoft Conference, they are going to distribute $50,000 to however many people submit assets, and then break it down to how important that asset was to the finished product. If they pull in $2 billion in sales, they can afford to give more money to this “project”.


#5

If it works well and enough companies figure this out and set it up, it’s only going to make it harder for people to get a legitimate job working in games.

People who are into it use the argument that it is really cool for a big game company to reach out, or that it’s the only way they feel like they will ever get their stuff into a big game. I can tell you firsthand that this is not true. You can still get in legit, you don’t have to accept their scraps and get in like this. Your name is just going to be one of a thousand people in the credits, if even that, and you’ll probably get 50 bucks at best. It’s not a way to break in, it’s a way for them to keep you at the bottom.

Beyond the awfulness of spec work, in their own words, the reason that they’re doing this is to get people from all around the world to submit legitimately diverse art. This of course means that they’re getting that art without having to seek out these people and give them real jobs/pay.

They absolutely did think this through and Ubisoft at least knew that the fan excitement would drown the dissenting creatives. I don’t know if Joseph Gordon-Levitt expected it, because it seems like his company has paid people well before (a friend said she received as much as $1k on some jobs through them), and no one is ever ready for what it means to be in games. Both companies absolutely come out of this winning though.


#6

I just finished a project for a charity that promotes art and design education in the UK. One of the kids classes produced some cute / maybe rad designs for shoes that were being prototyped. Cue two of the people in the office who had clearly never worked a creative job in their life saying that the kids should be credited for their design, as the “exposure” would be brilliant for them, and that was it.

It really wasn’t my place to kick up a fuss about it, and luckily one of the other full time staff members picked up on it and called them out on it, but it was a very similar situation where a company who clearly can afford to pay someone for their time and is clearly going to profit from that persons ideas, saying “yo! here have some exposure


#7

I’m a film graduate student at an university in Texas. I know a ton of undergrads who just go do things for free for big companies and they rarely get anything from it. It’s frustrating because they should get paid no matter what. “For Exposure” is what I usually hear and boy it’s just the WORST. Love 2 pay my bills with exposure bucks


#8

Every semester I get TONS of emails from businesses asking if my students might be interested in an “internship” where they make free pro-quality videos for these losers. When I ask them what the trade off-- who will the students be studying under in order to learn more about their chosen field… you know, what an internship actually is… they go silent for a bit and then act like I’m the asshole here. Working for you for free is not an internship. Working for you for free under the guidance of a professional who can get my students real world experience while helping the build new skills IS.


#9

Yep, the thing I never really hear mentioned about internships and the economy is; if you have an intern for two months, and then another and another. If you can manage to get six people in, hey, that’s a whole full time job that just doesn’t exist any more. Poof!


#10

Especially when you’re asking for the “intern” to have the skills and do the work of a qualified employee you’d hire anyway. They expect the “intern” to people to simply work on a pro-level for free. THAT’S NOT INTERNSHIP, GUYS.


#11

The only good thing to come from this is that I now hear “exposure” in my head as Mr Torgue from Borderlands 2 saying “Explosions?” and that is pretty good


#12

Between Joseph Gordon Levitt’s shit eating grin throughout all this and NPH being a dick over Rachel Bloom, it’s been a great week of mid-2000s it-boys showing us their whole ass.


#13

Ubi did say that the 50 k they had set aside to begin with was not necessarily the final amount so I’m reserving ultimate judgment until I hear about further resources being set aside for it, but on it’s face this sure is looking like some shady fucking business and a terrible precedent to set.

I have next to no knowledge about what fair compensation for artwork and music looks like in game development but 50 thousand sounds like a grossly inadequate number for the huge amount of man hours they’re going to realistically see put up for this. I suppose there is a world where Ubi comes out afterwards and ups that number to, like, a million but even then the sheer competetiveness to get stuff into the game seems like a really bad road to walk down.


#14

I’m perfectly at ease with judging them at this point :wink: I think mostly because, as you say, 50K is paltry and it’s like they’re just starting there to see where the level-- low balling right from the start.

I think the people at Ubi should be fucking worried, too-- this “experiment” is certainly devaluing what some of them do professionally.


#15

Right, and part of what makes this so disappointing is that Ubisoft supposedly is one of the better places to work in the industry. This is such a potentially toxic precedent to set and it’s coming from a company where you didnt necessarily expect it.

Like Austin said on the podcast, there may not be malice behind this idea but the potential ramifications it can have on the industry as a whole are so destructive that it doesn’t even really matter.

For this to be even remotely okay the compensation people need to get has to be at the very least on par with industry standard pay and even then you might still open the door for more scrupulous companies to start undercutting industry workers.


#16

we wrote about it on the owl site already, but another effect of outsourcing art to “the general public” is that it’s pretty hard for the general public on a website with little to no interaction (and a scummy “we dont have to pay your union shit” terms and condition clause) to unionize. Games already have a nightmarish union problem so it’s hardly a surprise to see a big games company extend that exploitation of un-unionized workers further afield. Not only that, but if you upload work to the site and then it’s not used or you delete your account or whatever, HitRecord still own a perpetual license to use it, either in advertisements or otherwise, so your work might appear in advertisements anyway without you being paid.

Also, no royalty payments.


#17

I don’t think that expanding the 50K is something that they’re going to do to pay people more, but rather something they’re leaving open if Ubi wants more work. So it would be paying more people the same little amounts.

For reference from the music side, musicians should be getting paid like $500-2500 per song depending on the length, and it’s extremely hard for me to imagine that will be held up with only $50k to spend.


#18

If we use the 500 as a reference point, which is on the conservative side, that means they’re expecting to pay 100 people for their submissions… with the amount of people who are going to submit stuff that’s like entering the friggin’ lottery for christ sakes, and that’s not even taking visual art or voice work into consideration.

Mello, you’re familiar with the industry side, what amount of do you think would be reasonable for them to put up for this, or is it simply too nasty of a precedent to set that it’s not even worth speculating?


#19

no amount of money makes it ethical


#20

As long as it is spec work, there is no amount that justifies this and I would much rather they just have people send their portfolios in and commission specific artists at decent rates with the $50k.