At their press conference over this past weekend Ubisoft announced they were partnering with Joseph Gorden Levitt's website Hitrecord to crowdsource assets and content for their upcoming game Beyond Good and Evil 2. Hitrecord is ostensibly a website that crowdsources creative work for various projects.
I am a designer. I've been working professionally as a designer for nearly 7 years. That amount of experience pales in comparison to some others but I like to believe I am pretty well versed in it at this point.
In the design / creative / anything business, there is a concept called speculative work or spec work. The hard definition of spec work is:
...any kind of creative work, either partial or completed, submitted by designers to prospective clients before designers secure both their work and equitable fees. (nospec.com)
Essentially, it's when the worker submits work with no guarantee of payment. A lot of times you will see people promising payment later, or sometimes even promising the nebulous concept of "exposure" in lieu of actual money. Make no mistake, what Hitrecord and Ubisoft are doing is the very definition of spec work.
I have seen several if not many people around the internet who are either uninformed about what it is and why it is harmful, or outright hostile to the idea that the concept of spec work is a force for bad, especially when a company as large and visible as Ubisoft engages in it. I want to set the record straight for anyone who falls into either of those categories.
Spec work under all circumstances is harmful and exploitative to the creator and undermines the entire profession.
This isn't my opinion, this is a fact. But don't take my word for it, how about the...
Some clients may see this as a way to get free work; it also diminishes the true economic value of the contribution designers make toward client’s objectives.
It's just free work for them which saves them money and you get whatever they want to give you, if anything.
Or @XEECEEVEVO, oft retweeted comic artist of Magpies
do not do spec work for ubisoft
Clients who expect to be presented with finished products without paying for them and pit designers against one another for that work are exploitative.
Or Maki Naro, freelance illustrator and comic artist
Now back to me. For every artist that has their work selected there are thousands that do not and thus, do not get paid. "Well that's life," you might say. "Don't submit work if you have a problem with it," you might say. "Nobody is forcing you to do this," you might say.
This isn't about me. I'm gonna be fine, because when I do work, I get paid for it. This is about the artists who aren't as fortunate as I or others who have managed to eke out a steady livelihood.
This is about the over 1000 people who have already submitted work no more a half a week after the initial announcement. It's about anyone who will submit work to this specific project or any other similar ones in the future. It's also about anyone who will ever attempt to seek gainful employment in this field going forward. Why would a company pay for artists when they can just throw 50 grand at JGL and have an army of them lined up in under 48 hours.
This is far different than a mere fan art submission contest. This is a formal initiative Ubisoft has undertaken complete with business partner, a budget, and even legalese. Plus, if you are someone who is hoping for quality content in your video game, you more than likely will not get it under a crowdsourcing plan such as this. Any artist whose work would regularly be utilized for a project such as this would not waste their time with spec work.
You don't ask a group of carpenters to each build you a chair only for you to pick and pay a single one of them. You don't ask a group of accountants to do your taxes only for you to pay the one that does it the best.
If I sound angry it's because I am. In having conversations with people around the internet since the annoucement, I have had my chosen profession compared to a woodworking hobby, I have been told to be grateful for the potential exposure Ubisoft is so munificently providing. I have been called unethical. I have been told to "adapt or die in this changing marketplace." I have had these words spoken to me:
As a professional artist you lead a very fortunate life.
Which, as any professional artist will tell you, is an absolutely ridiculous statement.
But again, this isn't about me, I am out here to hopefully help some people understand why I and many many many other artists are foaming at the mouth over this. We aren't being dramatic, this is literally how we survive as people. If you made it this far, thanks for reading, tell your friends.
Just throwing in some relevant miscellaneous links here at the bottom.
If this is in the wrong place please forgive me, I wasn't exactly sure where to put this.