Ubisoft, Hitrecord, and Spec Work

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#1 Edited by section09 (317 posts) -

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...

American Institute of Graphic Design. (AIGA)

AIGA Position on Spec Work

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.

Or how about Scott Benson, the creator of Night in the Woods.

Scott's twitter thread about spec work

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

Tweet regarding Ubisoft

do not do spec work for ubisoft

Or C. Spike Trotman, owner of Iron Circus Comix

Tweet regarding 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

Comic about spec work

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.

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#2 Posted by TheHT (15875 posts) -

Apparently Hitrecord's intended aim is to be about "collaboration," with users building upon works submitted as a collective, and everyone who's ever touched a work that's accepted in the end gets paid (to varying degrees). So it sounds like something of a more inclusive rat race, and still 100% speculative work.


Even if you take this as something that's "cool for the fans," you'd be hardpressed to contort your thinking to make this not definitionally exploitative, even of the folks who're okay with that. Unless they released Beyond Good and Evil 2 for free I guess.

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#3 Posted by The_Nubster (4292 posts) -

Some people have asked about the difference between this and LBP, and it's like the difference between buying a canvas and mixing your own paints and then doing work for the store to decide if you're worthy of selling a canvas to. it's pretty yucky.

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#4 Posted by BisonHero (11603 posts) -

@the_nubster said:

Some people have asked about the difference between this and LBP, and it's like the difference between buying a canvas and mixing your own paints and then doing work for the store to decide if you're worthy of selling a canvas to. it's pretty yucky.

Yeah, people keep bringing up Little Big Planet and Super Mario Maker, but people should immediately see without even having to ask why that doesn't compare to this situation.

In the Little Big Planet or Super Mario Maker situation, contributing your ideas to a game post-release with an in-game editor meant for the players' own amusement/online sharing is one thing. But it's another thing entirely when you're submitting art assets (that you made in a standalone graphics program) to a pre-release game; you are literally doing the same kind of work that a paid designer/artist on the game did except you're only maybe going to get paid for your time/expertise.

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#5 Posted by DanishingAct (414 posts) -

Yuck. Was this a fun idea that wasn't really well thought through, or just gross? Honestly can't tell.

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#6 Posted by TheFlamingo352 (377 posts) -

Yeah it's pretty pathetic to see Ubisoft's great revival project stoop to "experimental" spec work. In all likelihood this story probably doesn't go far, and Hitrecord has minimal impact on Beyond Good & Evil. Hopefully no one gets tricked until then.

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#7 Posted by Vortextk (944 posts) -

Is this because even now, ubisoft doesn't really care about making this game and the only way to get it off the ground is to get a bunch of cheap labor? Was it really THAT HARD to make a damn action adventure zelda like with photography that they had to make "super graphical no mans sky action game" instead?

I appreciate the candor and original post a lot. It's a good read to hear from someone doing this kind of work. I didn't really have an opinion of it yet, it seemed so weird and out of nowhere I didn't know what to think, but I have a better idea now.

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#8 Edited by impartialgecko (1941 posts) -

Someone at Ubisoft is watching this project very closely, and if it pays dividends the way games are made is going to change rapidly and for the worse.

Capital is ALWAYS trying to find ways to reduce labour costs, which almost always means putting people out of work and compromising on quality. Ubisoft has been doing this for almost a decade with its global network of development teams, and they had to take a year off because AC Unity launched broken and franchise sales were sliding. The company's support of "live" games like Siege, For Honor, and Wildlands is more likely due to the cost of hiring new staff (still mostly contractors) to generate assets for a sequel than any "commitment to the fans."

This another development in a timeline of an industry within a broader system trying to get us to pay more money for less, both in terms of actual value (whatever that means to you) and in salaries paid and livelihoods sustained.

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#9 Posted by Damodar (2185 posts) -

Yeah, the implications that this could have are pretty grim. It would probably be for the best if it blew up in Ubisoft's face to stop everyone else jumping on the bandwagon.

Still, this is basically the same thing as me posting a drawing to the Splatoon miiverse, right?

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#10 Posted by Rorie (5881 posts) -

As a former freelancer I agree with this blog!

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#11 Posted by ragnar_mike (281 posts) -

Spec work is gross. This is the sort of stuff that a union would try and stop, for better or for worse. Being creative professionally is hard enough without half of the freelance offers ya get being for exposure and a slice of pizza. I'm all for co-op stuff and coming together for creative things, but this is just exploitative and tone deaf, especially in the current climate of how game devs are treated.

Don't do spec work, kids. Your time and effort are worth compensation.

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#12 Posted by owack6 (346 posts) -

@section09: I am just wondering what are your feelings on unpaid internships and do you think it is a comparable offer to spec work?

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#13 Posted by beforet (3471 posts) -

So this isn't completely related, but I would call it adjacent. In the software development industry, it's largely agreed that recruitment is more or less "broken", in that there are a lot of really good developers out there but it's hard for employers to actually find them through the interview process. And there is a growing conversation around the use of "homework" for the interview process. Basically you're given a task to do in your own time to show that you can build simple software. The problem is that this "simple software" can actually be pretty intense. I'm talking at least 8-12 hours of work that you're not being paid for. It feels very similar to what I'm seeing with this spec work conversation, with the critical difference that it's not for cash it's for employment.

Just adding this to let people know that yo, fuckers trying to pull this shit in all kinds of industry, and it's going to expand. Respect yourself, and respect other workers in your industry, and don't work for free. I know that it's really hard to advocate for yourself in the kinds of situation where you're likely to see this stuff, especially since you're usually in something of a vulnerable position if you're looking for work. And if you're like me then it's hard to say no to things, but you gotta. And if it shuts doors, you didn't want to go through them in the first place.

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#14 Posted by Kidavenger (4417 posts) -

It sucks but these sort of situations exist in most industries and have for a very long time.

I find it hilarious that on one hand people cry about this and on the other hand use and promote Uber/Lyft which massively undercut prices to decimate the taxi industry.

Walmart did the same thing to department stores.

Look on Craigslist and you'll find people advertising to do whatever you need done for peanuts.

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#15 Posted by BaconHound (302 posts) -

Whenever this topic comes up, I think of this rant:

Loading Video...

Do not ever work for free. Ever.

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#16 Edited by Jesus_Phish (3900 posts) -

@werupenstein: You've hit the nail on the head here. So many of the people I've seen crying fowl about this are the same crowd who use Uber or Lyft or Amazon or some other shitty service that massively devalues peoples careers.

I think this spec work stuff does absolutely suck, but I also think that Uber/Lyft suck and refuse to use them.

This reminds me of when Limp Bizkit went on a "search" for a new guitar player. They ran a contest for fans to join the band. All the fans had to do was show up with original material and play it for them at Guitar Centres around the Unite States. After gathering thousands of riffs (which the fans had to sign away), they just hired a guitarist from another band for a year or so before their original guy came back.

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#17 Posted by Wlleiotl (310 posts) -

You can tell 'spec work' is bullshit because the name is ambiguous. It's easy to assume spec is short for specifications which sounds far better than speculative work.

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#18 Posted by section09 (317 posts) -

@jesus_phish: While Lyft and Uber are both bad for their own reasons, chief among them being the devaluing of the worker, spec work is a separate issue in my opinion. Lyft drivers do indeed work on a contract basis which allows Lyft to circumvent some worker protections, however unlike the lions share of spec work, they do get paid for their labor. however small that pay may be.

The overall struggle is similar though, which of course boils down to labor vs. management. While the gig economy seems to be overall pretty harmful to the average person (Just my layman observations, I am absolutely not an economist or political scientist), my beef at this moment in time is with Ubisoft and the sheer scale of its spec work endeavor.

@owack6: Unpaid internships are another facet to the complex structure of creative work (and honestly work in general) in the modern age. I am guilty of having taken an unpaid internship and that is something I would likely never do again in addition to advising anyone I meet to also avoid doing.

Networking is extremely important in this field and an internship can certainly take you far, but anyone who is in it for the long run needs to hold a higher opinion of themselves with regards to what they are worth as people.

I personally think there is a place for volunteer work and "pro bono" creative work, not just for personal growth but to give back to the world / community / nonprofit what have you.