Last year, Ubisoft announced a partnership with HitRecord, a collaborative website that allows creators to upload work, and remix others’, in order to get art and assets for Beyond Good And Evil 2 from fans. It caused many to speak out against the idea of sourcing labour from invested outsiders rather than salaried employees, as well as the concept of “spec work.” Ubisoft was asking people to put in time and effort with no guarantee that they would be paid, pointed out creators using the #nospec hashtag. Still, the system is returning for Watch Dogs Legion, with Ubisoft inviting musicians to submit work that could become one of ten tracks that will be used in the game – or might result in absolutely no reward for their labour.
HitRecord founder and leader Joseph Gordon-Levitt responded to these claims last year, claiming that what his organisation does is “substantially different” from spec work. “As mentioned, Ubisoft isn’t doing this to cut costs; they’re doing it to include fans,” he wrote. But including fans doesn’t require this process; Ubisoft could easily reach out to fan artists and musicians directly, or invite portfolios and pitches rather than completed work.
For Watch Dogs, though, Ubisoft says on their website: “Whether you’re a musical composer, writer, singer, player, or someone with big ideas and a lot of passion…we are super excited to hear your music composition.” But, “as with every creative endeavour, some ideas won’t develop or work out as we expected, and some pieces won’t be the right fit for the game.”
Those pieces will still exist within HitRecord, and their creators might have the opportunity to make money from them later. But that’s still a lot of work to put in with no guarantee at reward. It seems the direct definition of “speculative,” even if Joseph Gordon-Levitt disagrees. Polygon’s Jeff Ramos wrote a good breakdown of the creative community’s concerns last year.
And while it is true of “every creative endeavour,” as Ubisoft says, that not everything will make it to the final product, a salaried employee could still expect to be paid for the time and effort they put in, and to receive benefits that aren’t extended to HitRecord members voluntarily offering up their contributions.
Each of the ten tracks that are included in Watch Dog Legions will pay out $2,000 (£1590), split between every contributor. A video made by HitRecord for the collaboration says that a song might be made up of lyrics, drums, guitar, and vocals, with the share determined by how much they each contribute to the final song. It’s likely there’ll actually be far more than four contributors per song, given that their example doesn’t include work like composition, production, or the “remixes” encouraged by the platform: “As always, you can browse through HitRecord and download any piece of audio contributed to the site, then put your own spin on it by remixing it and reuploading the result.” It seems that this could easily add up to paying each individual a small piece of the pie, even for those who actually do make some money from the labour they put in.
Last year, Gordon-Levitt said that they had paid out “almost $3 million” to HitRecord contributors. In the year since, it’s ticked just over, at $3,001,000 according to the video made for this project. The video says that this includes the $50,000 paid to Beyond Good And Evil 2 contributors, though their website still lists these payments as pending.