There's a dark cloud looming over Ubisoft's Beyond Good and Evil 2, and I'm not just talking about the one in the stunning E3 trailer. Alongside a lot of good things at the E3 showing of the game was a section on how Joseph Gordon-Levitt's HitRecord was going to be handling the inclusion of community-created art and assets for the game. While creators will be paid if their work is used, it still sounds like high-risk speculative work to me (spend time/money making stuff now, hope someone pays later), despite Gordon-Levitt's woolly claim otherwise, posted on Medium here.
It's well known that the games industry has a rough history regarding labour and how employees are treated. Crunch, unpaid overtime and generally high turnover are problems for those lucky enough to get proper, salaried work. Freelancers and contractors have an even rougher uphill struggle ahead of them, and many saw Ubisoft's use of HitRecord as exacerbating those issues with additional spec work. In his very extensive response, Gordon-Levitt doesn't so much deny that this is spec work, so much as very elaborately say that he doesn't see it this way.
I understand the comparison. But I do think we’re substantially different. As mentioned, Ubisoft isn’t doing this to cut costs; they’re doing it to include fans.
Not exactly the most convincing of arguments, really. While I don't doubt that there are some people at Ubisoft excited to get fans involved in creating art for the game, I'd feel much happier if they were just accepting portfolios, along with pitches for commissioned work. There are a lot of struggling artists out there trying to make ends meet, and surely Ubisoft can be a little clearer on who's going to get paid in the end - not that Gordon-Levitt seems to think that's an issue with HitRecord.
I firmly believe that the people who worked on it should get paid. However, we never present HITRECORD as a means for professional artists to earn their living.
Well, it's good to know that, but that still doesn't stop this from being spec work, no matter how much community spirit is behind the art produced. HitRecord ultimately decide where Ubisoft's pool of funds go in the end after choices are made, and are open that this can result in minimal payouts. Not exactly the most ideal of situations, whoever you are.
Oftentimes a finished product will include a large number of tiny contributions, and those contributors can receive tiny paychecks. And we pride ourselves on being very upfront and transparent about all of this.
At least they're honest that you could be pouring in a lot of work and effort and get out little to nothing in return with this, but it just raises yet another red flag. Ubisoft could pick and choose from the world's best fan-artists and pay them proper commission rates, but have chosen to go this route. While some seem enthusiastic, it just sits wrong with me.
Let's all take a deep breath and just watch the E3 cinematic trailer again, which is lovely stuff, and undoubtedly the work of fully salaried (although potentially still overworked) Ubisoft employees.
There's currently no indication when BG&E2 will be coming out, but those interested in getting in on beta tests when they happen (another potential can of labour-related worms, but not one to deal with today) can sign up over on the Space Monkey Program page here.