Ubisoft is partnering with HitRecord to commission 10 songs for the Watch Dogs: Legion soundtrack, and it’s drawn the ire of some game developers. HitRecord, founded by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a platform where users can collaborate on all kinds of creative projects, from music to short films. Unlike this collaboration, which was started by Ubisoft, projects are usually initiated by members of the site and only occasionally become commercial products.
This isn’t the first time that Ubisoft has worked with HitRecord, nor is it the first time that it drew criticism for it. During the publisher’s E3 2018 presentation, it announced that it was using HitRecord to solicit art and music for Beyond Good & Evil 2. The companies described the project as a unique opportunity for fans to participate in the development process, but for some, it sounded more like speculative work (or spec work) - an arrangement where a worker (usually a freelancer in a creative industry) submits work to a client without guarantee of payment, sometimes taking the form of a contest or a test to secure future commissions. While Ubisoft and HitRecord’s first partnership got its share of praise, it also led some artists and game designers to speak out against it under the #nospec hashtag on Twitter, which has long been used to call out spec work.
Despite the criticism, Ubisoft recently announced that it’s working with HitRecord to commission music for Watch Dogs: Legion, and some of the same people who criticized the first partnership are voicing their displeasure. Scott Benson, co-founder of worker-owned developer The Glory Society and co-creator of Night in the Woods, tweeted about the partnership and shared his thread criticizing the Beyond Good & Evil 2 deal from last year. Mike Bithell, developer of the upcoming John Wick Hex, and Rami Ismail, co-founder of Vlambeer, also spoke out against the arrangement, suggesting that Ubisoft instead commission specific artists to write new music for the game or license existing tracks.
This sucks. Pay people for their labour. Stop exploiting fans and hobbyists, while devaluing the work of those with the gall to actually expect consistent payment for work done. Do better Ubi, we're counting on you. #nospechttps://t.co/4GZ1tiII0O— Mike Bithell (@mikeBithell) July 13, 2019
Other Twitter users have pointed out that arrangements like this lead a lot of artists to spend time on work that goes nowhere and drive the price down for the successful submissions. Already, the project has received hundreds of submissions from dozens of different users on HitRecord. Most of those won’t make it into the game, and those that do won’t earn much for their creators. According to Ubisoft, $2,000 is set aside for each song, and that money will be split up among everyone who had a hand in the winning submission.
Some have defended the partnership as a rare opportunity for hobbyists to earn money for their work and lesser-known artists to get a credit on a game as big as Watch Dogs: Legion. The sheer number of submissions just days after the project’s announcement speaks to how many people think it’s a fair deal. But it’s undoubtedly Ubisoft reaping most of the rewards at the expense of creators, paying just a fraction of what it would for music under a traditional contract while reducing its need to hire full-time employees in an already precarious industry.