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Industry professionals criticise Ubisoft for ‘exploitative as hell’ spec work

Composers and developers have criticised Ubisoft for once again partnering with HitRecord, an “open community for creative collaboration” that has launched a project for fans to have their music in its upcoming Watch Dogs sequel, Watch Dogs Legion. A previous scheme launched at last year’s E3 for Beyond Good and Evil 2 faced similar backlash when detractors deemed the project exploitative given it requires unpaid “spec work” from artists.

Contributors can offer music – or parts of a track, such a bass line or drum beat – under themes such as “Aggressive Grim Punk Song” or “Teasing Funk Pop Song”. $2,000 (£1600) will be awarded for each track that makes the cut, split between the people whose “contribution is in the final version that’s in the game”. The winning contributors can expect payment by January 2020.

However, “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”, which means someone might secure hundreds of dollars, whilst others will end up with nothing at all, despite potentially putting in the same work. 

“From the very beginning, we have always wanted to include our fans and the community in the making of our game,” Ubisoft wrote (thanks, RPS). “Thanks to our partnership with HitRecord, our talented Watch Dogs fans and the HitRecord community have the opportunity to participate together in the creation of the musical landscape for our open world version of London.

“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. You can get started right away!”

However, a number of prominent developers and composers – including Cadence of Hyrule composer Danny Baranowski, Reigns: Game of Thrones composer Ryan Ike, Neo Cab narrative designer Bruno Dias, ex-RuneScape developer James Sweatman, Mike Bithell,  and Game Workers Unite’s Los Angeles chapter (thanks, GI.biz) – are urging fans not to contribute unpaid “spec work” to the project, pointing out that as a union member himself, HitRecord founder Joseph Gordon-Levitt does not work for free.

“Musicians, I urge you not to submit to this,” Ike said on Twitter. “This is spec work and exploitative as hell. This model, where you give someone your time and skill and MIGHT be chosen (and if you are, you’re underpayed (sic) at best) needs to die out immediately.”

“I know it’s hard to get into video game music. But please trust me – this. is. not. the. way,” added Baranowski. “With the inevitable volume of submissions, this is no better than a lottery. Except you work for nothing and get nothing out of it.”

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond.

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