If Ubisoft Montpellier isn't careful, they may end up alienating the artists they're looking to endear themselves to.
The mod community has been touting the importance of fan involvement in games for decades. That’s why places like Steam Workshop and Bethesda’s “official” community mods exist. But never before have we seen a AAA publisher look at its talented fanbase and say, “Hey, we want you to be in our game on purpose.” Well, until Beyond Good and Evil 2, that is.
During the Ubisoft E3 2018, shortly after the new cinematic trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2, Guillame Brenier and Gabrielle Shrager talked about their vision for populating the BG&E2 universe with work from the community.
“In Beyond Good and Evil 2, we want our community to participate in a way that’s never been done before,” Brenier said, palms pressed together. “We want our fans and people all over the world to really be a part of creating the game.”
In a pre-briefing with the press before the Ubisoft conference, Brunier said, “Forever, in the industry there’s been a wall between developers and players, but we are breaking that wall.”
“There’s literally a universe of ways for artists to express themselves,” Shrager continued on the Ubisoft stage. “From giant frescoes to street art, music, radio content and much more.”
Ubisoft announced that it wouldn’t be going it alone. In fact, it had partnered up with HitRecord, a startup that is built on community collaboration and remixes. Its founder, Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Inception", "Looper", "Third Rock From The Sun"), took to the Ubisoft stage to explain in a little more detail what the community collaboration on BG&E2 would and wouldn’t be.
“It’s a little bit different than other creative platforms,” Gordon-Levitt said. “The point of HitRecord isn’t just to post and promote stuff that you’ve made on your own — the point is to collaborate. So, when we’re making music for Beyond Good and Evil 2, it’s not going to be like a contest, where people submit songs and then we pick one or two and then we put them in the game. We’re really going to be making the songs together.”
The way that Gordon-Levitt talks about HitRecord is how tech entrepreneurs often talk about their startups — there’s an air of optimism and altruism in his approach, but instead of it ringing hollow, it feels genuine. During a Ubisoft pre-briefing session with the games media, Gordon-Levitt said, “I think video games are in many ways the future, in manys ways much more so than movies.” That said, HitRecord might be helping to facilitate this community collaboration for BG&E2, but there was no indication of how (or even if) the artists who would be contributing would get paid. Because unlike the mod community, which doesn’t expect to get paid, artists do (and should).
You are super right. Huge oversight. I think script got trimmed at last minute and we fucked that up. It’s hugely important to me that @hitrecord pays artists fairly. Since 2010 we’ve paid community almost $3 million https://t.co/oauU4IUiyE— Joseph Gordon-Levitt (@hitRECordJoe) June 11, 2018
It wasn’t until after the conference, when HitRecord’s website came back up after being pummeled with the onslaught of E3 web traffic, that we learned how the monetization plan is supposed to work with HitRecord and BG&E2. Matt Conley, HitRecord’s community director, took to video to better explain what the deal is with the payment structure.
“If your work is used in any of the final pieces that we deliver to the team at Ubisoft Montpellier, you’ll get paid for it,” Conley promised.
They’ve been paying artists for their work on HitRecord for 8 years, it turns out, so they have an established track record. The biggest problem, however, is that the initial budget is going to be 50 thousand dollars. That budget is supposed to include both original music and art assets to be delivered to Ubisoft Montpellier’s development team.
“If any time we expand the scope of what we’re making, we’ll set aside additional dollars and we’ll keep everybody in the loop,” Conley continued.
In theory, this level of fan collaboration and engagement will create a rich, robust, and connected community of fans and creators in a way that’s unprecedented in an unreleased video game space. But there are some serious pitfalls that Ubisoft and HitRecord will have to navigate, not the least of which is curating final content and dealing with the realities of scope creep within the smaller projects themselves. If there’s only 50 grand up for grabs for the community to play with, how many songs or art pieces will that net?
The project contributors set the price based on their contribution, but that’s a fine line to walk.
If BG&E2 manages to pull together beautiful artwork and music for their universe without alienating both their fanbase and their community creators, I’ll be impressed. At the moment, I’m hesitant to throw my support behind Ubisoft Montpellier’s decisions with this community collaboration. Their hearts might be in the right place, but this isn’t just about the art — it’s about making money, too.