When Players Help Make Games… But Don’t Get Paid For It

When Players Help Make Games… But Don’t Get Paid For It

Recently game studio Red Thread ran a competition to include fan-made music in revered adventure revival Dreamfall Chapters. Or at least, they tried to. The competition’s announcement was met with a growing chorus of outrage and a large number of people criticised Red Thread for exploiting unpaid labour. Shortly after it began, the competition was shut down. Now we’re left with a question: should fans ever do work for free?

Over the past couple years, game creators and their communities have embraced their communities to an unprecedented degree — sometimes to the point that fans end up involved in the creation process. More often than not, it’s something small: a little artwork, a light dab of writing, or even just an idea.

For example, The Banner Saga let certain backers design in-game banners, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn (far more dubiously) allowed a person to pay $US6,500 to be their concept artist, and multiplayer FPS Natural Selection 2 now has an entire volunteer dev team made up of fans. Meanwhile games like SOE’s Landmark and Epic’s new Unreal Tournament are leaning heavily on fans to make content to fill out their slightly skin-and-bones frameworks.

And most recently, it happened with Red Thread’s Dreamfall Chapters competition. The premise was simple: submit a short piece of music, and it could end up “within the game world; e.g. radio speakers, bars and clubs, street performers and musicians.” Exciting! Sure, people weren’t getting paid, but having your stuff in a major game is damned cool. Some fans dug it. Others, though? Not so much.

So, Red Thread publicly pulled down the red curtain on its competition. In retrospect, Red Thread head Ragnar Tørnquist is not happy with the situation, but he understands why it happened: there’s been a more general tension building over fan labour and free labour in the video game world (and outside of it) for quite some time.

“I didn’t think the competition was gonna be controversial,” he said in a phone conversation. “It just didn’t occur to me. It was absurd.”

“I’ll take credit for phrasing some of it poorly,” he said, “but I think we also opened a can of worms that’s been wriggling in the industry for a while now. We hosted this competition at the worst possible time, with the whole thing about certain groups feeling like they’re being exploited — that some companies are definitely finding ways to utilise free labour, that people feel like they’re not being appreciated. There’s a lot of pressure to lower your prices and to work cheaper and work more. It just seemed like a lot of people jumped on us. I guess we were an easy target? I don’t know.”

The Price of Freedom

Tørnquist insists that his intentions were completely innocuous, but intentions are only one aspect of an increasingly wonky equation. We live in a world where people are sometimes manipulated into plying valuable skills for free — especially in fields where they’re grateful to get any work at all. I mean, we’re talking video games here. Making them? That’s a dream-come-true for a lot of people.. And some people will do anything for that dream, even if it means making big sacrifices. Other people, meanwhile, are willing to prey on that passion — flying the seemingly noble flag of “exposure” or “experience” in exchange for free labour.

Some people think that’s simply not acceptable, no matter what the situation.

“I think [paying fans who do work for you] is an important thing, since it’s hard enough for freelancers to get paid — any method of commercial projects getting work for free seems to undermine us even further,” said Super Meat Boy and Crypt of the Necrodancer composer Danny Baranowsky, who publicly opposed the Dreamfall music competition on Twitter. “I get that some people want to just do music as a hobby and aren’t concerned with compensation, and Red Thread has every right to hold a contest like that. But we also have a right to not be ok with it.”

The wider implications of all this, however, are complicated. Getting fans directly involved in game creation is — rare exceptions aside — a new practice, and there’s no standardized way to do it. Instead, many creators — especially in the realm of indie games and crowdfunding, where budgets are modest and communities are passion balloons seconds from bursting — are trying everything to see what sticks.

A (Community) Team Effort

For Natural Selection 2 creator Unknown Worlds, whose game wouldn’t have ever gotten made without the help of fans, that means an entire post-release development team made of unpaid supporters.

“We have our Natural Selection 2 community dev team,” said Unknown Worlds’ Hugh Jeremy. “They’re unpaid, and they’re doing significant work on Natural Selection 2 and releasing significant updates on Steam for the game.

“In terms of compensation, it’s a really complicated question,” he said. “One could look at what Unknown Worlds is doing and say, ‘You guys are exploiting the labour of a group of motivated individuals to make your product better.’ That’s definitely not how we see it. Earlier this year we decided our resources would be devoted to our next project. Natural Selection 2‘s updates would either stop, or if someone else wanted to do them, they could. So they are.”

“Our position with [community developers] is, if you’re not getting value out of this, don’t do it.”

So then, where does the value for community members come from, and is that — in itself — enough? Or is claiming that fans are deriving satisfaction from the sheer merit of their work simply a dodge? Increasingly, it depends on how you do it. One crucial tenet appears to be that fans take on the work voluntarily.

“Our position with them is, if you’re not getting value out of this, don’t do it,” said UW’s Jeremy. “If you’re not enjoying it, or you don’t want to do it, or you feel like you’re not appreciated, then there’s no harm in walking away. While they may not be compensated in value in money terms, they’re clearing deriving value in other ways.”

And if nobody’s getting anything out of it? Then Jeremy said UW would just pull the plug on the whole enterprise. For now, though, NS2’s community development team has a lot of creative freedom. According to Jeremy, anything else-would constitute “sucking value out of [the volunteers]” rather than giving them something of value by way of their hard work.

I checked with Natural Selection 2‘s’s community dev team to see how things are on their end. They told me that this isn’t an easy gig; the international team’s combined efforts amount to a 24 hour work day. Some chip in a few hours a week, others practically treat it like a full-time job. It sounds like the learning experience has been valuable, though.

“Developing NS2 as part of this community team has allowed us to learn a ton about dealing with personalities, people, organizational logistics and how Game Development really is hard,” the team said as a group via email. “As a fan from the sidelines it all seems so easy: why can’t you just fix X or implement Y? But when you are the ones developing it, you see all the limitations and the framework needed, the feedback required and every other nuance necessary to effectively pull off your goals. It can be daunting, but it’s also incredibly rewarding, especially when we are fans of what we are doing.”

Many team members are aspiring game developers themselves, meaning that eventually they hope to move onto bigger and better things. The community dev team and Unknown Worlds try not to stand in their way:

“Our group is always changing, that’s the nature of an all volunteer team,” said the community dev team. “People will come and go for any number of reasons, though saying that our member turnover has been exceptionally low and we can disable access to systems if need be. Sometimes it will hurt more depending on the person, but ultimately we are strongest as a team.”

Shut Up And Pay Me

Still though, Natural Selection 2‘s community development team repeatedly referred to their passion as the driving force throughout our correspondence, and — in the wrong hands — passion is easily manipulated. Again, I’ll point to instances of developers charging people money to do work for them, the most egregious of which (that I’ve seen) being the Shaq Fu example. And yet someone somebody did, in fact, drop more than six thousand dollars to provide the game’s developers with concept art. This stuff doesn’t always benefit fans and aspiring professionals, even when they think it does.

Dreamfall‘s Tørnquist, however, doesn’t think that’s a good reason to write off every creator who tries to work creatively with their fans as cape-clad caricatures of pure evil. “People need to get paid,” he said. “And I agree: you have to balance the line between making money and doing stuff because you think that unless you do it for free you’re not gonna get anywhere. But there is a difference between who you’re working for, what you’re doing, and what you get out of it.”

There are many factors to consider, in other words. As efforts like Natural Selection 2‘s community development team show, it can be done (at least, seemingly) in a way that benefits fans rather than manipulating them. Tørnquist worries, however, that recent backlash against the idea — most loudly and pitchfork-ly lobbed at his game’s music competition — might force creators to pull back their borders and remove fans from the creative process.

“We were gonna do more competitions — writing and everything,” Tørnquist said. “And we already ran one for fan art. But all of that is canceled now. We’re too afraid of potential consequences. We’re gonna do it ourselves. And if we decide to pay for it, we’re gonna go to somebody we know and pay them to do the job like we do in other areas of the game.”

Is paying fans the only answer? Is it — ideally speaking — the best way forward here? Due to both logistical and monetary concerns, Tørnquist isn’t so sure.

“I don’t think paying fans for contributions to the game is the answer,” he said. “If we did it that way, we’d just use experienced freelancers instead. Once you get into paying people, then you get into the question of how much you should pay them. Is it based on number of hours? A symbolic sum? Because that’s really different based on where fans are from. $US100 isn’t a lot in Norway, but it’s a lot in other places. It’s really hard to make that fair. I think once you start mixing money into it it becomes even more of a controversial issue.”

When smaller studios are at the helm (and again, it’s mainly smaller studios that even do these sorts of things), there’s also the matter of making sure you have enough to reimburse your own employees. Tørnquist continued:

“Some people asked us to give away a percentage of the profits [from eventual sales],” Tørnquist said, “but we have a team that’s been working on this game for 18 months, who are reliant on our game doing well. We have to take care of those people before we take care of people who contributed one piece of art or a short song. There’s a difference.”

Unknown Worlds, however, has actually tried paying fans — or at least, a fan. Natural Selection 2 player/modder ‘Loki’ created a level called Kodiak Station, and UW decided to run a little experiment: they’d sell it as official DLC, and Loki would get 50 per cent of the profits. So, how’d it go? Not super great, unfortunately.

“It was successful for us in some ways but not in others,” said Unkown Worlds’ Hugh Jeremy. “There were a lot of costs for us in doing it. Setting up the DLC, organising it, etc. We didn’t earn a lot of revenue out of it. I mean, we made it public. It was about $US12,000. For Unknown Worlds, it wasn’t making sense to continue that specific type of project.”

That does not mean, however, that Unknown Worlds has locked away its massive, Gorge-shaped piggy bank and thrown away the key. Fans might still be able to make money off their creations in the future. It just didn’t work well in this particular instance.

“I don’t think it reflects more broadly on whether it’s valid to do revenue share with community members,” said Jeremy. “I didn’t think, ‘Oh, we should never do revenue share with community members.’ It was just that specific project, that specific test, didn’t make business sense.”

“Look at modding scenes. They just keep getting bigger and bigger. There’s something here.”

“I imagine that by creating different types of products that could be sold in different ways,” he continued, “it could well be that it’s appropriate and good for community members to receive money. I mean, we know that to some degree. Look at modding scenes. They just keep getting bigger and bigger. There’s something here.”

Baranowsky, meanwhile, considers that sort of thinking at least a step in the right direction. He explained that it’s not the biggest deal ever to, say, petition fans for a simple idea — something that doesn’t require professional-level skills — but anything beyond that should come with a handsome (or at least existent) sum of money.

Speaking on Dreamfall‘s music competition, Baranowsky said: “If they would have had any kind of reward I probably would have been much more OK with it. Even like $US500 for a 3-minute track — which is really low for commissioned music, and particularly for a massive Kickstarter — would have demonstrated more respect for the worth of someone’s time and effort.”

Tørnquist was hoping to get 50 or so small songs from fans. That would have added up to $US10,000 — not exactly pocket change. There’s no clear solution here, but if game creators are going to keep working with their fans, they need to carefully consider what exactly that sort of collaboration looks like, when and how the wall between fans and creators comes down, and who benefits when it does.


    • Most of the comments don’t indicate that they can’t do it. They are criticizing the company’s policy of not giving real-life reward/compensation for their work. Professional artist don’t want for their work to be consider as something to be “free”, and that kind of choice leans to the expectations of the public towards that thought.

      • They aren’t asking for professionals, they are asking for fans.
        Cosplayers show their fandom by putting hours into outfits, they don’t get paid for it. Is a person who voluntarily made an Ironman outfit going to go to Marvel and expect to get paid? No.
        Someone spends time creating fan-art for Mass Effect 3 doesn’t go to EA expecting to get paid for it.
        If someone is happy to do it for the fun of it to show that they are a fan, then more power to them.

        • That’s an opinion I share, but things would probably be a little bit different if EA or Marvel then took that cosplayer’s photo and included it in a product that they sold for money.

          Working for free is great. But as soon as you’re working for free to make someone else some money, it gets a little blurrier.

        • If someone Cosplays as Iron Man marvel doesn’t make money out of their work, on the other hand if they want some cosplayers to do some promotional work they’ll likely hire someone who is known for their cosplay.

          The fan art for Mass Effect isn’t sold by EA as prints, or used as a cover for their game instead of hiring a graphic artist.

          The problem is when you push jobs that should be hiring a professional into a competition, it’s even worse when the reward is “exposure.”

          Anyone good enough to win one of these competitions is good enough to be paid, it’s that simple. The whole amateur vs professional thing is a massive smokescreen that devalues the work done by people who are trying to make a living out of it.

          Musicians especially have a hard time of it, with most people thinking bands should “play for free” or “for the fun of it.” Which really sucks when you can’t use all that fun to pay for food or rent that week.

          Also competitions that actually offer a paid job are even worse once you take into account all the people who did the work but don’t get paid.

          Google the video “Fuck you, pay me” for a rather good talk on the subject.

          • As a mid-level musician (we’ve received national support from stations such as Triple J and FBi, as well as appearing on MTV US shows and the like) the door girl gets paid more at our gigs than we do. The average rate for a band to make at a show is around $100. Divided between 4 members, that’s a measly $25 each. Sometimes half of that goes to fuel costs.

            It’s really grim. There’s this misconception that bands make their money from live performance, but I can’t see how that is true in Australia, especially on the west coast where you’re separated from everyone else and can’t tour other cities cheaply.

        • “I don’t think paying fans for contributions to the game is the answer,” he said. “If we did it that way, we’d just use experienced freelancers instead.

          They aren’t asking for professionals, they are asking for fans.

          Why are these mutually exclusive? I am both a fan of video games AND a professional designer / musician who gets paid most of the time for both unless I deem the other benefits to be an adequate payment.

          I think the problem really boils down to this misperception. And at the end of the day, if you utilise something in a professional context, if you make profit from the work someone else does, you should pay them. I am happy to work for free for people who are also working for free, but as soon as you make money, you better have a damn good reason for not paying me too.

          The problem for creatives is that the people who appreciate your work has value are the ones who can’t afford to pay you (generally other creatives) and the ones who can afford it view it as “a hobby”.

          Unfortunately, as making music at home is easier than ever now, there are thousands of people out there making music (or more specifically, releasing music) who have no creative right to be. These people, desperate for shows that aren’t being offered to them, will play for free, even pay to play. These people who really don’t have the talent to “make it” in turn devalue the work of songwriters and musicians who are good enough to be paid, and ruin the whole industry. Bookers say things like “If you don’t say yes to this rate, someone else will do it for half of that”, and it’s a very real threat because they are entirely right.

      • but that isn’t what happened, the company has no such policy, in fact they already PAID a PROFESSIONAL to compose their music, they said, in as plain a way as possible, they weren’t looking for professional music. ergo anybody who came to the conclusion that they wanted professional labor for free wasn’t paying attention, they’re just giving fans a chance to participate in the game, it’s not like they’re asking for the whole soundtrack to be composed for free.

        if you came out of this situation thinking “oh, this company not paying complete amateurs for their work means that professionals work should be free also” then you have bigger problems to worry about.

        • As I said about, professional vs amateur is a smokescreen used by people with no knowledge of the industry.

          If it’s good enough to make it into the game, then it’s professional and is worth paying for.

          Also what bigger problems could we have to worry about if we work in similar industries and things like this could literally end our livelihoods?

          • Yes Zimmy, exactly. As soon as money is being made from your work, it is professional work. That’s the end of it.

          • actually it only becomes professional work when you are paid for it, so unless you are paid for your work then it is by definition amateur work.

          • If the work is being paid for, for example people paying for the game your song appears in, it is professional work, is it not?

            It matters less who is receiving the money for the work and more that money is being received when it comes to defining what professional work is.

          • I know some interns who worked on The Great Gatsby, they didn’t get paid but would you argue their work was not professional?

            Or if a professional ad firm does pro-bono work for a charity?

            Amateur generally refers to someone without skills doing it as a hobby. It’s used to refer to someone who does that kind of work on the side.

            As soon as you’re qualified and you begin doing the work as a means to a career you’re a professional, it’s your profession.

          • yes, if you’re paid to produce music you are a professional musician, but if you’re an amateur and you win a contest to have it put in a game, without you being paid, you continue to be an amateur and your work continues to be an amateur production. regardless of whether or not the finished product makes someone else money.

            this was not a competition for professionals, and if a professional enters it they do so on their own time, not professionally.

          • but the music isn’t good enough to make it into the game on it’s own merits (I.E. without a community contest where you aren’t competing with paid professionals) otherwise they would have been hired over the composer that was hired.

            the fact of the matter is that if they wanted high value music they would have gotten their paid composer to do it, but they wanted to give the community a chance to contribute, so they opted to take a very likely less impressive option and use community amateurs for the less important aspects of the score.

            if you have to give your music away for free because nobody will pay you for it can you really consider it professional work? (spoilers: no, you can’t)

            if these people are so good at making music that they feel they are being taken advantage of then why don’t they put it on the market, why not act like a professional and apply for the job rather then complaining that the developer is allowing the community to partake in the development in a very small way where possible.

            the idea that this is somehow putting composers out of work, WHEN THEY ALSO HIRED AND PAID A COMPOSER TO WORK ON THE GAME is ridiculous. professional composers get paid and those who just want to partake in the development process can do so in a non-intrusive manner, it’s honestly a win-win. if they were using the community in stead of a professional then you may have a point, but they aren’t, they’re using it in conjunction with a professional.

            honestly, if your industry is so readily brought to it’s knees because one or two amateur songs (and yes, if you aren’t paid for the music then it is by definition an amateur production) got put in as filler music for background entities, while a paid composer was still used for the vast majority of the score, then maybe you should go into an industry that isn’t built on a foundation of matchsticks.

            next thing you’ll be telling me is that as a designer/coder I can’t contribute (my admittedly poor and amateur) art assets for my own game because it’s putting some poor artist somewhere out of work. if somebody has a passion for something, enough so that they are willing to work on it for free, then that’s their choice, it’s hardly fair that you get to tell them not too, even if it did put you out of work (which is doesn’t).

          • You’re making quality judgements based on nothing… With these competitions if they work then they’re generally very high calibre work.

            Unless their composer is in a salaried position he’s actually getting paid less due to this competition. Either way it’s besides the point, it doesn’t matter how many people they pay it matters who they don’t.

            If you’re a designer/coder making assets for your own game, you still own those assets. You own that game, if you sell it you make money from it.

            How would you feel if people refused to pay you to code, but instead kept offering you opportunities to have you work shown off when they sell products that you helped make?

          • firstly, I have had people offer me opportunities to show my work without getting paid, I started out in a performance industry and I got it constantly, and that is honestly a different thing entirely to what has happened here.

            this is not a company asking for professional quality work in exchange for exposure, this is a company offering the community a way to participate in the game, if your end goal is to do that for exposure then that’s your choice, but at the end of the day they aren’t asking for professionals to do professional work, they are allowing community members to create content for the game.

            if a professional decides to submit professional quality work then great, that’s their choice to do that for free, but they can’t then come and complain that they aren’t getting paid for the work nobody asked them to do.

            also you missed my point about me making assets, yes I get paid but the underlying point of your argument is that if someone (who is not a professional) is doing something for free then you might get put out of a job, but simply forcing people to hire professionals for everything they want done is silly, not everything warrants professional staffing. honestly at most this makes a very small dent in the professionals pay anyway, we aren’t even talking about the games main score, we are talking about background tunes, most games don’t even usually bother composing anything new for those to begin with, let alone something composed by a professional.

            honestly, the whole thing is silly, you are using a company very reasonably finding ways to let the community participate with the games development as a way to fight the people who are abusing the idea of exposure to avoid paying people. it’s like fighting drug gangs by attacking legitimate pharmacies.

  • That reminds me a lot of the early talk of Dota (1) , when blizzard quietly was getting profit by the famous mod for Warcraft 3.

  • Most people complaining probably couldnt even write music. Maybe some hobbyists would get a kick out of hearing their music in a game?

    Im not a fan of these competitions, but if you are a serious musician, and have any bit of talent /skill, youd be a fool to do work for free.

    • ..or knowingly getting exploited just to make a further step into recognition. Regardless, it’s true that they should avoid providing their work for free, since in the end it will turns against them.

  • I’m of a mixed opinion about this. People should be paid for their work, but on the other hand, sometimes fans are better than professionals and would relish the opportunity to work on content that they are said fan of. For example… fighting game balance, and superhero movie costumes might be areas that I’d do for “free”, as sometimes it’s abysmal.

    • I feel the same way about video game voice-acting.
      Like… “oh my god I don’t care if you pay me or even if I’m any good or not but god DAMN it has to be better than this!”

  • I’m pretty disappointed with the outcome of this.
    You try to do something nice or fun, and people drag in all their politics…

    • Although it’s pretty harmless on it’s own, it’s part of a huge trend everywhere in these creative industries.

      Imagine getting beaten out on an unpaid internship when you have a post grad degree in your field, or spending months rehearsing with your band only to find no venues are willing to pay for you.

      Eventually everyone is just offering exposure.

      Now in some cases working for free is advisable and it’s all you can do. In a lot of industries you’re forced to do the occasional freebie and I’ve done my share, but allowing large for profit companies to take advantage of that?

      • Right, and here’s the logical counter:
        Free work ‘de-values’ the work of creatives? Why yes, yes it does. That is how monetary ‘value’ is calculated. It is a relative term, it is always contextual. So yes, your work is lesser in monetary value. And that’s how you’ll be paid. If money is important… maybe do something of monetary value.

        It’s a real struggle for me to muster sympathy for people who are finding it difficult to get paid to do work they enjoy. It’s hard to get paid to do something that you’d probably do for free? YOU DON’T SAY. I’d love to find someone willing to pay me to be a special and unique individual. But that’s not how value works. That’s why the majority of us work jobs we wouldn’t do if they didn’t pay us. The same can’t be said of the creative industries, so yes, that work is less valuable.

        What, you’re going to go on strike if people don’t pay you? Oh no, how ever will we manage, only consuming the amazing content in the realms of writing, art, music, and video that people regularly and consistently produce for free? You will be forgotten, that’s how we’ll manage.

        Tough love isn’t entirely fair in this instance, because things are always more complicated than that, but my base instinct is: if people are producing amazing work for free and you want to get paid for doing the same thing, you had better be able to actually justify it. And so very few can. Some people produce creative works that are so popular that it CREATES its own value, in that people will willingly fork over money for it. But if you are a creative and people aren’t leaping to throw their wallets at you, this should say something about your choices.

        I have yet to see a compelling, logical argument against that natural law sorting itself out, so my sympathy is just that… sympathy on the same grade of, “Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was nice?”

        • You make some great points and in general you’re not exactly wrong.

          Of course the reaction against things like this is pretty much the equivalent to people striking, and the reason most creatives suggest avoiding opportunities like this is about trying to starve out businesses that try stuff like it and force them to hire someone.

          I have to object at your idea that it lacks in monetary value because people enjoy doing it though, many mechanics would have gotten into their trade because they enjoy tinkering with machines but you wouldn’t expect them to work for free.

          And even if I can do amazing work better than anyone else, what business will pick me over the kid who does pretty good work for almost nothing? Or that guy who can do passable work for free?

          It cuts out the bottom of the market, it’s also why in a lot of creative industries we lack mid and low level qualified tradespeople. By not paying the content creators cannot make a career and so instead of refining their art they will move on to ‘monetary’ careers. Which means an increasing number of the workforce is at a lesser skill level and when those last few highly skilled masters retire there isn’t anybody with the experience to take their place.

          I do think you overestimate how much media consumed is made for free as well, though there’s huge amounts of art in different forms out there we largely consume material that has been paid for.

          Youtube is the best place to look at that, it’s blown up because people are able to monetise their videos. They don’t make a lot, but it means they can focus on it full time and create increasingly better content whilst becoming more skilled artists.

          Now some people might attack youtube because for a lot of Youtubers, you are practically working for free. But it allows a sustainability if you’re good and you can draw regular viewers. It’s that industry sustainability we need more of otherwise you might actually see a crash in the arts, as hard as it is for you to imagine.

          Lastly I should point out, why should any company be allowed to pay less than minimum wage at the very least? Maybe one day McDonald’s will start letting school kids get valuable experience working in a restaurant, no need to pay them they’ll get great exposure!

        • Yeah your argument works in theory. It relies on everyone having the same knowledge and expertise in recognising and understanding what is good and why in a completely different and at times partially subjective industry. If every client and customer had an in depth understanding of what is good music, what is bad music, and why, your argument would be perfect.

          A good businessman ensures maximum profits for minimum cost. Nobody will ever “throw their wallets at you” if they can help it. It’s not good business to fully disclose how much value you actually put in the work you pay someone else for. It’s best to get the best work at the cheapest possible price.

          Music can be difficult for non-creatives to appreciate, because you can’t hold it in your hand (the songs, not the media they are on), a lot of uncreative people can’t make that leap that it has inherent value.

          When a builder builds your house, you can see the bricks, you can touch them, pick them up, they are tangible. But think about Mario without that theme song popping into your head too, it’s really difficult, it’s such an important “brick” in itself.

          When you remember the song that was playing when you had your first kiss, the music in your favourite scene of your favourite film, or the songs your mother would sing to you as a child, that value is so much harder to quantify.

          In a lot of ways, the music in our lives is priceless, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be paid for.

  • It would appear to me that this is one group of people who are cut they missed out on work and they’re going to bitch about it loudly so you are forced to go with them.

  • Eventually developers are going to be too scared to even tell us they’re working on a game, or even release a game, for fear of some bs backlash.

    • Honestly, there’s no reason anyone working in a creative industry should be surprised at this backlash if they haven’t been living under a rock.

      Although these things have always been looked down on by industry professionals it’s recently been reaching a fever pitch. It’s kind of tone deaf not to expect it, whether or not it’s right or wrong.

      • I don’t know, I still don’t get it, it was just one song. I could understand if they were asking for fans to compose their whole soundtrack for free, that’s a bit shit.
        I write music as a hobby and if I was a fan of the series I’d be more than happy to see one of my songs somewhere in the game.

        • Somebody That I Used To Know was just one song. Do you have any idea how much that song made Gotye? How much it elevated his status as a musician and how many opportunities it provided him? In this industry, one song is all it takes.

          • One song is all it takes to be remembered for that one song and nothing else?
            All kidding aside, I did say I do it as a hobby which means I do it because I enjoy it and I’m not looking for money or recognition or status or whatever.

          • Yeah sometimes one song is all you’re known for, but a single song’s royalties can sustain an artist for their entire lives, and if 1,000,000 people hear the song, and only 1% make an effort to check out the rest of your work and like it, that’s still 10,000 new fans.

            I make music as a professional and unfortunately people who might pay the bills can’t tell the difference between you and I. In my opinion you should never call yourself a hobbyist, you should own what you do. In my first year of design school we were told immediately not to refer to ourselves as design students, but as designers.

            I think that there’s nothing wrong with taking what you do, even for fun, as seriously as possible. Even if you think of yourself as merely a hobbyist, others may regard your work as amazing, don’t sell yourself short, and know that everyone is always learning as they go and ironically, if they aren’t; they are not professionals.

        • It would have been easier if the competition got your song into the game, and some monetary reward, like a free copy of the game, or free beta access or something that would equate to a small financial reward for the small amount of work done. Easy for any company to do, and bypasses the whole problem. Just give them some money or goods as part of the competition.

          • A free copy of the game seems like the easiest solution but chances are the fans are the people who’ve already backed it on kickstarter or preordered it and probably own the previous ones so the “give them the back catalogue” option probably wouldn’t work too well either…

          • Except that still doesn’t bypass the issue…. Because what about everyone else who made work for this competition? Many competition rules will force people to sign off the rights to those in order to enter, so if they lose they get nothing and they lose their song.

            If you want to recognise your fans then just don’t have these competitions be used to create assets you’d have to pay for. That way you’re actually giving back to your fans instead of getting something cheap that you’d need to pay for otherwise.

        • Honestly this isn’t the worst example of this, in fact it’s so benign that it’s getting towards the understandable level.

          If this was happening in a vacuum nobody would have an issue, but since it’s part of a larger industry issue and the developers treated it particularly badly… Well it gets people talking about it.

  • Wow, I guess some people don’t understand how large sections of open source code got made…

  • What about Team Fortress 2? They actively solicit hat designs for steam workshop requiring finished, textured 3d models tested in game but they are impossible to get in the game unless arbitrarily approved by Valve. While they split the take the actual terms and conditions allow Valve to set the price and allow Valve to make the item available for free.

    • But the entire system is designed to let people monetise their work.

      Like Youtube it’s attempting to allow these independent content creators to get paid for work that in the past they wouldn’t have been.

      It’s a business model and you can point out flaws in it, but it’s not the same thing.

      • I would disagree there, the entire system is designed to allow Valve to pick and choose the best additions to their game from a pool of modders at no cost to them while preventing other modders from having their work displayed at all in game, making their efforts entirely useless.
        Youtube on the other hand basically allows you to monetise your content as long as it’s yours, the content may suck and make no money but Google aren’t acting as content gatekeepers.

        • If they’re abusing their role as gatekeepers then that would certainly be an issue. But then we’re arguing that there is a problem with their method of creating a new monetisation method.

          But it’s still an attempt at creating that alternate method of creatives getting paid, just because the system isn’t perfect doesn’t mean we should ignore the intent.

          The intent seems to be that people should get paid for their work in a semblance of a free market.

          Which is still a completely different situation to this.

          (Disclaimer, not saying you shouldn’t complain about the issues with Valve’s store just that it’s not the same argument people are having against this.)

  • I feel as if they have the right to ask and people have the right to decline. This is what some people did, others wanted to try and publicly crucify someone for ice-bucket like noteriety.

    • And people don’t have the right to call out bad business practices?

      We should all stop complaining about EA then.

    • Paying a small amount for access to the beta, or getting the game at a bit of a discount when it comes out is a cool thing. The Elite Dangerous model of paying a lot *more* than the game costs to be an alpha or beta tester is total crap.

      • It’s kind of crap but it’s fair since that’s continuing the pricing model from the kickstarter, it’d be shitty for the kickstarter backers who pledged to get beta access if they then sold access to random people at the same time as the backers were getting in and did so at a lower price. Kinda sucks but it’s fair.

  • When it comes to small devs who can’t afford to hire pros there seems to be a fairly simple solution to the issue (when its a larger studio they can just straight up pay for work or get fucked). Say upfront that people won’t be paid for the work so no one goes in blind, create a contract based system where if the game crosses a certain threshold of profit, the people who contributed artwork to it get a small percentage of whatever profit is gained beyond that threshold. It probably wouldn’t be practical to implement in terms of a pre-existing project like dreamfall but for something being started from scratch it’d be a good thing to build into your budget.

    Say I make a first person oculus rift game about saving the world by casting magical spells using my knob as a wand and I ask say @transientmind to record a variety of silly noises to accompany each different spell. He goes into it knowing he won’t be paid to start with but does so to help out a small time developer or because he’s a weirdo who really wants to see my knob rendered in VR. Perhaps both, they’re not mutually exclusive. Either way I get the sounds I need to complete my magknob opus and my game is an inexplicable hit, I cross the $1,000,000 threshold the contract stipulates and then for each $15 copy of the game sold, he gets $0.10 in silly noises royalties. Not enough to get super rich but enough to say he’s getting paid for his work.

    That seems like a good solution to the issue to me when immediate payment simply isn’t an option (that would always be the ideal). It benefits the developer more in the beginning but ultimately if the production is successful, it becomes an investment for the contributor in addition to the much maligned ‘exposure’ which does have at least some value as long as it’s not all a person gets.

    • No artists are complaining about deferred payment – which is what you’re talking about.

      Though most artists know that if something has to defer payment you’ll probably never see a dime. But you go in informed, you know the details and there isn’t somebody else getting rich off your work.

  • I cant believe the complaining just for some insignificant background noise that really has no impact on the game and only to give a fan some bragging cred. Think of it as a donation to a cause that you really believe in

  • I know if Bethesda did something like this I would be happy to have my non-existent fan music in the next Elder Scrolls game. I know some people might want to be paid, but they wouldn’t be entering the contest then, would they? But for a lot of fans just the sheer awesomeness of having their creation in the game would be enough

  • @zoridium_jackl

    yes, if you’re paid to produce music you are a professional musician, but if you’re an amateur and you win a contest to have it put in a game, without you being paid, you continue to be an amateur and your work continues to be an amateur production. regardless of whether or not the finished product makes someone else money.

    this was not a competition for professionals, and if a professional enters it they do so on their own time, not

    Ok you literally just ignored everything I said and went off on a tangent.

    Your definition of professional vs amateur is not only narrow it’s demonstrably wrong.

    You do realise an amateur or hobbyist can be paid without becoming a professional right?

    And regardless of whether they determine themselves to be professional or amateur it doesn’t change the amount of work involved.

  • Am I getting old? I still remember when emergent artists understood the value of “free publicity” and the importance of “published portfolio work”. Also, I remember when fans created stuff for something that they loved, not because they expected anything out of it, but because inspiration is born of love and when it hits, arts need to be created, and then it needs to be let out into the world. Just the idea of having a fan creation regarded, let alone acknowledge by the original work’s creator was more than most fans ever hoped.

    It is true that artists are ripped off more often than most other professionals, but geez, there’s too a level of entitlement nowadays that it is frankly counterproductive not only to art itself but to the same profit they are seeking. Now the contest is gone and nobody got either money nor publicity from it (other than bad one from whiny, conceited tweets, that is). Congrats, dudes.

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