Street Fighter V Costume Design Contest Is Asking For Free Labour

Street Fighter V Costume Design Contest Is Asking For Free Labour
Some unused <em>Street Fighter V</em> costume designs. (Illustration: Capcom)

Capcom final season. On the surface this may seem like a cool way to interact with fans, but the lack of any monetary compensation makes it all too easy to view this contest as another instance of a developer disregarding the very real work that goes into crafting these designs.

What Capcom’s requesting here is commonly known as “spec work,” which is just a punchy way of describing creative work done on a volunteer basis with no promise of compensation. Unfortunately, “working for exposure” doesn’t put food on the table. While reactions to the contest have been generally positive, it’s frustrating that a mega-successful video game company like Capcom would ask folks to work for free. I’m sure many of the fighting game community’s amazing artists would have jumped at the chance to do paid work for Street Fighter V, especially with the covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy.

“What it comes down to is that the contest is asking people to create something that Capcom almost certainly pays other artists for on a regular basis, regardless of whether the design is actually used in the game,” esports photographer and outspoken critic of the contest Robert Paul told Kotaku. “Capcom could easily seek out artists in the community or make a call for portfolio submissions and commission them the same way they’d work with any third party. To me, that would be a true show of good will, and gives artists the same, if not better, exposure and opportunity.”

ImageMore unused costume designs. (Illustration: Capcom)

Instead of paying artists, Capcom is marketing the fact that the chosen designs will appear in Street Fighter V as the main reward for their hard work. It’s entirely possible that these designs will in turn be sold or at the very least spur additional sales of the game from folks who want to use them. Winners will also receive an in-game title to use during online play. “The total monetary value of the Prize is $US0 ($0),” state Capcom’s official rules. The contest rules also stipulate that Capcom assumes ownership of every entry, even ones that don’t win. In the end, the developer will basically be sitting on a vault of crowdsourced costume ideas that it can pull from any time it wants, without having paid anyone a cent.

Capcom did not respond to Kotaku‘s request for comment.

I also reached out to freelance illustrator Lyn (known online by the handle Shunao) for a better idea of the work that goes into one of these designs. Lyn is one of the fighting game community’s most prominent artists and someone I’ve personally commissioned in the past. I showed her some of the example costumes Capcom provides on the contest page and asked for her opinion on how she would approach a similar project, including what she would charge.

“A lot of time and research are needed to work on a character or costume design,” Lyn explained. “You want the outfit [to] help the character stand out. That could mean their personality, intent, or the silhouette that the designer wants to portray. As a designer, you want the character to be easily recognisable in what they wear or how they’re dressed. How detailed you want the designs to show on each piece may be as little to one-two hours to maybe several days, based on how much you want to nitpick. If I was asked to design a costume for a big-name company that will be commercialising it, it’s probably in the $500 range. Maybe even more.”

Capcom’s Street Fighter V contest shows an unfortunate blitheness toward both fair labour practices and the value of artists’ work. As we saw with the controversy that surrounded Ubisoft’s attempts to crowdsource artwork and music for Beyond Good & Evil 2, developers should know better than to ask fans to work for free. Exploiting someone’s passion when you absolutely have the resources to compensate them for their labour is pretty questionable, and unfair to artists trying to make a living with their art.


  • Its a contest of the type that has been going on for time immemorial. If you don’t want to enter it because there is no financial reward for you then don’t enter it. There may be others whose passion for design and the game aren’t linked to financial rewards who do want to just enter it for the fun, to show off their skills and catch the eyes of devs. Don’t take away from them because you don’t want to do it without a financial outcome.

    • That’s the conceit comps like this run on though. The person likely to win is going to be talented enough that the ‘exposure’ alone would be patronizing as payment. Also worth mentioning that they will have years of ideas they’ve farmed from the community at no cost. It’s more insidious than you give it credit. I think you’re right in a perfect world, but let’s be realistic – Capcom can afford to pay for it as well.

    • If Street Fighter was a free, community-funded game, your argument would make sense. What’s actually happening here is Capcom is asking for everyone to design stuff for them for free, so they can make money selling cosmetic DLC. Companies need to stop asking for free labour, whether it’s free concept sketches or unpaid internships.

  • The reward and compensation for your efforts here is the inclusion in the game, to see your work actualised and brought to life. That not enough for you? Don’t enter.

    • You know it’s possible to criticize business practices AND not participate right?

  • I’m still sore at Capcom for their Megaman Legends 3 crowdsourcing debacle.

  • I’m almost certainly more anti free work on spec than most, but seriously, this is nothing but a marketing exercise. Nobody is being assessed on the quality of their linework.

    It’s not like they’re asking people to compose full pieces of music, to design actual game assets, or even to produce google widgets, to use some more offensive examples from the last decade.

    Any professional illustrator could whip out half a dozen easy sketch characters in a day, although in any case you can only submit one, and regardless, the idea that any professional illustrator (or even wannabe professional illustrator) could trade a fan art (otherwise known as ‘fart’) competition into actual publicity or a job is, frankly, laughable.

    My Steam feeds are literally full of fart competitions and every single one of them is a simple marketing tool to drive customer engagement.

  • A thousand bucks would be pocket change and a half decent offering to the winner/s. I don’t get why they don’t save themselves the negative publicity and offer that.
    Are there some weird law constraints with money as a contest prize?

    • in a lot of countries yeah there are wierd contest laws. this means effectively any country can participate.

  • no no no no, how are so many people being so negative on Capcom?

    Capcom have, i dunno, only come up with some of the best character designs in gaming period and people think they need fans to help them with ideas now?

    They’re clearly just trying to give fans some creative fun and exposure.

    Its not a job advertsmentn or paid gig.
    Its clearly states its a COMPETITION.

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