Beyond Good and Evil 2 is Crowd-Sourcing Game Development
A reliance on crowdsourcing calls into question labor practices that Ubisoft isn't putting to ease.
Beyond Good and Evil 2 is a game that gets more and more fascinating with every morsel of information that comes out of Ubisoft Montpellier.
At E3 last year, the developers came forward with the first shred of evidence suggesting that the game was in active production and not vaporware to a lot of cheers and fervor. Rightfully so, considering how long had passed since that game had been announced. Nonetheless it was back and existed – in some sense. Even now, a year later, Beyond Good and Evil 2 seems to exist in a rudimentary way.
What ended up dominating the conversation around Beyond Good and Evil 2, outside of the excitement for its announcement, though was its Space Monkey Program, an initiative grounded in the idea that the community playing the game should have a say in its development. As an extension of that, an incredibly early version of the game is supposed to be made available for fans to essentially QA for the studio and simultaneously leave any guesswork about what people might want entirely behind, ensuring their game plays to its entire audience.
This year though, Beyond Good and Evil 2 came back with a larger proposition. Ubisoft has officially partnered itself with HitRecord, a website founded by Joseph Gordon Levitt, dedicated to art and unifying people across crafts to collaboratively bring creations to life. Through the partnership, HitRecord will be sourcing its community for art design and music as of now, that upon approval, will be implemented into the game. This new partnership is based around the same idea of crowd-sourcing work that makes anything on that site possible, though brings it into an industry with a known disregard for proper workplace practices, and is rightly proving to be a move that should be called into question.
No, this isn’t the first questionable thing the games industry has done, it’s not even the only instance within the last few weeks. Recently, Microsoft laid off its support staff and replaced it with volunteers that paid staff had been placed in charge of. In development, crunch often prevails, leveraging passion and the “fun” image of games as incentive to disregard clear workplace boundaries. Unions are scarce and only becoming an increasingly frequent topic because louder voices in the industry are speaking up now. So when a studio starts telling its fans, “Hey folks, we want you to build the Beyond Good and Evil 2 that you want,” it’s a wonder alarms hadn’t gone off already.
Since the announcement, things have only become muddier. A pool of $50,000 is presumably the budget as of now for work that comes through HitRecord for Beyond Good and Evil 2. While that may sound like a lot of money to those who are essentially serving as freelancers on the game through HitRecord, the ambitious scale of Beyond Good and Evil 2 immediately calls that budget into question. On the E3 stage, talks of in-game graffiti, frescos and murals happened, acknowledging that work for art in the game will come at various scales and presumably at different pay rates. Imagining how much of that could be in one city could mean a lot of pay for certain artists. However, the game is bigger than a city. Presumably, settings span whole worlds. Music in the game is supposed to occupy in-game radio stations and Ubisoft is more than receptive to the idea of anything ranging from an acoustic piece to an orchestral performance, once again acknowledging varying pay scales. All of these factors outline a few possibilities that don’t sound tremendous at all to me:
- A lot of people will possibly get their work into the game. This is great and simultaneously not. Artists who manage to get into the game may be credited and receive exposure or experience that could prove instrumental in their careers. Beyond Good and Evil 2 is so early in development and apparently so hurting for assets and dedicated developers that they need to crowd-source a galaxy worth of content, so there’s quite a lot of opportunity here. However, when reflected across a budget of $50,000, I don’t imagine every person who gets their work into the game will be compensated even remotely close to their worth.
- Spec work. If the proper curation is there and the proper pay is allotted to the people who do what Ubisoft considers the best work, some people will get paid their dues while others will deliver materials or ideas and then go completely unpaid. It’s widely acknowledged in writing circles that writing on spec is…well it’s shit. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be compensated at the end of a project on spec; and in a workforce that’s driving creatives out left and right and is known for its instability, the potential of pay is better than the possibility of nothing.
- Due to the nature of HitRecord, where communities work on a singular piece of art until its completion, it is very likely that the initial groundwork laid by artists earlier in the project’s lifespan will be modified or completely erased, screwing people who rightfully deserve even the smallest cut.
I’d like to be excited for the possibility of a crowd-sourced game like Beyond Good and Evil 2. A project dedicated to the cause of making a community’s collective fever dream come true doesn’t feel like an impossibility or like a bad thing. The thing is, as it stands, the gaming industry is not in the place to ensure that everyone who actually puts in the work is treated properly, which tells me that Ubisoft is probably not in the right place to ask its fans or artists outside of the industry to do their job for them.
Follow all of OK Beast’s E3 2018 coverage here.