Is InXile Crowdsourcing or Outsourcing?comments powered by Disqus
Posted on Tuesday, May 7 2013 @ 22:25:48 Eastern
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Update: InXile has graciously responded to the questions and criticisms raised in my article here. On April 29th, InXile line producer Thomas Beekers sent the following response.
- We do not retain any ownership of the assets outside a normal Unity Store usage license. Whether we use em or not, the assets remain the property of the participant, NOT inXile, and they can continue to sell it on the Unity Store, like any other asset on there.
- We encourage participants to price their assets per Unity Store guidelines. But they can set their own price, whatever they prefer.
- We do not require participants to make exact copies of the art, we encourage the opposite, explicitly. If you head out to the accompanying forum, you'll see the recent batch especially has some interesting things, especially in the watchtowers and IEDs. That kind of creativity is exactly why you crowdsource things.
- This is not a contest, we do not just select and purchase the best work. It's great to have multiple versions of things like turrets or watchtowers. So far, we have purchased the vast majority of submissions, including many multiple versions of things like turrets or shacks. Those we don't purchase can still be placed and sold on the Unity Asset store, just not with the "seen in Wasteland 2" badge.
- The association with spec work is an unfortunate one but we don't really follow "the rules" of spec work (as I could find em, at least). In spec work, we'd be asking people to do unpaid work in which we retain the rights to the assets. We don't retain the rights, and the pricing follows that of normal Unity assets. In effect, we're asking people to join the Unity Asset Store - which we use to purchase more assets than just the ones from WASTE – and follow the standard rules for Unity Store assets.
--Thomas Beekers, Line Producer of InXile
With their cooperation, I also had a small interview with Beeker and Koy Vanoteghan, an artist at InXile. The questions and answers were as follows:
Rob Grosso: If the intent is to let people be creative, why do the assets include very specific instructions for design?
For example, one of the images has the following description:
"Nothing works quite right in the Wasteland these days. The more high tech it's manufacturing in its day, the less likely to survive the function. Plenty of "vintage" 1960's and 70's glazed-enameled, metal-cased, and vacuum-tubed equipment held up over the long years. Decades collide when new devices are crafted out of the old to fulfill the needs of the inhabitants. These are often the first things wrecked by mutants, so they're typically not too pretty."
Thomas Beekers: We do want creativity but it wouldn't work to just go “do whatever you want”. This is a game with a strong unified art direction. If we don’t describe the art direction for assets to be submitted in any way then we are very likely to receive numerous assets we just can’t use because they’d clash with other art. That would be lose-lose, for us and the contributors.
Koy Vanoteghen: Thomas is correct. We encourage creativity, but we also have to use these things in our universe in a visually appropriate way, so we set up loose guidelines for them to follow so that it fits in a post-apoc genre. The time period we suggest and the tech we suggest are pretty vague, and far from what we would otherwise stipulate with a prop house, but they help set the tone to fall within our predecessors story’s timeline.
RG: As a followup, what does "back by popular demand" mean? If it was in popular demand, and people were contributing creative designs, aren't there enough assets collected?
TB: We got a few iterations of it but I think we also heard from people who missed it in batch 2 or didn’t get to it and wanted another crack at it, hence it was included again.
KV: Yes, we do not limit the number of participants on any given asset, they are free to choose which ever prop the want to work on, and sometimes this means we get 15 of one asset and 2 of another. For older requests like the towers, we found them to be quite useful in our world building (but only got 2 of them- both were accepted and purchased), and thought a little more variety would be beneficial (thus the creative aspect of this comes into play). This is our effort to not control who works on what or how many we are willing to accept, while maintaining the opportunity to request a few more iterations when the number of submissions was limited. The props selected to be “back by popular demand” simply received fewer submissions, not low quality, so we are just asking for a few more.
RG: Also, can you explain to me what "vast majority" refers to? Can you give us a precise count to how many copies of a given asset were purchased by InXile. Is an asset like this purchased multiple times by InXile from various artists?
TB: Based on a quick calculation, 86% of the submissions we’ve received have been approved for purchase, over three batches (the fourth is in progress and hasn’t reached that stage yet). There are very few assets where we received only one version of it. The dilapidated car is a good example, we received 9 takes on that one that we’re purchasing to use in the game. This search shows a good chunk of assets we’re using including a few of the cars (not nearly all of them, but Unity doesn’t have an easy way to display em all).
KV: That sounds about right as far as numbers go. When we feel like an asset is not quite game-ready, we contact the participant to see if we can assist them in their effort. Often it’s simply a matter of not having the time to finish the prop, or not knowing how to do a certain thing, or not understanding Unity3D procedures. Making game art is a nuanced process that many are just getting into for the first time. So we work with them to get the prop to a point where it is sellable. This is a bit of a time hit to us, but it is a good learning experience for aspiring game asset creators, and it’s worth the extra effort. Of course there are always participants that never reply to the acceptance letter and don’t end up posting the asset in the store for whatever reason… something outside of our control. We can’t use their submission if this happens, and it goes into standby status, where we periodically try to contact them and see if there is something we can do to help the get the asset on the store. That does contribute to our +- 15% pass rate, but we are working to make the communication aspect of this process a little better as we get further into this.
All in all, the amount of time we spend managing this process and helping participants has been considerable. There are certainly faster and easier ways of acquiring game assets than this… and probably better suited for our specific needs at times. But this has been as much about generating community involvement as it has been about getting props, and it’s been a great experience for us seeing what our fans and backers had brewing inside their heads. We are as excited to showcase their work in our game as they are to brag about getting a little part of themselves into Wasteland.
While it is clear that InXile is not pursuing malicious intent here, the fact does remain that professional artists will be left out in the cold in creating these assets, and possibly finding a job. It is a slippery slope because such practices open the door for cheap, and in the cases of some of those assets, free labor. There is of course, the simple question of "does it matter?" That, sadly, I cannot answer.
With the recent trends of crowdfunding in the gaming industry, it's not much of a stretch to see game companies attempt to expand their horizons with new methods of creation. However, the chance for abuse is very high in doing so, especially in certain fields of design and management. One example includes the control and management of crowdsourced assets for a video game; in this case, art assets. Specifically, asking the public to show off their artistic skills for the chance of profit and being featured in the game. Such an issue is actually happening today, with one of the most successful KickStarters ever funding in the gaming space: InXile’s Wasteland 2.
InXile Entertainment has been the toast of the gaming industry for some time now. After two highly successful KickStarter projects to fund Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera, the company, headed by industry veteran Brian Fargo, has been ecstatic with the fantastic results. Fargo and InXile have also employed a new crowdfunding experiment, as seen on their own site here, in an attempt to keep in tune with their fanbase by giving them a chance to help in the game's development even further.
The notes given through the Wasteland 2 website are requesting artists to basically copy the given sketches in the Unity test engine, creating a 3D render of the sketch following the guidelines put forth by InXile. While they promise compensation and an artist's credit, InXile is effectively outsourcing some of their workload to the community, letting fans and aspiring artists try their luck at a quick commission. This essentially means that InXile is picking one artist for one asset, offering them compensation and a name credit, but keeping the art assets, only giving a badge for their unity asset store saying “as seen in Wasteland 2” for those selected for the game.
In truth, InXile is not crowdsourcing, but outsourcing the work, creating a pre-determined image for InXile without being employed to them. It is a contest where InXile is the only winner, since work done for Wasteland 2 is essentially low-cost and a thinly veiled attempt at appearing close to their audience.
Such practices are common across the internet. Many schools and studios offer contests to find new and aspiring artists to show their work, but often employ the same tactics as InXile: gaining complete ownership of art assets with an unspecified amount of compensation and breeding a competitive market where few can actually make a living. Many professionals within the art community are very outspoken against such dealings.
I contacted Stephen Silver, professional artist and lead character designer for animated television shows such as Danny Phantom and Kim Possible, to get his take on the situation. “Crowd-sourcing is a case of spec work which I am highly against,“ Silver told me, “I feel artists get taken advantage of in these situations, by giving the studio many free ideas that do get used without the artist ever knowing.”
Silver is an adamant opponent of such practices. Recently on his own YouTube channel he expressed similar sentiments regarding control and copyright issues many artists contend with today. “What happens nine out of ten times is they will find an iteration they like and have another artist refine the concept, change it, and use it," he said. “The artist will never know if their idea was actually used or not. This process is destroying the art industry, keeping artists wages down and high unemployment.”
I did reach out to InXile for a comment, but they did not get back to me as of the time of this writing.
Essentially, InXile is abusing their own fans, rendering their work insignificant by denying any intrinsic value to the artists' endeavors. Crowdsourcing for work is fine if done correctly. One positive example would be Valve and the treatment of fan-made hats for the online shooter Team Fortress 2. Each hat is tested and approved by Valve, but they have bare-minimum requirements for look and feel, and also allow designers to retain their copyright. This allows fans to literally make a living off of creating and selling hats in Team Fortress 2.
Although fans are no doubt eager to showcase their artistic talents for them, I would caution them for even participating. Unless InXile redefines the parameters of their crowd sourcing to a more beneficial, symbiotic relationship, of course.
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