Devs criticize Watch Dogs Legion crowdsourcing through Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRecord

Game developers and composers are criticizing Ubisoft after the company announced a partnership with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRecord to crowdsource 10 songs for Watch Dogs Legion. The Watch Dogs Legion crowdsourcing callout is Ubisoft’s second HitRecord partnership, as the company previously announced a similar deal aimed at the production of assets for the long-awaited Beyond Good and Evil 2 during E3 2018. The Beyond Good and Evil 2 announcement garnered much skepticism from the community, as HitRecord did not clarify that those who contributed would be paid until after the press conference.

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When Gordon-Levitt announced the Watch Dogs Legion partnership on Twitter, his tweet was met with many angry replies. Many of those who commented drew the connection between HitRecord’s model and spec work, where a client only pays for work done after being satisfied by the product made with that work. Since only the creators whose music ultimately makes it into Watch Dogs Legion will be compensated, many feel that all the rest of the artists who submit work to HitRecord are essentially providing unpaid labor.

Sebastian Wolff, founder of the Materia Collective, a video game music group and publisher, expressed more complicated thoughts on the matter in a lengthy tweet thread. Wolff said that, while he doesn’t advocate for exposure as a “payment,” he doesn’t think condemning the opportunity outright is necessarily the right move for all interested musicians.

“If your biggest requirement is guaranteed immediate cash, skip this one,” Wolff said. “If you have the luxury of time, are able to take on risk, want bragging rights, want to invest in a portfolio piece, participate in something that is not net-zero long term — why not.”

Several game developers and composers, however, also chimed in to the conversation with more outright disapproval, including (via Thomas Was Alone‘s Mike Bithell, Gunpoint and West of Loathing composer Ryan Ike, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine writer Bruno Dias, Cadence of Hyrule composer Danny Baranowski, and the Los Angeles chapter of Game Workers Unite. The devs and composers told Ubisoft to hire composers instead and urged musicians to avoid the HitRecord project and find other ways of getting into game music composing

“[P]lease trust me,” Baranowski said, “this. is. not. the. way. with the inevitable volume of submissions, this is no better than a lottery. except you work for nothing and get nothing out of it.”

Bithell had a similarly pointed response.

“Joseph is in a unionised profession, which is why I can’t ask him to work for free, and pay him if I like what he does more than the other 100 actors I ask to work for free and win a job,” he tweeted.

According to HitRecord, each chosen Watch Dogs Legion song will get a $2,000 payout, divided proportionally between the artists who contributed music to create each of song. The company said it has paid contributors about $3 million to contributors in the nine years it has been conducting these collaborative crowdsourcing projects.

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