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In Defense Of Ubisoft: Crowdsourcing Game Content Creation Is Actually Fun And Non-Exploitive

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Crowdsourcing has obviously now been a thing for some time. Along internet timelines, in fact, crowdsourcing is now something close to a mature business practice and it's used for all manner of things, from the payment for goods created, to serving as a form of market research for new products and services, all the way up to and including getting fans involved in the creation and shaping of an end product. The video game industry was naturally an early adopter of this business model, given how well-suited the industry is to technological innovation. Here too we have seen a range of crowdsourcing efforts, from funding game creation through platforms like Kickstarter to empowering supporters to shape the development of the game.In that last example, it was Double Fine and Tim Schafer getting gamers involved in what would otherwise be the job of the creative team behind their game. The personalities here may matter greatly, because Ubisoft has recently unveiled an attempt to further get their fans involved in the game-creation process, yet many people are up in arms over it. Let's start with what Ubisoft is attempting with its anticipated next installment in the Beyond Good & Evil franchise.

The long-awaited sequel to a 2003 Ubisoft game that was critically loved but flopped at retail, Beyond Good and Evil 2 will take place in an open universe full of strange creatures and cultures. During its E3 press conference, Ubisoft said that fans will be able to help populate that universe with their own music and artwork through a partnership with a company called HitRECord, with that company’s founder, actor-turned-entrepreneur Joseph Gordon-Levitt, appearing on stage.The HitRECord-powered Space Monkey Program allows fans to submit ideas and works into a series of musical and visual categories like “devotional music,” “anti-hybrid propaganda,” and “anti-establishment art.” Other fans can then comment on and remix those works, which will ultimately be evaluated by HitRECord and—if they fit the game well enough—sent along to Ubisoft. Everybody who’s contributed at all to an accepted work will be paid.
If you're anything like me, your reaction to this was purely positive. Fans of Ubisoft titles and Beyond Good & Evil get to contribute to the game in a way they will recognize and be paid some amount of money for? How cool is that? Collaboration with fans on the creation of art is squarely in the realm of our CwF+RtB formula. To add some compensation to that makes this all the better. And, in my opinion, if this were anyone but Ubisoft doing this kind of thing, nobody would be pushing back on it at all. But because of Ubisoft's sketchy reputation, many are viewing this through purely cynical glasses and seeing nothing other than a company trying to avoid paying the full rate for the creation of its game.
Almost immediately after Ubisoft’s conference, critics and developers started asking questions: Why not just pay full-time, salaried developers to do this work? What happens if fans’ work doesn’t get accepted? Do they not get paid? Did they do it all for nothing?Scott Benson, the co-creator of the indie game Night in the Woods and a vocal advocate for workers’ rights, pointed out that HitRECord’s business model seems to rely on what’s known as “spec work,” short for “speculation.” This is a common but nonetheless ethically muddy practice in creative and design fields. When you do work “on spec,” you’re producing something that a buyer might decide to pick up and then pay you for.
Great, except this isn't being done in the "creative industry" at all, but rather directly with fans of the game franchise. Were Ubisoft trying to strong-arm artists for content it would otherwise pay for up front, then, yeah, this would suck. That's not what it's doing at all, though. Instead, the company is going directly to fans and asking them, rather than coercing them, to get involved in the project in a way those fans will find meaningful. Does this have the happy coincidence of being somewhat less costly? Sure. There's no denying that. But so what? If fans of a game are able to compete with the art created by the creative industry and want to do that type of thing under this platform, where exactly is the ethical dilemma? Were Benson to have his way, fans should be denied this opportunity because... why? Because someone else might not get paid? Where is the sense in that?There's also something to be said for HitRECord's meta-crowdsourcing experiment here and how interesting it will be to see if it can be pulled off.
“At HR, people build on each other’s ideas, and our website (and community) keeps track of how projects evolve—and how ideas influence one another,” HitRECord executive producer Jared Geller said in an email, noting that the company has paid out a total of nearly $3 million since it was founded in 2010. “So any contribution that is included in any of the songs or visuals (guitar parts, vocal stems, etc) delivered to the Beyond Good and Evil 2 dev team will get credited and paid. If your contribution isn’t used, you don’t get paid.”
So it's not just milking a fanbase for cheap labor, but allowing that fanbase to them play off of one another and build a community product, which will then be injected into the game and for which they will be paid. I mean, come on, if everyone could take their labor union hats off for just a second, they'd have to admit how cool an experiment this is. And, while HitRECord will have the ultimate decision-making authority on how compensation is divvied up between creators, it even takes feedback from multiple creators into account when making those decisions.The one area where there might be real concern is copyright infringement.
There are other possible complications, as well, said a representative of NoSpec, an organization that advocates against the practice of spec work.“When people who participate in spec work know that the chance of payment is slim-to-none, it invites the fastest possible turnaround, and we’ve found that spec websites (those that sell design contest listings) are rife with plagiarism,” wrote the rep in an email.
There is truth to this and Ubisoft and HitRECord have better have their shit in order if they don't want to turn this into some hellscape of accusations about plagiarism and copyright infringement. But if they can pull this off, the end result is going to be the injection of the voice of the fan directly into its game, which is about all we could hope for coming from a content producer.I'll end this with a thought experiment. Imagine for a moment if I had written this same post, except I did a find/replace for "Ubisoft" and replaced it with "Sole game creator." Does anyone really think the same level of outrage would exist? If not, then this isn't a moral question at all, but a monetary one. And if that's the case, it should go without saying that Ubisoft's reputation shouldn't prevent it from being able to try something good and cool with its fans.

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posted at: 12:10am on 16-Jun-2018
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Faulty Field Tests And Overblown Drug Raid Claims: The War On Drugs In Clay County, Florida

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Yet another Florida sheriff with a penchant for publicity is using his office (and manpower) to start some garbage viral War on Drugs. Hence, every bust made by his department -- utilizing armored vehicles and deputies that look like they shop at military surplus stores -- is splashed across the department's Facebook page. Fine, if that's what gets your blood flowing, but these scenes of busts, featuring the Sheriff front and center, contain claims that just aren't backed up by the actual paperwork. George Joseph of The Appeal has the details.

The video finds Sheriff [Darryl] Daniels, who announces to the viewer that criminals must leave his county or face the consequences. The camera follows him to the house, briefly focusing on a broken window before Daniels opens the door. Standing in the raided home, Daniels takes a large swig of his morning cup of coffee and declares, “Fifteen going to jail, three big gulps.”Despite the sheriff’s announcement, the “raid” resulted in only five adult arrests and one juvenile arrest, according to Elaine Brown, a lead records specialist at the sheriff’s office.
At best, maybe five will be going to jail. The sheriff depicts this as a raid on a "narcotics house" targeting opioids. The records obtained by The Appeal show no opioids were found during the raid. Four of the five adults were arrested for marijuana possession. The fifth was charged with MDMA and cocaine possession. But chances are those drugs might vanish along with the nonexistent opioids Sheriff Daniels proudly proclaims were taken out of circulation.Note the line about the field drug tests performed. These have already been proven bogus. A sheriff's office spokesman informed The Appeal that the 1.2 grams of heroin and fentanyl seized during the raid turned out not be opioids after being lab-tested. But the field tests told Sheriff Daniels everything he wanted to hear.The reliance on cheap, terrible drug field tests is part of Sheriff Daniels' drug-raiding tradition. Arrests and seizures sound great when you're dragging a camera through someone's house for a Facebook video, but when nothing holds up in court, you're left with an empty charade using citizens as clickbait.A former deputy contacted by The Appeal points out that cheap drug tests are just another tool for abusive police work.
“The really good ones cost money, but those take away your probable cause,” he said, referring to arrests and police searches for which error-prone drug test field kits can provide legal pretext. “It’s probably the cheapest ones they could get to do the minimum standards for an investigation.”
This same former deputy also pointed out the marijuana charges were trumped up. According to reports, 35 grams of marijuana were seized during the raid, but somehow two people are being charged with possession of more than 20 grams.Cheap tests, cheap vicarious thrills, and a whole lot of hype over drug charges that will likely dissipate into minimal punishment (if anything) once the lab tests arrive. That's how America's drug warriors roll. Sheriff Daniels rolls a little harder than most, but that's because tough-on-crime sheriffs are newscaster favorites. As The Appeal points out, Daniels has leveraged these videos to appear on national news networks and say ridiculous things like he's planning to treat all drug overdoses as homicides.This report points out some very unpleasant things about our war on drugs. Law enforcement officials may claim to recognize drug addiction as a sickness, but they're still far more interested in rounding up users than dealers. Faulty field drug tests allow officials to exaggerate their successes (and misrepresent the amount of dangerous drugs in the community), when not allowing them to perform searches they otherwise wouldn't have probable cause to perform. They're part permission slip, part unpaid PR rep. And this constant failure of field drug tests to accurately identify drugs gets ignored but local media, for the most part, isn't willing to follow up on high-profile drug raids to correct the record. And it keeps working because many Americans love the image of "tough on drugs" officers kicking in doors and waving guns around. But, far too often, "tough" just means dumb, brutish, and unconstitutional.

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posted at: 12:10am on 16-Jun-2018
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