Dean Anderson of Playerstate shares his vision for shaking up user-generated content
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s E3 pitch for HitRecord was easy to get swept up by. His company would help community creators funnel music, animation and art assets into Beyond Good & Evil 2. Through the Space Monkey Program, as it was known, fans would get the chance to be part of the sequel to a cult classic, and Ubisoft would gain the extra material it sorely needed to fill the multiple planets promised for the game.
The negative response from professionals, however, hit like a series of Inception bwarps. Since only those whose work influenced the final game would be compensated, creators would be working on spec. Some called the system exploitative, a sentiment echoed when Ubisoft worked with HitRecord again for Watch
Dogs: Legion. While the publisher’s PR fought the flames, however, another part of the company had enough distance to think philosophically about its situation – and even learn some lessons. In 2019, Ubisoft’s Entrepreneurs Lab in Paris worked for six months with a startup, Playerstate, aiming to fix the problem HitRecord had exposed.
“User-generated content sits right between the gig economy and the passion economy,” says Dean Anderson, CEO of Playerstate, ahead of his presentation at this October’s Develop: Brighton conference. “The gig economy is freelancers and outsourcing studios and people who get paid to do work. And then you’ve got the passion economy, which is people who are just creating content and working because they want to contribute, they want to help.”
Playerstate’s proposed solution, first pitched to Ubisoft, is a two-tier reward model. Any work that requires a lot of toil and attention should be handled through an RFP, or Request For Proposal. “That way, all the rates and rewards are agreed upfront, and there’s no speculative work involved.” Then there’s the smaller stuff, such as character skins or even GIFs intended for a game’s social media use. “If it’s low-touch work, then I think it’s OK for the community to be rewarded with in-game digital goods,” Anderson says. “But it can’t be stuff that involves a huge amount of time.” It’s not a line that will satisfy everyone, but Anderson assures us it’s drawn with the best of intentions. “We’re very much focused on ensuring that creators are rewarded transparently, and in a way that most people consider to be fair. It’s a tricky one to get right.”
Their Ubisoft initiative long since concluded, Anderson and team have launched Playerstate in early access. It’s a toolset intended to facilitate the flow of user-generated content for any game studio that wants it, while avoiding the associated pitfalls and controversies. Ideally, it’ll help create a more “distributed” landscape for UGC, beyond the walled gardens of Roblox and Dreams. “If you have one big player in the space that has all the control, I don’t ever see that as being a positive thing,” Anderson says.
During our own investigation into Roblox in E361, we talked to creators who are itching to escape the restrictions of its 3D engine and severe revenue split. Anderson suggests that ultimately, creators who have grown up within Roblox’s walls will clamber out, shopping for platforms that better meet their needs. “As they get a little bit older, they’ll be looking for opportunities to create content for the games that they love,” he says. “But right now, there’s no real safe place for them to do that in terms of managing their IP and ensuring they’re being rewarded fairly.”
Beyond Roblox, there’s Dreams, which, despite Sony’s backing, hasn’t achieved mainstream success. “I think monetisation is a big part of it,” Anderson says. “Passion will be the initial thing that gets people onto your platform. But if you want to keep people engaged and keep them coming back, you’ve got to work out a way to share your profits. And without that, I don’t think it’s sustainable.”
Anderson suspects Media Molecule is “very aware” of that issue – the developer opened a beta program last year which allowed testers to put their Dreams work to commercial use outside of Sony’s ecosystem. But it’s a “can of worms”, Anderson reckons. “For a platform like Dreams, monetisation becomes incredibly complex,” he says. “They’ve got to be careful that people aren’t using content that they don’t have copyright to.”
Could Anderson pick a winner in the battle between UGC platforms? For him, there’ll be no victory if any one approach comes out on top. “I think value needs to be distributed,” he says. “I think people need choice, and there needs to be transparency. I think that’s what’s going to really accelerate the space.” It’s the same philosophy that drives Playerstate’s creator reward system, built not to encourage zero-sum competition but rather a more even distribution of compensation for services rendered. “What we don’t want is to create winners and losers, essentially,” Anderson says. “That’s exactly what the HitRecord platform did.”
“If you have one big player in the space that has all the control, I don’t ever see that as being positive”