Landmark: Player Value in a Sony Market

landmarkUp until now, I’ve been going on information from the developer videos and word of mouth around the game community about Landmark. This week I decided I should take a closer look at Player Studio, the tool for players to create things for sale on the marketplace. This week, PS was implemented for testing.

On it’s face, I think it’s a great idea. It’s another opportunity for players to freely share their creativity and in some ways I think Everquest Next will be a much better looking place under the diverse stewardship of the player base. We’ll truly see things the developers could never have thought of. I’m excited about that. Plus, it’s another opportunity for many of us to make a little bit of cash during our time spent playing games. Of course, some of us will try to make a full career out of it and I salute you for your hardcore ambition and dedicated craftsmanship. There’s some room for business models that could prove lucrative enough to sustain long-term. I don’t know about paying rents, but it could net you a tidy sum. And the entry fee is zero: Landmark is free to play.

playerstudipHowever, the terms of use are extremely exploitative. The internet has become something bigger and less benign than an information highway. It’s the gateway to a pool of free labor and developers are very interested in how they can offset their costs on the backs of players. The timing of a post about player rights was perfect this week it seems and I think this will become a bigger and bigger issue in the coming years. Players might think we’re getting the sweet end of the bargain (make some money while playing games sounds like a good deal), but in the long run, that’s just not the case. So what are these exploitative terms I speak of?

  1. These Player Studio terms state that Sony owns the right to use your submission how they see fit without compensating you.
  2. SOE is entitled to a 60% cut of your profits from the marketplace. Sixty percent.
  3. The player has no rights – not even a right to privacy – with respect to the items they submit. Especially since the terms require you to waive every single one of your current consumer rights.
While you're mining ores, SOE will be mining your time and creativity to the tune of 60% of all that you make.

While you’re mining ores, SOE will be mining your time and creativity to the tune of 60% of all that you make.

There’s pretty much no circumstance in which 60% is a fair fee for anyone’s labor. They’re basically claiming they own 60% of your time and energy if you spend it in their game. Now gamers are usually reasonable. We expect the developer to take a cut for the maintenance of fees that help make the system possible. Just to give some perspective, Blizzard’s Diablo 3 auction house charged only a 15% fee and a $1 transfer fee if you chose to use Paypal for collecting money instead of Bnet. The difference here is company ethos. While Blizzard can be horrible about their content, they’re the industry gold standard for taking care of customers.

There are precedents for companies taking out large chunks of player-developer earnings, but usually only half as much as SOE wants. The industry standard for app stores such as Apple, Android and Steam is 30% share of net profits – still huge, but within comprehension. The most comparable case of player labor going into the development of games (for a profit) is DOTA 2, where skilled game artists can create models and sell them on Steam Workshop at a 15% fee.

As if the fee wasn’t abominable enough, here’s a snippet that deserves some attention:

You grant to SOE an unlimited, worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, sublicenseable (through multiple tiers), royalty-free, fully-paid up, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform (whether publicly or otherwise), adapt (including, without limitation, the rights to edit, modify, translate, and reformat), create derivative works of, transmit, make, have made, sell, offer to sell, import and otherwise use and exploit (and have others exercise such rights on behalf of SOE) your Submission …

Because players can craft things outside of the game in other programs (like Photoshop) and bring them into the game, SOE requires that you license unlimited use of your work to them. You are surrendering your right to earn any compensation from their use of your work. They don’t claim to own it, but they can basically reproduce it and sell it at will and you can’t do anything about it. This is an amazing double standard. While developers are constantly declaring their rights to issue limited licenses that players cannot use for profit, SOE would deny that same right to their players. It’s like they believe they should make money from their work and no one else.

If players had any rights in the virtual space, developers would have to part with the idea that our avatars and the work of our avatars belongs to them. This particular case bothers me because once again I find myself interested in one of their games, but it’s like they do everything they can to put players on the fence or discourage them from wanting to support them. They’re really asking a lot of players, as if the paid beta for a free to play game wasn’t already a questionable idea. Having finally experienced the beta I can say they’re running it like a Kickstarter. Regular announcements, little interaction with player issues on the forums, and waves of new beta testers, a move that raised my suspicions when I realized how tempted new testers would be to buy a beta key (it comes with one of the game best tools for harvesting and building).

The terms of use just add to the doubts some of us have about the game. There’s still time for SOE to revisit these terms and bring them inline with fairness, so we’ll see how it develops. But this is a very alarming start.

22 thoughts on “Landmark: Player Value in a Sony Market

  1. Wait so developers in Landmark earn 40% … of what? They get real money? :O I suppose that’s still a better deal than me making Neverwinter Online foundry missions which really becomes a 100% earning for Cryptic. Doesn’t stop me from doing it though. 😛

    • The Player Studio is a tool players can use to develop content for the game. Specifically, art assets but I’m not sure if it’s limited to that (mods for example).

      If I make a ….box, for Landmark, I can take it to the market and sell it. SOE gets 60% of my net profits, real money. What’s your view on that? From your reply i wasn’t sure if you were saying “something is better than nothing” or implying that players should be grateful to earn anything from their work. Clarify for me Joey 😀

      Its worth noting that I can sell completely original work in their shop. Things I make with my licensed software and which SOE is merely providing a platform, just like Apple, Google and Steam do. But they’re claiming 60% which seems like too much no matter what. What do you think is a fair cut?

      • I was really just asking as I don’t know anything about it (because I like making you repeat yourself after failing to read it explained ealier… oops). 😛 It looks far more complicated there if people can import their own unique creations which can then be swiped by SOE. In NWO you are given the toolkit and all the assets with a margin of customization. However you cannot put in your own art or music or voice for example, which I found a bit annoying. Upon reading this though, maybe it is better that way (skips out on all the legal drama since all the “pieces” are owned by Cryptic).

        Ok lets get to the nitty gritty.
        -Firstly, after how SOE are going about the sun setting of a bunch of their games (basically it’s just leave the servers on, don’t provide anymore content or support and flip the switch at x time and date), I don’t like them very much. Just thought I’d put my bias up front. 😛

        -If you are an artist and want full pay for your work, then… don’t do it through landmark/SOE. Use commissions and allow people that purchase your art to -then- use it in landmark.

        -If you need to use SOE related stuff to make or sell your art then… yeah they can call the shots. Adobe could do the same thing but instead they just put a huge price tag and subscription fee on their products instead (since no sane person would pay to give away the copyright and/or value of their work).

        If enough people avoid the fees by going around independently or simply show a lack of interest in participation then they would change their scheme. Maybe. The important part is that they have written it all out. Yes it’s probably unfair on player artists. Yes it’s quite a dick move. But it’s also one that will only work if people willingly go into it because a) it’s their passion, b) they don’t care or c) like me they don’t read – lol.

        It’s a strange thing creating stuff. Sometimes the joy just comes from making. People might enjoy having their oddly drawn cute dolphin thing suddenly scattered and sold around by SOE even if they never see a penny of the profits. shrug

      • I can see where you’re coming from. In a balanced situation I’d be more likely to agree. I just don’t see the balance here. Players can do what they want with their labor. That doesn’t make them deserve to be exploited by a rich company like SOE.

        I think gamers have always modded their games. I also think that there’s a context that all of this is happening in which desperately needs to be considered. For example, there’s a lot labor online that companies like SOE want to exploit and gamers are one of the most vulnerable demographics for it. The economies the world over aren’t exactly spectacular and people are looking for more ways to bring cash into their homes. For gamers, if you’re in the community as much as many of us are (bloggers especially) you can see this movement into hobby space for money. Even middle class gamers who have typically been wealthy enough to be gamers are finding they have less job stability. So I’m saying, this isn’t happening in a vacuum.I’m saying that you must add an option D) to your list which is: players need the money. It’s an employers market almost everywhere you look. When a game company begins essentially outsourcing its game content to the players, and those players live in economies where they must take what they can get, this is no longer in benign and neutral territory. Given that, how do you see SOEs behavior in this situation?

      • Alas it’s the old case of SOE looking out for numero uno, as most non-charity companies do. If you can get away with outsourced slave labour, then hell yeah. Content for free! Technically they aren’t even slaves. They willingly signed up. As I said a lot of onus falls onto the people who actually decide to sell their soul as it were (like I have to NWO for the time being :P).

        What do you suggest SOE do? I thought that was the whole point of Landmark – to get saps in to create not only free content, some of them actually PAID to create content, to help them make EQ2? People who willingly sign up in hopes their stuff gets transferred over?

        If people can suddenly go “Whoa no you can’t use my castle,” or “Fish people in my elf village? Absurd!” or “Why is my tunic worn by all the guards of x faction when it’s meant for y faction?” then they obviously built the wrong thing. They should just leave Landmark as a separate, standalone art tool and market it as such.

        SOE are clever, greedy devils but it’s ultimately the people who sign up to be exploited who are at fault. The more that do the better this scheme works and the more it will propagate to other games. If no one signed up then SOE’s ploy would fail and this sort of scheme would be ended and we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. 😛

        All we can really do though is boycott SOE related products which for me, after Wizardry Online closes, will be pretty easy.

        Really need a topic (or revisit) about “players can do what they want with their labour” though. If I spent all my time copy pasting all your blog posts to my site and then getting people to pay me to read them, or just enjoying increased earnings through the google ad services, it’s ok with you? Because I laboured to copy/paste (and hey, you’ll get advertising right so you should be happy I did it)? =P

        That’s actually tempting… steeples fingers like a crazy evil anime man

      • Oh my we’ve slipped into victim blaming 🙂 You keep saying SOE is evil but you continue to lay the responsibility on the player. It’s players fault that SOE exploits them, not SOE’s fault for abusing players. You’re also arguing by implication that SOE is justified. That those players ought to be exploited because by playing the game they’re asking for it.

        There are pick pockets and thieves in my town. If they lift my wallet from my pocket, is it my fault for carrying a wallet? I mean, I knew they were out there so I must be asking for it. Those thieves are evil, but justified!

        We both agree that SOE is wrong and that they’re exploiting players, intentionally. They’re taking a much larger chunk of the profits than they deserve while asking us to sign away our consumer rights. But we disagree about whose fault that is. Still its always a pleasure, Joseph. You can come be my permanent devils advocate. I’ll even make you a special blog page with a shrine in your honor 😀

      • But victims are soooo easy to blame! =D Not sure about “permanent” devil’s advocate, though the shrine sounds nice muahahahaha. Just so happens that I haven’t fully agreed with you on something yet! Things are more interesting that way anyway right? 😛

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  3. I am not sure what to say about the alleged “gotchas” in SOE’s terms, other than I am sure they are in there, in part, because SOE is potentially going into business with dozens or even hundreds of individuals and needs to try to keep it from becoming a legal or administrative nightmare. Sony has plenty of lawyers telling them they need to avoid all possible liability.

    I am interested in the concept of “fair” though. You say, “There’s pretty much no circumstance in which 60% is a fair fee for anyone’s labor.”

    I am not sure how you arrive at that. As Joseph Skyrim points out, there are other games out there like Neverwinter where they take 100% of any revenue. Your work earns you nothing. SOE seems to be the upside in the market, the one place where you could actually earn some money as a hobbyist. But that is who you suggest is not being fair?

    And what if Sony broke out the numbers, and this is purely theoretical, and said that 20% is to cover discounts, because while Station Cash is, by default, 1 cent per unit to the end user, they offer discounts on the purchase of Station Cash all the time. And when they sell the cards at places like Target or WalMart, those store get a cut right off the top. So the effective value of Station Cash is no doubt lower. Why would you expect to get a dollar for something that SOE is only really getting 80 cents on?

    And lets say a further 20% covers the cost of dealing with the store and its administration, having somebody test it and get it into the store (which they have to do even if it never sells a single unit), right down to cutting actual physical checks for the content providers. Overhead to make all this happen.

    Then lets assume that the last 20% of their 60% is their profit, the bit that makes the whole scheme a worthwhile use of their time. Because if it doesn’t make money, it isn’t worth their time and effort.

    Those numbers are straight out of my posterior end, but they represent things to consider.

    Which leaves the content creator with the biggest line item. Overhead out of the way, they might be getting 66% of net. You can say that this does not take into account that person’s labor, but labor has no inherent value. If the item took 100 hours to make, it might have been a complex item or the person might just be a slow worker. The time spent means nothing to SOE. And the content creator is certainly able to take the fruits of their labor elsewhere to see if they can get more. But in this particular market, unless they want to get a job at a gaming studio as an artist, there doesn’t seem to be much of a bidding war fo these things.

    This is not to say that I think SOE isn’t looking out for themselves first or that I would enter into such a deal with them, but “fair” is such a subjective thing that I am not sure I have enough information for even a gut-check assessment on whatever fair might be construed to mean in this case.

    • Well I appreciate the thoughtful response! All interesting points, but they kinda side step important information provided in the article.

      First is that the terms are 60% of the NET profits. That means after fees, after bills are paid. 60% of the bottom line goes to SOE. The player does NOT get the largest cut of anything. In addition to that, SOE forces the player to sign terms that say they can use their creative work for other projects without asking them and without paying them, even if SOE decides to sell the item. I quoted them on this. That’s kinda important here to the overall discussion. It’s not merely 60% as SOE gains the ability to profit from the item 100% in the future.

      NWN ALSO being terrible to their players does not make SOE “good” or “better”. There is no morally significant distinction between ripping someone off totally and ripping them off a little. They’re still being exploited. Both are wrong. In this particular article, I talk about Landmark, thus SOE is the subject. NWN also being terrible doesn’t invalidate any points I’ve made here.

      Finally, as I pointed out, comparable platforms don’t charge creators even close to that much. SOE is currently double the highest (30%). Now this is important because players can create unique objects that are completely their own. The only part that’s not theirs is the market and tool. Keep in mind that players must already purchase licensed tools (or use open source as available). In other words, players are paying other fees to other companies already. So this comparison is can help us have an idea of how the tech industry typically handles these types of transactions.

      I think this is an atrocious double-standard. SOE and all the other companies are in a mad drive right now with DRM and SAS platforms, trying to carefully make sure they are paid for every niggling use of anything that could conceivably be claimed as their IP. Yet they would ask their players to sign away all of their rights?

  4. I think you are expecting a bit of much of SOE here, in so far as – as far as I’m aware – the whole “signing away all your creative rights” thing is pretty common with most creative endeavours (unless your work is sufficiently in demand that you can set different terms). If you write, draw, design anything for money, it usually becomes the property of the buyer to do with as they wish. It just seems odd to me to ask for better terms for people who essentially volunteer their time compared to the people who actually do that kind of thing for a living.

      • Sorry, upon rereading my own comment I think I may not have explained myself very well. I agree that these conditions are pretty poor if you think of them in terms of working for a living. If you think of them in terms of being paid for doing something fun however, they are still great, whether SOE takes a huge chunk of the profits or not. Now, one can argue at which point something you do for fun can turn into just another type of work, but I believe that it’s still important to maintain that there is a distinction between recreation time and work.

        In a comment further up you call Neverwinter Online “terrible” for the way its Foundry works. There is no real money involved in using the Foundry at all, at worst it makes some money for Perfect World indirectly because it keeps people engaged and makes them more likely to buy something from their cash shop. It’s literally nothing but a tool that allows players to share their ideas with other players (for free)! However, you say that this is also a rip-off because any time spent in game to create something fun equals labour for which people should be compensated with money. Where do you draw the line then? Do you think that Blizzard for example is exploiting guild leaders because they are clearly working hard to keep other WoW players subscribed, which helps Blizzard’s profits?

      • I’ve never played NWN online and I took it on good faith that Wilhelm mentioned it because it was comparable to what SOE is doing. Clearly it’s definitley not comparable in that case. And I agree that this case is different.

        While theres a difference between work and play, there’s no difference between someone profiting from my work, telling me I can’t profit from their work, and then forcing terms upon me that say they can what they want with my stuff. That’s the definition of labor exploitation, whether I’m doing at recreation or not. In fact, I’m arguing that the recreation doesn’t exist in this particular circumstance. Where there are market transactions, that is always an economic situation. Economics isn’t recreation. I think the market stops being merely a game once these kinds of terms come into play. I’d further argue that in some regions this will be the full-time job of many players. We can judge them all we want, but we don’t live in their shoes so I’d rather not. I’d rather stay on the side that says they shouldn’t be exploited by a multi-million dollar company.

        I think the point I’m making is quite simple: don’t exploit your players. Don’t put them in situations where they’re signing away rights that your company holds sacred for itself. Respect their rights and don’t profit from their energy. I don’t think this is asking a lot at all and I don’t understand why it deserves a defense to be perfectly honest.

      • Thanks for explaining, that does make your stance much clearer to me. I just disagree that everything that involves money and even terms automatically needs to be treated like a job. I struggle to see exploitation when we’re talking about something that is completely voluntary and it’s up to you when and how to participate, or whether to participate at all. That’s pretty much the definition of a leisure activity.

        In my opinion there’s only so much we can expect a company to do to protect people from making bad decisions. For people for whom this wouldn’t be a good use of their time, I can’t imagine a situation where making items in a very specific online game would somehow be the only option they’d have to make money (considering that doing so requires the possession of tools which can intrinsically also be used to do other things). For others this will be a good deal. And as far as I’m aware, it’s not as if SOE are advertising this as a valid career choice or anything.

        As for why I’m defending them in this case? Because I think they could get away with running the player studio without paying the creators a single penny and people would still submit content purely because they’d like to see their items in game. I see them as doing players a favour by sharing some of the profit, even if it’s not much. Would it be nice if they divided the profit more evenly? Sure. But like Wilhelm said above, we don’t really know how much profit they need to make off the player studio to make maintaining it viable (60% of very little would still be very little), and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      • And thank you for engaging the topic, Shintar. Even if we disagree, it’s always a pleasure.

        To your first paragraph: your own definition of recreation isn’t at work here. Players don’t get to chose how they participate. Either way, I think maybe you and Wilhelm are making distinctions between work and leisure while ignoring the overall issue of labor exploitation. You’re also ignoring that this isn’t recreation for at least 1 party involved, which is a clear conflict of interest that you’re not addressing either in order to wave your hand and give benefit of doubt.

        You’re further saying that because people volunteer they can’t be exploited. You’re even saying that because they volunteer they deserve to be exploited. Both are invalid arguments from a technical stand point, but show a really high disregard for player rights. You’re basically arguing we don’t deserve to be treated with reciprocity and that SOE is justified in any wrong doing because players have it coming to them by playing the game. That argument sounds awful familiar 🙂 In a bad way.

        There will be players in other regions “choosing” to play this game to make money, but a lack of choices doesn’t make the things your stuck with your will. It makes them a lack of choices. And I think we all know what I’m referring to. I don’t believe players should be exploited and I believe SOE has a responsibility to players as well as to it’s company. It’s not living up to one half of that responsibility – most large companies don’t. But if most players feel like you two do, we have a very bleak future in online games ahead of us. I hope you’re wrong.

      • Well, it’s certainly been an interesting subject that has made me think. 🙂 And my opinions are rarely set in stone. At this point I think that more than anything we seem to have a different definition of the word “exploit”, which may very well be a language thing (as English isn’t my first). More food for thought for me.

      • I think you’re right about the language thing, but not because your English isn’t good enough (on the contrary its excellent). Misunderstandings usually do come from those in conversation having different ideas of terms. I’ll definitely be more aware of that in future articles and try to be more careful of defining the terms before pitching the argument. That shortcoming is all mine and thanks for the feedback.

    • The difference is that creatives get paid much more, and they can negotiate the terms of any given contract. For the most part, they are not helplessly giving away their work for infinite exploitation by other people in exchange for a few crumbs.

      The exceptions are people naive or desperate enough to actually buy the line about “great publicity,” and they make it much harder for the creative people who want to be able to work for a living.

      • I agree that the publicity angle is a dubious defense, I’ll give that. There’s some merit there, but I think I believe that creatives do own their creativity. They have rights.

        I also agree that in a traditional situation the creatives would have the agency to negotiate fair terms. I see what SOE (and many other companies) are doing as exploiting the vast labor pool of online gamers. And we can defend their right to do so all we want, we’re the losers in that. Big time. The more players can actually grasp what’s happening, the better position we will be in to make sure game development doesn’t turn into labor development.

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