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D&D 5E D&D Beyond Cancels Competition

D&D Beyond has been running an art contest which asked creators to enter D&D-themed portrait frame. DDB got to use any or all of the entries, while the winner and some runners up received some digital content as a prize.

There was a backlash -- and DDB has cancelled the contest.

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Thank you to all of our community for sharing your comments and concerns regarding our anniversary Frame Design Contest.

While we wanted to celebrate fan art as a part of our upcoming anniversary, it's clear that our community disagrees with the way we approached it. We've heard your feedback, and will be pulling the contest.

We will also strive to do better as we continue to look for ways to showcase the passion and creativity of our fellow D&D players and fans in the future. Our team will be taking this as a learning moment, and as encouragement to further educate ourselves in this pursuit.

Your feedback is absolutely instrumental to us, and we are always happy to listen and grow in response to our community's needs and concerns. Thank you all again for giving us the opportunity to review this event, and take the appropriate action.

The company went on to say:

Members of our community raised concerns about the contest’s impact on artists and designers, and the implications of running a contest to create art where only some entrants would receive a prize, and that the prize was exclusively digital material on D&D Beyond. Issues were similarly raised with regards to the contest terms and conditions. Though the entrants would all retain ownership of their design to use in any way they saw fit, including selling, printing, or reproducing, it also granted D&D Beyond rights to use submitted designs in the future. We have listened to these concerns, and in response closed the competition. We’ll be looking at ways we can better uplift our community, while also doing fun community events, in the future.

Competitions where the company in question acquires rights to all entries are generally frowned upon (unless you're WotC).
 
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I was noodling around and I noticed that Inkarnate runs a similar sort of competition. They’re on their sixth one currently.

Why is no one complaining about them? Well I’m glad you asked.

Inkarnate’s contest is a bit different. You use the program provided by Inkarnate to create your entry. IOW you are being given all the tools you need to enter the art contest free of charge.

And all entries are displayed under a Creative Commons Share Alike license, meaning that Inkarnate cannot ever sell them. Nor can the artists either. That’s true. But that licensing is part of using the material provided by the contest runner.

My point is, it’s entirely possible to run art contests without the contest runner gaining rights to the art with zero return for the entrants.

Well, maybe it's for the same reason that people don't understand the issues here. Because they don't bother reading the terms and conditions and understanding them.


I pulled them for you for Inkarnate.

Now, if you want to, you can form a twitter mob about this. But this ranks with the whole, "I just read the EULA on the website/software. I can't believe what's in it!" Inkarnate aren't bad actors (IMO), just as D&D Beyond weren't.

“Each day on twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it.” -Maple Cocaine
 
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Fox Lee

Explorer
It was in response to a poster claiming that the competition was pulled because enough artists complained. My point was that not all the people complaining were artists, we don’t know how much of this was a wider PR issue and how much was the result of people who would have been affected by the specific competition. You seem to be confirming that it was an ideological point for you and you would never have seen the competition otherwise for your friend posting as well.

My point stands then, that It’s a shame that a competition to draw something - that was never for sale - was spoiled for amateurs because professionals who had no intention of entering, kicked up a stink.
And I spoke up, as an artist, because you seemed to be claiming that the majority were not artists, but voices outside the community just wanting some drama. I wanted to make the point that I criticised them, as a huge fan of D&D and an artist both, not as some outsider interfering because I want woke points.

You don't seem to understand that "people who would have been affected" includes all of us. Every time a well-financed company gets away with running spec work competitions instead of just paying artists, it further devalues our time and skill. It reinforces the idea that illustration and graphic design are just hobbies people do for funsies, and don't represent skill worth paying for (or certainly not worth paying a living wage for at least).

You assert (groundlessly) that the competition is only for amateurs and not for professionals, but that doesn't actually help; that's like shrugging and saying hiring scabs is fine because they're only temps and this isn't their real job. If anybody in an industry is available to be exploited, then everybody is.
 
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Fox Lee

Explorer
Do you use D&D Beyond for your 5e games?
I don't use DNDB because I don't play 5e, and they won't support 4e. However, I am part of the broader D&D online community which will always be represented first and foremost by the officially sanctioned faces of the current edition, of which DNDB is a critical one. I have been deeply invested in this community for decades, and I will do what I can to make it a community that does not support dodgy corporate nonsense like spec work.
 
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I don't use DNDB because I don't play 5e, and they won't support 4e. However, I am part of the broader D&D online community which will always be represented first and foremost by the officially sanctioned faces of the current edition, of which DNDB is a critical one. I have been deeply invested in this community for decades, and I will do what I can to make it a community that does not support dodgy corporate nonsense like spec work.
Yep, that's what I thought. You won this time, but the world became a little bit less fun and more restrictive.
 

Hussar

Legend
Well, maybe it's for the same reason that people don't understand the issues here. Because they don't bother reading the terms and conditions and understanding them.


I pulled them for you for Inkarnate.

Now, if you want to, you can form a twitter mob about this. But this ranks with the whole, "I just read the EULA on the website/software. I can't believe what's in it!" Inkarnate aren't bad actors (IMO), just as D&D Beyond weren't.

“Each day on twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it.” -Maple Cocaine

Huh? I honestly have no idea what you are trying to say here. Can you please speak clearly without trying to be funny? Because, frankly I’m totally not understanding what your point is.
 

Hussar

Legend
I have to admit to being utterly bewildered here. From my point of view, this is how the conversation went:

Me: Companies that are running contests like this should provide something of value to entrants in return for the value they are getting from the entrants. This contest is predatory because it provides nothing of value to the entrants while the company gains everything.
Snarf: Companies must protect themselves, that's why they require the rights.
Me: Here's an example of a company, Inkarnate, who is doing the right thing. They are providing something of value to the entrants in return for what the entrants produce. No one is exclusively benefiting.
Snarf: READ THE EULA!! Go form a Twitter mob!!
Me: :erm:
 

TheSword

Legend
And I spoke up, as an artist, because you seemed to be claiming that the majority were not artists, but voices outside the community just wanting some drama. I wanted to make the point that I criticised them, as a huge fan of D&D and an artist both, not as some outsider interfering because I want woke points.

You don't seem to understand that "people who would have been affected" includes all of us. Every time a well-financed company gets away with running spec work competitions instead of just paying artists, it further devalues our time and skill. It reinforces the idea that illustration and graphic design are just hobbies people do for funsies, and don't represent skill worth paying for (or certainly not worth paying a living wage for at least).

You assert (groundlessly) that the competition is only for amateurs and not for professionals, but that doesn't actually help; that's like shrugging and saying hiring scabs is fine because they're only temps and this isn't their real job. If anybody in an industry is available to be exploited, then everybody is.
At no point did I say that the majority of complainants weren’t artists. But it’s becoming more and more clear that a lot weren’t anything to do with d&d beyond.

Comparing amateurs - who don’t get paid… to scabs who do get paid. Is quite poor taste. Amateurs aren’t scabs. They’re nothing like scabs.

You’re talking about controlling the methods of production and the terms that are allowed to be offered. If this was a union and there was a strike there would need to be agreement by those affected. You wouldn’t just be able to impose the restrictions on everyone because you don’t like it.

I have no problem with artists making a living, I have no problem with them campaigning for people not to enter or working to improve terms for artists. I just thinks it’s unreasonable when people shut things down because it’s not to their taste. It’s not very pluralistic.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I have to admit to being utterly bewildered here. From my point of view, this is how the conversation went:

Me: Companies that are running contests like this should provide something of value to entrants in return for the value they are getting from the entrants. This contest is predatory because it provides nothing of value to the entrants while the company gains everything.
Snarf: Companies must protect themselves, that's why they require the rights.
Me: Here's an example of a company, Inkarnate, who is doing the right thing. They are providing something of value to the entrants in return for what the entrants produce. No one is exclusively benefiting.
Snarf: READ THE EULA!! Go form a Twitter mob!!
Me: :erm:

Or, perhaps, this is what the conversation is like:

Hussar: I don't understand what these terms and conditions mean.
Snarf: Here, let me do a full analysis and pull the documents D&D Beyond and explain it.
Hussar: Don't condescend to me! Also, look at this other awesome contest.
Snarf: Did you look at the terms & conditions for the company?

In another thread, someone posted about foreigners buying land in Japan; something you happened to know about. Well, either you can look at the actual documents (the T&C) and understand what the point is, or you just want to argue? I'm not sure which it is- any time people try to explain things to you, you accuse them of being condescending or not being clear, or not agreeing with you.

But to recap:

1. This is what actually happened with D&D Beyond.
If you look in that thread, all the source documents and links were provided. If you understood what those documents meant, it was simple to understand. To the extent I thought it was funny, it was because it was glaringly obvious to me; much like (I am sure) issues regarding Japan are to you.

2. In approximately 3 minutes, I googled the contest (assumedly the farm contest) and the T&C for Inkarnate, which were typical for a company like that. Now, maybe you think there is some defining difference in a company that provides online mapmaking tools running a contest with a single winner getting an extension to the product that lets them make more maps (valued by the company at $25), and a requirement that the asset be available for free, but you also have to read it in pari materia with the terms & conditions of the product/website itself which I provided to you which apply to all art made with the product and to all submissions to the company. Or not! You can just ignore that because it has lots of words and I don't feel like making another deep dive- but even if you do, then:
You just gave your approval to a company running a contest that gave a virtual grandprize of letting you continue to use the company's tools ($25 value!), in exchange for making your own art freely available for use by the company's customers and allowing the company to market your art as an example of what the company's product does.


I personally don't think Inkarnate did anything wrong. I think it is quite possible to support better wages (and actual employee status, when possible) for artists, and to understand that the issues regarding liability and contests are different than the issues surrounding the gig economy.

I think it should be possible to discuss some of these issues and realize that there is nuance that is missed, and that twitter always manages to miss the nuance.
 



Gnarlo

Gnome Lover
Supporter
As a Gen-Xer myself, I never got a participation trophy. If I didn't place in the top three I didn't get any award. I don't really know if participation trophies are still a thing.
As a 56 year old X-er myself, I can say that participation trophies are another thing that “Millennials” get blamed for that is total BS; in our Little League baseball and football teams everyone got a trophy at the end of the season and at our science fairs everyone got a white ribbon on their project if they didn’t place. And this was in a podunk rural Georgia county in the mid 70s…

edit: Dire Bare beat me to it. :)
 
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MGibster

Legend
As a 56 year old X-er myself, I can say that participation trophies are another thing that “Millennials” get blamed for that is total BS; in our Little League baseball and football teams everyone got a trophy at the end of the season and at our science fairs everyone got a white ribbon on their project if they didn’t place. And this was in a podunk rural Georgia county in the mid 70s…
I wouldn't blame millennials for them at any rate because they weren't the ones giving them out it was their parents. And at least according to Wikipedia, participation trophies are far older than even the mid-70s. However, I don't think they were particularly common until the late 90s or early 2000s. I lived in a variety of school districts growing up because my family moved quite frequently and never got participation trophies.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I don't use DNDB because I don't play 5e, and they won't support 4e. However, I am part of the broader D&D online community which will always be represented first and foremost by the officially sanctioned faces of the current edition, of which DNDB is a critical one. I have been deeply invested in this community for decades, and I will do what I can to make it a community that does not support dodgy corporate nonsense like spec work.

I just want to make sure I understand-
You don't use their product.
You don't play 5e.*
And this wasn't spec work (to be clear, and to avoid miscommunication like earlier in the thread, you mean "on spec" and not "to spec" since someone like me will usually use it to mean "to specification").
But you are happy that you pressured D&D Beyond into canceling the competition, because you felt that it exploited artists.


A quick detour into two concepts:
"Spec work" in most fields usually refers to work to specification. Client says, "Build me a bridge." "Design me a logo." "Write me a manual for my Atomic Wedgiemaker." "Draw me a cover for my book."
However, "spec work" also refers to speculative work, which is work that is done without a client in mind or any particular offer. This is most common in certain creative endeavors and (occasionally) the construction industry. "I'm writing this script and I hope that someone picks it up." "I'm developing this land and I hope people buy the houses." "I'm writing this article and hope that a magazine/blog picks it up."

Both work on spec and to spec are common, in America, for independent contractors. To a certain extent, work to spec is the default mode of work of almost every contractor (the plumber is hired to do a job to spec- to clear the clog in a particular pipe, say). Work on spec is only common in a very small subset of fields. Most generously construed, work on spec would be the famous artist who produces the works that they want and sells them to the highest bidder; this has been the default approach for the art market for some time. Which usually ends up (like many creative endeavors) with a very few people making a lot of money, and a lot of people making little-to-no money.

Which gets to the next issue- many professional artists have to end up choosing to take less lucrative jobs with employers to make ends meet. A person goes into debt to go to RISD, for example- and maybe they end up as Seth MacFarlane, or maybe they work in-house doing graphics for a regional sandwich shop. The creative endeavors (acting, music, art, writing, and so on) are hard- hard to break into, hard to make money off of. If you've lived in LA, for example, you know that almost everyone is either involved with or one step removed from "the Industry" and that anyone in the service industry is a "slash," (waiter/actor, cashier/musician, gas station attendant/writer) ... and I think they all have podcasts now?

Anyway, back to the main topic. As I already stated, this wasn't "on spec" work. If you looked at the source documents you would see that this was just trying to be the usual marketing ploy. This wasn't crowding out artists in any way, shape, or form. More importantly, there are salient legal and factual differences between work that is on spec and contest.

IMO, this type of activism ends up being hollow, because there are serious inequities involved when it comes to the labor force. When it involves the creatives that power a lot of different industries. Serious effort needs to be put into that- and I'm not arguing that the perfect is the enemy of the good. I'm saying, unequivocally, that this (the ending of this contest) wasn't good because there are serious issues that got caught up in terms of liability and competitions that are orthogonal to the issue of fair wages.

The reason that you won (in other words, that D&D Beyond almost immediately cancelled this) is not because you were right; it's because you were wrong. It's because this was a marketing gimmick designed to drum up publicity around a new feature, and it had nothing to do with the art itself. And as soon as the publicity began going sideways (and, most likely, the T&C got kicked up and couldn't be changed from the Australian company's auto-generated default) it was cancelled.


*To be clear- I am not reciting that to make you look bad. I am honestly impressed. Given that people are anonymous on the internet, it is far too common for people to just lie. "Oh yes, I totally use D&D Beyond all the time!" I don't use D&D Beyond either, but that's only because I am unable to use computers.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I wouldn't blame millennials for them at any rate because they weren't the ones giving them out it was their parents. And at least according to Wikipedia, participation trophies are far older than even the mid-70s. However, I don't think they were particularly common until the late 90s or early 2000s. I lived in a variety of school districts growing up because my family moved quite frequently and never got participation trophies.

I have a simple solution:

Old and tired hotness:
Older generation doesn't understand new generation, what with the music, fashion, work ethic, slang, and desire to be on our lawn.

New hotness:
Other people suck, because they aren't me.

fellow-kids.gif
 

MGibster

Legend
Old and tired hotness:
Older generation doesn't understand new generation, what with the music, fashion, work ethic, slang, and desire to be on our lawn.
Don’t even get me started on music. I firmly believe that just because I don’t like something doesn’t make it bad, but I don’t see the appeal of many songs that are extremely popular. I mean, you know, the few times I even know what’s popular. Are the kids still into Jessica Simpson?
 




That could be Harvey Weinstein's .sig file.

Apologies to everyone: I was horribly misunderstood here. I was trying to say (I guess too subtly) something very, very different. I saw a professional artist come in here and say, "Hey, these sorts of contests really make me feel disrespected and hard for me to have a professional career" and the response was "you are making the world less fun". I was trying to come up with an illustrative way of saying, "Dude, that's not ok."

Maybe next time I'll just say it that way.
 
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Fox Lee

Explorer
Yep, that's what I thought. You won this time, but the world became a little bit less fun and more restrictive.
This is the same complaint used by every person who gets salty when you ask them to stop using slurs or making gay jokes, so it may not be the winning zinger you think it is. Some restrictions are good.

At no point did I say that the majority of complainants weren’t artists. But it’s becoming more and more clear that a lot weren’t anything to do with d&d beyond.

Comparing amateurs - who don’t get paid… to scabs who do get paid. Is quite poor taste. Amateurs aren’t scabs. They’re nothing like scabs.

You’re talking about controlling the methods of production and the terms that are allowed to be offered. If this was a union and there was a strike there would need to be agreement by those affected. You wouldn’t just be able to impose the restrictions on everyone because you don’t like it.

I have no problem with artists making a living, I have no problem with them campaigning for people not to enter or working to improve terms for artists. I just thinks it’s unreasonable when people shut things down because it’s not to their taste. It’s not very pluralistic.
Amateurs are definitely not like scabs. However, a business offering spec work to amateurs in lieu of hiring professionals is like a business hiring scabs to avoid paying workers. The comparison is not between the individuals getting the work, it is between the actions of the businesses making the profit.

That's why nobody was on Twitter slamming artists who participate in these competitions; rather, we let the company know that we recognise spec work as exploitative. That's also why "campaigning for people not to enter" is not a useful idea; the individuals do not have the power in these scenarios. It would be like blaming a DoorDash driver for taking work from a garbage company that undermines minimum wage law and exploits poverty—the worker is not the problem. The power lies with the company, the faulty practice lies with the company, so that's who we criticise.

I just want to make sure I understand-
You don't use their product.
You don't play 5e.*
And this wasn't spec work (to be clear, and to avoid miscommunication like earlier in the thread, you mean "on spec" and not "to spec" since someone like me will usually use it to mean "to specification").
It is spec work though (on spec obviously; I don't know how anything I've said could be misinterpreted to the point that you need to post a massive wall of splaining at me). I disagree that anything you have said shows how this is materially different from spec work; that's not a valid point to argue here AFAIC.

It's clear in how you've listed my "credentials" that you don't consider my connection to DNDB valid, but that's not for you to decide. I've already made it clear why this community is important to me as a professional and as a fan. But even if I didn't, spec work from any well-funded company helps devalue the entire industry one tiny bit at a time, so we have a stake in this whether you like it or not.

But you are happy that you pressured D&D Beyond into canceling the competition, because you felt that it exploited artists.
I'm happy that DNDB listened to public opinion and decided that there are better ways to garner public goodwill than to use a fundamentally exploitative business practice, yes. Because that's all this is; a business tried to drum up some publicity with an art/design contest, copped some flak because said contest was recognised by artists/designers as dodgy, and ultimately pulled the plug because they judged the bad publicity to outweigh the good.

You seem to be under the impression that I care whether DNDB thinks they were actually wrong, or were "pressured" into withdrawing the competition, but as far as I'm concerned that's a nonsensical question. Businesses* are by design amoral money machines concerned with what's profitable, not with inherent values of "good" or "bad". Being "pressured"—whether by law, market forces, public opinion etc.—is the only reason they ever appear to act in anything that resembles moral fashion.

(*Save the very smallest businesses which can genuinely be spoken for, and answer to, maybe one or two people)

So, while it would be just swell if some individuals involved had a personal epiphany about why spec work is garbo, I'll settle for convincing the business that it would not be profitable to do the bad thing, just this once, even though we obviously know they're only covering their bottom (line). That—and the possibility that more community members (even non-professionals) will recognise and call out dodgy practices like spec work—is the best we can realistically hope for.
 

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