Why I WON’T enter the WOTC contest, and why you shouldn’t either

WOTC Adobe Contest

There is an ad going around from Wizards of the Coast and Adobe tempting artists to enter a contest to win $5,000, get your monster cast as a mini, and win a trip to WOTC to meet (I’m assuming) Mike Mearls and a couple of the other lead 5E designers.

Sounds great doesn’t it? What struggling artist DOESN’T Want $5K and WOTC on their resume?

The Break Down

Before you scamper off to their site and start submitting your best work, let’s step back a minute and look at what this REALLY is. This is an ad campaign with a viral marketing element. WOTC is a multi-million-dollar branch of the billion dollar titan Hasbro. Adobe is the titan of the design software world.

For whatever little bit they put out to run their initial ads and the contest piece of this, which likely will run them about $10,000 total, has got them hundreds of thousands of dollars in free advertising. The contest has been run in Forbes, every nerd blog in the world, every social media platform, and RPG nerds are shoving the ad at one another with lightning speed. I’ve had two people tag me when posting it and one shared directly to my social media wall. (I love these people who did this – it’s ok)

Well done Adobe and WOTC, well done. The return on this ad run has been remarkable. In other words, their ROI is a super win before they even buy a plane ticket, hotel, and a $5,000 check for some shmo. All which will also get a ton more circulation about how “generous” they are.

So why not enter??

Contests generally are bad biz for artists. You are expected to put forth and usually completely give up finished work for the hopes of the “Big Prize”.

OK, so you’re willing to risk it. These companies have HUGE budgets and can easily pay artists to do this work, but you want to give them some for free. They SHOULD morally pay artists to do this work up front under contract. The detail legal rules of the contest are remarkably well hidden and near the entry button on the page.

What is clear is that they want you to use their general asset library as a base for the monsters. I suspect two things in this from the WOTC legal team – all works are derived from WOTC assets and therefore are derivative of WOTC property (Don’t try to publish them somewhere else). All submissions to the company become property of the company for them to do with as they like. They will be getting THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of FREE pieces of art and ideas from desperate artists for the price of ONE contract piece. The corporation will have a giant library of art and assets to pick and choose what they like. yes, they may pay for whatever they print out of that, but it’s not the right way to do things.

This would be completely unacceptable for a smaller company – and should be unacceptable for a large one. Somehow it’s “exciting” when you throw $5K and some ego petting from WOTC into the mix.

From the official rules
“All material submitted becomes the sole property of Sponsor and will not be returned. Usage of the Sponsor Files for any reason other than Entry is prohibited and could be subject to licensing fees and/or criminal prosecution. “

It’s not hurting anyone but me!

Isn’t it? Contests set a standard and an expectation for everyone else. It’s poor form for industry leaders to start setting this bar. If you ever want to become a professional artist, I beg you to not enter this contest. Soon, you’ll see “contests” opening up for $1,000 jobs, then $50 jobs. Why not? What publisher in their right mind WOULDN’T want 100 submissions of finished art they own all rights to made to their exact specs and have the luxury of choosing just one to pay for at their leisure?

I nearly entered this one myself because I thought it might be fun, and a little funny to show up at WOTC to meet some people I already knew. After sitting on the ad for a while, I certainly won’t enter because

  • It’s unfair.
  • It’s an unethical move for a giant industry leader.
  • Contests like this are bad for our industry as a whole -as artists and RPG gamers.
  • These companies have PLENTY of resources to contract this art from artists.

And let’s face it, it’s not going to be a beginner artist that shines out of the many thousands of entries. This isn’t likely to be anyone’s “Big break”. This is a way for a corporate giant to take advantage of a hungry, poor, market for a truckload of free assets that will cut overhead for many future products.

I could even forgive this, and have forgiven this, of smaller indie companies who try it. But I also turn down those “offers” and I am vehemently turning this one down. Don’t do this to your fellow artists, don’t do it to yourself, don’t do it to the RPG industry.

No one asks 100 janitors to come clean their house and maybe they’ll pay the one they like best. If you are an artist hoping for a contract, this is NOT your big opportunity, I promise you that.

That’s my opinion, I welcome yours.

EDIT It has come to my attention that I should link to the contest page where people can find the legal fine print and verify that artists are not retaining rights to submission. I avoided it originally because I didn’t want to add traction to this bad ad campaign.
Here is the link. The legalese is near the bottom by the submission button in a PHP pop up.

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