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Dota 2 Workshop Artists are in dire need of support

Dota 2 Andreea “divushka” Esanu

The Dota 2 Workshop Artists are going through a crisis and need community support in order to continue to deliver sets and items for our beloved game.

The Workshop community is not the most vocal group, we barely see them posting on public forums like Reddit, and unless you are following them on their social media you might not be fully aware of how much work, passion, and dedication they put in to keep the aesthetics of a free to play game fresh and vibrant. We all like to brag in front of our friends who play LOL, CS:GO, HotS or any other eSports title about the prize pools of The International or the Majors, but do we ever truly think of what goes into a TI prize pool, what makes it skyrocket to a whopping $20,000,000? Almost instinctively, you would probably say “it’s me and all the other Dota 2 players!. We bought the compendiums, we spent money on the treasure chests, we bought compendium level points, we went to Seattle and spent more than a few hundred bucks at the Secret Shop”. And you are perfectly right.

For the annual Dota 2 International, Workshop Artists’ contribution is minimal. They are featured only in the Collector's Cache and they do not receive any cut of Compendium sales. All the Immortal items from The International are exclusively made by the Valve artists.  But all the Majors are sustained mainly through Battle Pass sales, and this is where the Workshop Artists get to be involved as all the items featured in Battle Pass are their creations.

As a free to play game, Dota 2 sustains itself mainly through the sale of in-game cosmetics and market transactions. Speaking of the market, you might be surprised to find out that not a single cent from your market transactions goes to the creators of the sets you buy or sell.  

the Workshop is a dream job

 

For many artists, being a Workshop contributor is all that matters and many of them quit their jobs to fully dedicate themselves to the Dota 2 Workshop. Why would someone do such a thing you may ask. To answer this question I reached out to a few artists, all of them prolific names on the Workshop site, with pages of submissions to their names, and they all agree on a few points: “The Workshop is a dream job, and it used to be more than a decent way to sustain ourselves while working from home”, Christian Gramnaes, aka ChiZ in the Workshop, told me. “You get to create exactly what you want for characters that you appreciate within a game you love. “

But something changed in the Workshop ecosystem after The International 5. The artists kept quiet on the matter until recently, when they felt they were pushed to their limits by Valve. A lengthy Reddit post from two days ago, signed collectively by “many Workshop Artists”, speaks openly for the first time about their incomes, and how Valve distributes the revenue from the Compendiums and Battle Passes sales. To cut a long story short:

 

  • Before TI 5, Workshop Artists featured in a Compendium were paid 25% from Compendium and its Treasure Chests sales
  • After TI5, upon Majors introduction, the artists’ share was cut to 12.5%
  • Starting with the Boston Major (November 2016) the artists no longer get a share of Battle Pass sales, but only from the Chests sold and Chests can only be bought if you own a Battle Pass
  • Starting with the Kiev Major, Treasure Chests from the Battle Pass will be cut from 4 to 3

 

things are effectively 6 times worse as before

 

“Without exaggeration, we went from a 25% revenue share to roughly 6% over the course of a single year” say the Workshop Artists in their Reddit post. With the cut of Treasure Chests featured in the Battle Pass from four down to three, the artists further felt the pinch after the previous reductions. One quote from the post states that “even if you got three times as many items in the Winter 2017 Major compared to Winter 2016, you'd only be getting half the money. This means things are effectively six times worse as before.”  

Digging into their concerns and problems I began wondering what happens to the artists that only have an item or a set featured as a Battle Pass reward, and not as part of a Treasure Chest. For instance the courier and wards reward for leveling up your Battle Pass or one of the hero sets reward for completing the quest paths. After finding out that revenue share is only active at the Chest sales, the next question was: “how are these artists paid?”. I learned from them that they are eligible for a part of the 12.5% cut from the Chests sales, despite not being featured in the actual Chests, with level dependant on number of sets, and couriers and wards still counted. While this is great news for those who were fortunate enough to get a single set included in Battle Pass rewards, Valve’s decision seems unfair to those who have two or even three item sets in a Chest.

The main consequence of Valve’s continuous cuts is the exodus of artists and collaborators. To clarify what is meant by that, I will fast forward walk through the artist’s process: most of them are amazing 3D modellers, and they create the items in modeling programs like Zbrush, but more often than not, they do need a 2D concept. While there are plenty of artists capable of doing both 'jobs', most of them specialize in either 2D or 3D. Sometimes they might need a Texture Artist or an animator, or a particle effects specialist. And this is why almost all the truly amazing sets are usually done by a team of two or three artists, or even a small indie game studio.

having lost a lot of collaborators talent has already lowered recent quality and certainly quality going forward

After the Boston Major, it became very clear that such teams cannot really exist anymore, as the incomes can barely sustain one individual. As the Reddit post states, some of artists already left the Workshop and many of them are staying just for a last International. I went into detail with one of the Workshoppers regarding the number of artists involved in both Boston and Kiev Battle Passes and was told that “there were over 40 artists involved in the Kiev Major Battle Pass. It's hard to get a concrete number because set submissions often include a team of artists working together. There were definitely more than 50 artists involved in the Boston Major. The pool was also more diverse back then because no one had really left the Workshop”.

After the Boston Major payment was done the same source told me the following. “When Valve cut us out of the Battle Pass, it hurt collaborators the most, and they were in large part the first to leave. Collaboration has always been a big part of the competitive Workshop scene, and I think having lost a lot of that talent has already lowered recent quality and certainly quality going forward”.

Artists have been trying to reach out to Valve to have a discussion about their revenue for over six months now, since the first cut, from 25% down to 12.5% , but their emails have so far gone unanswered. Despite all this, they kept working and submitting items, but now have got to a point where things cannot continue. I asked a few of them if there is any way that the Workshop Artists community can negotiate a better deal with Valve and the answers are almost demoralizing: “The Workshop Artist community is not in a position where they're able to negotiate anything with Valve. We don't have any leverage here, and the only thing we've been able to do is try to get the community behind us to get a discussion going”.

Moving forward I was wondering how the Dota 2 community could help to rectify this situation, and asked the artists directly to tell us, the Dota 2 fans, how could we help. It's fair to say there were two very different answers:

Artist 1:

The Dota community is already doing everything we could expect of them to make a change right now. Talking about it, reaching out to us and to Valve to have discussions about it. A lot of the issues we have stem from Valve or the Dota 2 team just refusing to talk to us about these issues, explain the "why" of these major changes in Workshop policy.

Artist 2:  

The same as with the Skyrim mods monetizing situation; public pressure, and boycott, will force them to reevaluate the pros/cons of taking advantage of the Workshop community.

With Valve yet to open a dialogue with the Workshop Artists, some of the most successful members of that community are contemplating going back to work in a game studio or dropping the Workshop idea in favor of some other type of freelancing.

none of us want to leave the Workshop.

They obviously feel they are being pushed towards such a decision, and none of them feel happy about the situation. “I think it's important to say that none of us want to leave the Workshop. Some Workshop Artists came from an amateur hobbyist background, like me. Others quit their jobs at AAA game studios to do this full-time because it is, in many ways, a dream job. You get to create exactly what you want for characters that you appreciate within a game you love. We just want Valve to return to the policy of paying us fairly for the sale of our sets” said ChiZ, when I asked him if there’s any other game that he could migrate to as a content creator. A full time employee at a gaming studio, who dedicates his free time to the Dota 2 Workshop, had a rather similar answer to this question: “I don't really think there is any other game that I would like working on; I really like the graphic style, which is once again, why Valve can really dictate their own terms. On the other hand, I do have a full time job, and I could take some freelance projects in the future.”

Dota sprung to life from the creative minds of modders and hobbyists, and even though Valve is intrinsic to keeping this wonderful concept alive, they should still honor the artistic, financial and emotional investment of their community. So much of what has made Dota 2 great comes from the players and artists themselves, and by turning their back on that community Valve is weakening the product, as well as their connection to the most crucial asset they have, the fans.

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Andreea “divushka” Esanu
<p>I can resist anything but temptations... Follow me @DivDota</p>

Discussion

  • James "Yared" A ,
    I think the issue stems elsewhere. Majority of the fans are just spectators. Dota 2 is losing players mostly due to burnouts. Unhappy players and smurfs are unlikely to buy anything. No more income with all of the other flawed systems considered.
  • Kova "Llano90" Llano ,
    and thats why, many ugly cosmetic set. volvo greedy af. they think pretty and nice cosmetic can be done in 1 day..
  • James "Jackstraw_11" Long ,
    do not know why, play dota2 feel much more tired than playing dota. Probaly because getting older. But, maybe VALVE need to impore the gaming experience

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