WARNING – THIS IS A HARSH RANT! IF YOU ARE A LARGE PART OF THE SPECIES COMMUNITY, OR TAKE THIS STUFF SENSITIVELY, YOU PROBABLY WON’T WANT TO READ ON. I DON’T WANT TO MAKE ANY ENEMIES, I SIMPLY WANT TO SHARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE MATTER. I DON’T INTEND TO TAKE SPECIES AWAY FROM ANYONE, JUST TO DISPLAY THEM IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT, AND MAYBE INTRODUCE NEW IDEAS TO PEOPLE. ONCE AGAIN, READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Hello watchers, non-watchers, anyone and everyone! I am Soup (if you didn’t already know), and I want to discuss, today, my thoughts on species and the species community as a whole. Formality aside, that warning up there is true and I do urge you to take its advice if you really think you won’t take this well. I’m not trying to hurt anyone personally, these are the thoughts that have been building up inside of me for the past couple years of my life (which I’ve been venting to my friend to get rid of, for the most part), and it’s probably going to get a little gritty and stingy. If you want to read on anyway then power to you, I’m not as strong willed as you are 8w8;;; And if you do, please read right through to the end, don’t comment early. There is a lot of negative stuff to get through but there are positives near the end, just stick around basically. And sorry if I don’t reply to (many) comments…
I’m going to preface this by saying that, unlike my other ‘thoughts on’ journals, I’ve got quite a lot to say about this particular subject so I’m going to be structuring this like an essay. I’m by no means the best at structuring my sentences so sorry if it’s a little messy and hard to understand, but this is probably the best way to organise it that I know of, so yeah… I’ll need the practice anyway, I didn’t realise I’d still be getting essay assignments after coming to art college. Just another warning, this is going to be a long, LONG read, so you might want to get some tea or some music in the background. Get pillows and quilts, get comfortable. You’ll be here for a while.
So, let’s start with the question. What are my thoughts on the species community here on deviantArt, and why do I feel this way? What conclusion do I draw from this personally?
First of all, I feel that deviantArt is not the right website for this kind of community. Let’s get right into the thick of this. What does the species community centre around? Two things; money, and popularity. These two things play off of each other nicely – The more popular the species gets, the more money the designer earns, the more they want to invest into the species, the more popular the species gets, and so on. This system is flawed however, in a very major way – the price never stops climbing, reaching higher and higher amounts very quickly. “But Soup!” I hear you say, “that’s a shallow opinion of you to make. You should know well that undercharging for your work perpetuates and encourages the idea that art is worth very little, it’s a big reason why the starving artist is a thing! Are you simply jealous?” Well my dear reader, it’s actually for a few other reasons, which is why I bring deviantArt as a website up in relation to this topic.
DeviantArt contains the wrong target market: Young teenagers. People seem to forget this a lot – this websites userbase is, for the vast majority, kids. So what do high prices have to do with this? Remember how I mentioned popularity a moment ago? The kids drive and are driven by the popularity. You see, as the worth of a species increases, the amount of people who are able to afford the designs narrow into a specific group – adults (and kids with rich parents?). But that does not mean that the species popularity narrows to being adult-exclusive too. In fact, the higher the price reaches, the more adults with money pay for them, the more the entire userbase sees the designs going for, the higher the worth of the species in their eyes becomes (that’s to both kids and adults). You never see any kid (or adult) pining desperately to become the owner of a Cupcat, or a Wigglyhoozit, or a whatever species you’ve never heard of on this site (by this I mean unknown closed species that have very little following! Just in case of misunderstanding 8w8;; these names were made up on the spot). They pine rather for Mantibabs, Grem2s, Bagbeans, Weavers, CCCats, the list goes on. See a theme here? These are the species that go for the most money. These species are valued as having much higher worth by kids, because they see adults paying ludicrous amounts for them. “So what?” you might be saying, “they’re allowed to want what they see as highly valued, isn’t that the point?” I agree, however…
These kids are not the target audience. Furthermore, the high worth of the species in these kids' eyes leads to desperation, doubt of self-worth, loss of great sums of money that either belonged to their parents or they worked their asses off for, for a long, long time. I’m not saying species owners are wrong for selling their designs at this price. But I am saying that the younger members of the community are not experienced enough to be aware of one thing:
It is not worth it. It’s in human nature to want what you can’t have, and value it much more greatly than it really is once you have it. Popular species are already placed on such a high pedestal, and are so ridiculously unattainable that it drives you to do nearly anything in order to get it. You’ll enter dozens of competitions and lose, making you question your self-worth. You’ll offer ridiculous amounts of work and prized possessions in order to get one in a trade. You’ll work for months, collecting tiny pieces of money at a time in order to blow it all the moment you get lucky enough and are fast enough to afford the autobuy price (which I know species creators say is not the price tag, but let’s be honest, it is). I myself even did this as a kid. My family doesn’t earn much to begin with, so I set out on my own to earn up about $120 over the course of a few months, and the moment I had the chance I spent it all on a prized Weaver design (back when that was the standard autobuy price for one). And what did I do with it afterwards?
Nothing. I did fuck all. Well, that’s partially untrue. I tried to use it. I drew a couple things, I tried to get into a ship with another person’s Weaver (which they eventually traded away as is what happens with most species designs that don’t ‘click’ (AKA, they couldn’t be bothered to work with it to make it a fun and interesting character for themselves, preferring to get lucky)), I even opened an “Ask Aren!” trying my very best to get invested in this character. And slowly it dawned on me – I was putting in all this work for something I didn’t even care about. This character, in my eyes, had no use or value to me whatsoever. It just looked pretty. I’d spent months, MONTHS saving up every penny I could, earning up as much as is needed to buy a portable games console if I really wanted, and I spent it on a useless trophy. They were bragging rights. A way of saying “look, I spent all my money, now I have the cool thing! Look at my cool thing!” About a year later, I traded the design away. I’d say it sucks that I traded, because now I have something I can’t resell to get back the money I lost, but it’s been a long time and I don’t really care so much about it anymore. It was a lesson to me, even though I refused to accept it at first.
In fact, I did it again a year or so later. Not with money this time, but with hard, painful work. The Leloko DTA, the one that I traded away only recently, too. I did an all-nighter, pushing myself to my extremes, animating so much in such a short space of time… And I won. I did get a good experience out of this, I can say. The lesson that hard work and effort often pays off, and that I am able to do incredible things if I push myself. But once again, there were negatives: I couldn’t help but feel ridiculously guilty – I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people who also put their heart and soul into winning that design, creating completely different personalities and stories for it, so many kinds of art, gorgeous things, incredible things, and they were all brushed aside. I held onto the design for a long, long time, always questioning myself. I would think “I don’t deserve to have this, I don’t even use them,” “but how could I ever let them go, they’re a milestone in my life now,” and “do people spite me because I won them? There is definitely a better home for them out there…” Of course, I finally let go of them in the end with a lot of pushing. It’s for the best. Owning them only made me anxious…
I’m getting a little off topic, so let’s pull this back. In short summary so far, I think that deviantArt holds the wrong target audience for species as a concept (young teenagers) and I feel that the actual act of owning a design is not worth it, so what else can I expand on? How about…
Species designs are really not as incredible as they’re held up to be. Not in terms of usage this time, but in terms of their literal design. I understand that there is some very rare species out there which vary their designs a lot and try to make every member as unique as possible (I’m looking at you, Lantern Dragons, good on you), but for the most part, species designs are essentially the exact same design with some variation that doesn’t affect the overall physical appearance of each member. I’m not saying that this is inherently bad, there is good and bad to everything. For example, the fact that species designs often look the same physically means that the designers are able to hone in on and very quickly improve their skills in colour and pattern design, creating some truly stunning aesthetics. I myself even learned a lot about design from taking part in the adoptables/species community, which has helped me later in life to design other things, non-species related. However the attitude surrounding the value of species designs is one that often irritates me, especially this one statement – ‘People in the industry are paid hundreds and thousands of dollars for good character designs, so these designs should be valued the same.’ I’m not saying this statement is totally wrong, good character design is a very valuable thing and worth a lot of money for the right design, however there’s a difference. Character designs made for TV shows, movies, books, comics and etc are designed for a very important and specific purpose – they are meant to be very varied, both in physical design and in colour and pattern design, as well as fit to the character’s personality, their role in the story/work, include details which affect parts of the story or are affected BY the story, and are able to be changed when needed, they’re meant to fit exactly to whatever medium they are made for – simple designs for animation, complex for big pieces of art, drawn in a style that can be reproduced or played with, the list of specifics goes on. What do species designs need to do? They need to look similar to the concept design, and look pretty. They don’t even need to vary physically. They could just be recolours. Personality and story isn’t a factor, as the owners who buy them should be able to create all that stuff for them after they own the design (which from personal experience is a lot harder to accomplish than having a personality before the design is made). To say that they should cost the same amount as industry professional made designs, or possibly more, is like saying that your biscuits you made using the same recipe and the same cookie cutter, with some slight differences in the way the icing looks, should cost the same as biscuits that were each hand crafted individually, moulded, with intricate one-of-a-kind icing patterns and customisation of words or icing pictures for the buyer. I can see the backing of your argument, I can tell that you have a lot of experience in the field of design and your ability should be valued, but I don’t see how the basic concept of a species design should have anything to do with the worth of an industry-made design, they’re like two very different things. The closest exception I can draw between species and real designs from a real show would be MLP, which really only varies the characters’ colours and hair designs. But once again, that’s for a very real purpose – these characters are designed to be made into toys. It would cost the company a ridiculous amount of money to be able to mass produce such a wide array of varying different toy models, so the characters are designed whilst keeping in mind that they should be able to fit to the same model, and therefore have very similar anatomy. You might notice that (most of) the only characters who get unique body types are usually detestable, often ugly, petty antagonist characters. Because nobody expects to sell any toys of them.
Another point I’d like to make before I forget is that, personally, I think that species have exploded far too much to the point of taking over a lot of deviantArt’s… Er, culture? Basically what I’m trying to say is it’s spread like kudzu, and taken over the vast majority of the adoptable community as a whole. Species are not a bad idea, and they can be fun, but that doesn’t mean we should drop everything else. Remember when wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone and they helped the ecosystem recover and begin to thrive? Wow, that was great. You know, they balanced out the system so well, why don’t we add another 10,000 wolves to the park! That can only do it good, right? Too much of a good thing does exist. The addition of species to the adoptable community was a good and fresh way to introduce a whole new element to the community, an almost collectable sort of feeling. It added new appeal to the market. And then everyone saw how well they were doing, and hopped on the bandwagon. And I mean everyone did. I did it. You’ve probably done it too. Most species get forgotten, but that doesn’t mean that the ones that do exist take up little space. In fact, it’s pretty rare to find unique one-of-a-kind designs in the market now, because people don’t hold value in them. The ironic thing is that they are the most well thought out and most valuable designs there are in the community. Everything about them has been thought out uniquely, and not come as a result of copying an already existing design and modifying it. They are made completely from scratch, and yet they are forgotten and ignored so, so easily. I suppose they’re just not as ‘collectable,’ ‘well-known’ or ‘community-driven,’ but I don’t suppose that’s the point of a character design either. Perhaps I’m just being a grumpy old whiner. Essentially, the value of one-off designs will always be seen as lesser to species designs until people start looking and thinking ahead. I think it’s about time you think about whether you’ll get good use out of that design before buying it, instead of just doing it to join the fad. I’m not saying species designs are useless in that sense either, just by the by, if you enjoy taking part in that community and have the funds for it then there’s absolutely no shame in enjoying that. I personally am not very invested in that sort of thing so it didn’t work out for me (I suffer from high functioning autism and as a result I’m very socially anxious, meaning taking part in almost any social/community based activity can be quite stressful. It’s just not my cup of tea).
So do I think that everything about species culture is bad? No, not necessarily. I may no longer have interest in owning species designs, but that does not mean they are all bad. I think a big thing that drives species culture is the community it gathers. I see a lot of people very happy to chat about species together, trade and swap them back and forth, create stories and art and roleplay together. I think that looks wonderful (if maybe a little bit glorified), and I’m glad that there are people unlike me that do find fun in owning these designs, together. The main problem that I find with this is of course, the price tag. In order to get into this community, you need to be either incredibly lucky or have a lot of money to spend. It’s like paying $500 for a Webkinz plush. So, the best way to get into that crowd if you don’t have either of those things is just to make art for other people, which doesn’t look too fun tbh, going out of your way to get into the crowd even though you’re still technically an outsider. All luck to you if that’s what you’re doing right now, or plan to do. Just think it through before you get too invested.
Following on from this point, species which have a lot of things set up for you to do with your design once you own it is a very good thing in the community too. It’s fun, heck, even I’m interested. This is why I’m still interested in Bagbeans (the, as of now, only closed species I really care about), because there are tasks which can be completed without having to involve yourself with other people, there’s always competitions going on and events, you earn things for your hard work in the group (which includes currency, upgrades, even the chance to win MYOs or new designs, and more), the community is huge and active and the people who manage the species care a lot about it and you don’t even have to do the tasks if you don’t want to. But the best thing about this species, I find, is that it is attainable by both kids (non-spenders) and adults (spenders). There are two DTAs every month, there are competitions where the prizes are often custom designs, you have the chance to be GIFTED MYO slots if you’re active in the community, and the ability to draw Bagbean related art for events and earn money beans (even if you don’t own a Bagbean), which you can eventually save up to pay for a Bagbean, among other things. Yes, there are still designs that go up for auction and flat sale, fetching ridiculously high prices. However, these designs are only paid for by people who are WILLING to pay for them, who have the funds for it and are happy to. It’s a lot of work for poor Griffsnuff, gotta say, but this system means that nearly everyone is accommodated for. I feel like if more groups like this were made it might restore a little bit of my faith in the species community xD but honestly, if you’re going to do it then organise a group of people for it who can all make designs, you don’t want to overwork yourself.
So, we’re a good 3000 words into this essay, and I’ve been sitting here writing this so long that I started to starve and get light headed, so I think I should probably draw my conclusion from all this.
Firstly, what do I think of the species community and why? I feel personally, that at this stage, the species community is actually rather toxic. Nobody is brave enough to step up and say hey, actually, maybe this isn’t as great as we make it out to be. I’m not trying to say that I’m some hero for saying this, but honestly I didn’t think I’d ever actually share this opinion. I felt particularly driven to rant about it today, and I’ve written so much now, I suppose there’s no going back. I feel this way about species and the community around it because I constantly see examples of it all around me, all the time, so much ignorance... I tend to keep these thoughts to myself. Today just happened to be the day I decided to run into a hot coal fire. We’ll see how burnt and crisp I come out the other end.
So, what does this all mean? When I step back, I think it means that we need to start thinking things through more deeply, try to tone down the impulsiveness and ignorance. Perhaps even a simple warning of “don’t feel worked up if you can’t afford the species, it’s meant for an older audience” in the description of auction deviations would help, just a little (though there’s probably a better way to word it, my brain is beginning to fail me). We should make species communities more open and helpful, more like real businesses with support communities that can help ease younger members into knowing more about the ins and outs of species, and how it really functions in the bigger picture (instead of leaving them to dedicate large portions of their younger art life to trying to attain this mystical, magical trophy object they’ll never really need). Or maybe one day, we’ll have websites specifically for species communities, rather than it being hosted exclusively on deviantArt with its young userbase.
Finally, I’d like to end by saying that the community CAN get better. There’s already examples here on the website of good ways to accommodate for most audiences, and the idea of species isn’t a completely bad thing when used in moderation and used well. I think that overall, things just got out of hand. I don’t know if this will ever change, if this journal will ever make a difference to anything or be just be glossed over, or what the future holds for species. But I gave by 2,289,894,769 cents.
If you made it all the way to the end, then Jesus fucking Christ man you need to lie down right now, get some water, look outside at the sky for a while, I know I’m going to need to. Black text lines on a bright white background have been burnt into the back of my retinas by this point.
And fun fact: This essay was approximately 2400 words longer than the one I was actually meant to be writing for class. If that’s not procrastination at its finest then I don’t know what is.