The minds behind DnD Beyond suffered a mishap of sorts with how they managed an art contest, ultimately leading to the competition being removed entirely.
This all started on July 28th when they announced the contest itself. Fully titled as the DnD Beyond Frame Design Contest, it was going to be held from July 28th until August 18th. Participants had to submit unique or colorful designs for frames meant for character portraits on the digital platform DnD Beyond. Winners would receive digital book bundles on the popular online platform. These bundles would range from having all of Fifth Edition's officially published adventures like Storm King's Thunder, Tomb of Annihilation, and Curse of Strahd, to a legendary bundle which would include over 40 books (roughly $800 dollars of material) including all of the game's core books, supplements, and adventures as the grand prize.
While not a bad idea on paper, the response on social media was negative. Concerns were immediately raised regarding the ethics of the contest itself. Many artists who have done commissions before regarded the contest as spec work dressed up as a fun competition. In the graphic design field (and many others), spec work is short for "speculative," and usually regards a client demanding to see examples of the finished work by the artist before they even agree on a fee. In the worst-case scenarios, the artist effectively works for free, teased with the possibility of future stable employment and financial compensation only for the client to either undervalue the work submitted or just not pay at all. Because of this, the practice is seen as highly unethical by graphic design artists.
There were a few brief clarifications by DnD Beyond regarding ownership of the art as well as the artist's rights. The artist in question would still own the work in question and that the portrait frame design would be available to everyone on the platform for free. The artwork itself would not be monetized. It didn't do much to dissuade the association of the contest with a more roundabout version of working for exposure. There were also questions over several of the terms and conditions that people had, although with the removal of the competition we can't see the objectionable T&C anymore.
Shortly thereafter, DnD Beyond did issue a formal apology and pulled the art contest. The apology in question mentioned that they would try to do better in the future to showcase the creative side of the Dungeons and Dragons community. It is difficult to admit you are wrong in any context, especially with a company that has as passionate a fanbase as this one, but at least this was addressed before things escalated much further.