Furry Network's commission system - bringing the dealer's den home
Back in November 2015, Fur Affinity lost control of its forums. The dramatic departure of forum moderators caused an exodus of users to the up-and-coming Furry Network. This furry art site is owned by Varka, an entrepreneur better-known for his business of adult toy manufacture, Bad Dragon, then for online endeavors.
But coming into the furry art site operation with real world business experience, the toy maker and the staff of Furry Network have the potential to make a marketplace unlike anything currently offered by the slew of social art sites. In December 2015, they put forth their idea: a site that would help alleviate the fraud and hassle that furry artists run into when taking commissions from strangers on the Internet, by acting as the intermediary between artist and consumer.
This March, Furry Network made its big first step in the direction toward this goal. Their site’s commission system opened, to a handful of pre-selected artists, to test out the features. Users could request commissions directly on the page, and all status and interaction would then take place on the site. This story reviews my experience with the new system, and how it could change everything about the furry economy as we know it.
How it works
You can currently find this marketplace within the community section of the site. From there it is located on the sidebar under the Open for Commissions section. This will bring up user avatars of those who are open for business. By clicking on these you are brought to their commission page which will, hopefully, be filled out with pertinent information such as terms of service and offered products.
If you like what they have to offer, you can click on a Request Commission button at the top of this page. This will open up a form in which you make an inquiry. You can include the details you need, or just start the conversation to later hash out more details.
The purchase then proceeds by steps in the on-site artist/buyer interaction tool:
- New Requests - Acts like an instant messenger where you and the artist discuss what you're looking for. After the artist has a good idea, they'll submit a scope of work to you – in essence outlining what they will provide as the final product.
- Pending Scope Approval - This message from the artist is a formal specification of what they're providing. You can either decline, or accept at that point. When you accept, you submit your payment. The payment currently goes to Furry Network, who escrows your money during the remaining steps.
- Scope Accepted - After you pay, the work goes into this status. It is up to the artist to move it to the next stage.
- Scope Rejected - Haven’t tried this out. Clearly this means you declined the scope provided at pending approval. According to the commissions page, the scope may be revised, or the commission cancelled by either party.
- In Progress - The artist flags this when they start on the piece. Depending on how busy they are, it could take some time to get to. During this phase, the buyer can ask for status; the artist can show sketches for approval and highlight progress.
- Completed - The artist puts it into this phase when they complete the work. Typically they will attach the finished product to the message that changes it to this phase. It is then up to the buyer to approve the final product. If they don't do anything, it will automatically be approved a week later.
- Approved - Once the buyer approves, the commission's journey comes to rest. The money given to Furry Network is forwarded onto the artist.
- Cancelled - If the project is in this phase, then this means the project was cancelled either by the artist or buyer. At this point the money is returned from Furry Network to the purchaser as a refund. I haven’t tried out canceling these and clearly it is a thing to be avoided, but things can happen. Buyer needs the money back for an emergency, the artist took on too much and couldn’t get to the job done in a timely fashion, etcetera.
The greatest strength of the system is in its premise. It alleviates the stress of trust that comes from the artist interaction with their customers. The sort of stand off that occurs between an artist that was burned by a past client taking the art and running before paying after completion and a client who had paid the artist upfront, only to not hear from them for years. Furry Network taking the money from the buyer right away ensures that money is available before work begins, and that the artist is not rewarded until they finish their craft.
Of course when the process works as intended it is a very beautiful thing. However, the question is what happens when it doesn’t? There can be very grey area conflicts that come up during a business process. What if the buyer really isn’t happy with the product despite the scope being technically met, and they refuse to approve? What happens when the artist didn’t quite meet the scope, but refuses to go any further?
To answer these questions the site offers its Buyer Protection Program which goes over the circumstances in which the buyer can withdraw their money from escrow. While it may seem with a title like that the system will be buyer-biased, the seller could cancel anytime and give the money back to the buyer with little hassle. It is the buyer who needs to make the case on why they should be able to pull their money out during the working phase.
However there are more benefits to the current way this marketplace is set up. Window shopping for furry art and writing is now far easier than it used to be in other sites. Sure, if you know who is who in the furry world, it may be easy to know who you want art from and where to go. But what if you need work right now at this very moment?
Who’s open? Who’s closed?
You’d need to do extensive searches across different profiles in order get the answer to this on other sites. Hopefully you’d have had some linked directly to artists you were interested in to help. But window shopping is near impossible. With a list of those now open for commission, Furry Network makes it very possible to buy art at a whim; wallets beware!
But what if you're a connoisseur, waiting for a specific artist to open their doors to get work from that special someone, for that special someone? Worry not! You can flag the artist’s profile to have Furry Network alert you when they do open for business.
Well-established work scopes will be necessary to prevent the grey areas which could lead to conflict in the transaction. In truth, though, scopes can be different in one’s head than they are on paper. If an artist is not good at writing a concise scope, they could find themselves in trouble. If a buyer is not reading carefully what they are paying for, they could be unpleasantly surprised and get caught in a bad situation. Advice and rules can be found on Furry Network's documentation site.
As people get used to the system, these issues should start to taper, but how Furry Network handles the handful of troubled commission exchanges will paint its reputation more than hundreds of successful ones. Balance and consistency in decisions that don’t show favoritism toward buyer or artist will be key to continued viability in the fandom.
There seems to be a way to stop an artist who shows a troubling pattern of behavior from using the Furry Network system to solicit work, though it's not clear if that applies to buyers. Maybe they'll just ban those who are seen abusing the system from the site outright. Only time will tell.
Another potential weakness will not be seen in the closed beta phase. When the doors open to any artist to open up for commissions, the page will become crowded. At that point, as a consumer, some ability to search through the slog of avatars to find the actual artist or writer one might want will be increasingly difficult.
Currently, you have to click on the icon to go to their commission page. From there you may find that the user with that beautiful, eye-catching icon is not an artist but a writer, offering fiction commissions instead. Those using Furry Network to sell their goods are going to have to learn that it may be best to make your icon reflect the services you provide, if nothing changes about the system itself. Ideally, Furry Network should make categories for commissions pages that would allow one to filter on services; such as writers, artists, fursuit makers…
One final issue, to some, may be that the buyer’s payment is made to Varka's “Bad Dragon LLC”, which already has a relationship with CCBill – their processor of choice, specializing in foreign and ‘high risk’ transactions. Don’t be surprised if your credit card flags this transaction as suspicious (and asks you to confirm to proceed), as it did for me when I tried this. If seeing “Bad Dragon” on your statement for PG artwork from a non-affiliated artist makes you uncomfortable, be wary of using this system. If it's possible for them to change account names, I suggest using Furry Network LLC instead. I’m sure fewer Bad Dragon customers would mind being billed under the name Furry Network than Furry Network consumers being slapped with a charge from Bad Dragon. As of April 10th this has been resolved and transactions will be seen as Furry Network; see update note above.
The foundations are exceptionally promising. This system resolves an underlying problem with interactions between consumers and the creators they purchase from. Even better, for the site, it keeps artists and commissioners engaged with Furry Network throughout the transaction. The green notification bell indicating newly received messages gains a sense of excitement. Maybe it will be the finished product you pine for, or a notice that a customer has submitted their payment and is waiting for you to get started on your newest project.
The success and failure of this marketplace will be entirely dictated upon its perceived fairness. Artists need to be able to trust Furry Network to have their back against egregious customers. They also need to know that, as an up-and-coming creator, they won’t always be buried beneath more-popular sellers on the commission page. Similarly, buyers need to feel the system is fair to them and their needs.