Asset Flips: What They Are And How A Game Developer Should Use Them

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Join us as we discuss what an Asset Flip is, their drawbacks and benefits, and how to ethically use them as a developer.

With the advent of game-making programs such as Unity or the RPG Maker series, it’s easier than ever to simply follow a game-making tutorial and sell it. That’s bad. However, pre-existing assets do have a valid reason for existing, and that’s good.

Let’s discuss both sides of the coin.

First though, let’s define what an Asset Flip is. The term ‘Asset Flip’ wouldn’t normally require upper-case letters, but I’ve chosen to do that here in this one article.

Unity Asset Store

What is an Asset Flip?

Asset Flip is a term credited to the controversial-yet-usually-correct YouTube content creator Jim Sterling. The term, and what’s wrong with the current usage of it, is perfectly described by Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson in his article ‘No, PUBG Is Not An Asset Flip’:

On Steam, ‘asset flip’ refers to a game that’s haphazardly assembled from pre-purchased environments, objects, and sound effects for the purpose of making a quick buck. Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to refer to. Over time, the definition of ‘asset flip’ seems to have devolved into “anything that ever uses a pre-made asset,” and is now a weaponised insult.

In more basic terms, it simply means ‘any published/relased game which overly relies on pre-made assets’.

The problem, of course, is the necessary additions of the qualifiers ‘haphazardly’ and ‘overly relies’ in the previous sentences: The issue isn’t that pre-made objects are used – it’s in how they’re used.

There’s also a grey area: Early Access titles.

For example, the two games whose pictures feature in this article, My Island and Outback Survival, both use a very similar crafting system (which is presumably a Unity asset). However, they’re both still regularly updated and the individual crafting systems have changed quite a bit since launch. That’s how Early Access (and pre-made assets) should be used, so we’ll give them a free pass and say that they don’t qualify as Asset Flips because they’re still being worked on.

This is a good reminder: EVERYTHING about a game can come pre-made, including user interfaces, icons, and even game systems/mechanics.

My Island crafting system – take note of the icons for wood, stone, water, and meat (on the toolbar at the bottom)

3 Reasons Asset Flips Aren’t Good For The Gaming Industry

1 – Asset Flips can lessen the overall quality of games in general.

I’m sure we’ve all got workmates or fellow students that just do their work half-heartedly. How do they make you feel? Angry? Disappointed? Ambivalent about your work? Given that so-called AAA-game devs are already, for the most part, incredibly lazy is it really wise to give them even more of a reason to just be creatively bankrupt?

Imagine a world where Halo just uses the assets from the original Doom instead of its own graphics. Sure, it’d still be fun, but would it have been such a breakout hit which would then go on to impact gamers the world over?

The less creative that the industry becomes, the less important that video games in general become. Art should be about finding new ways to share new ideas, not about repeating ways to copy-and-paste crap.

2 – Asset Flips contribute to creators getting less work.

If you’re going to spend money on a bunch of 3d models, why not offer the same amount of money to a 3D modeller and see if they’ll do the job for you? If you’re going to spend money on some music, why not try offering the same amount of money to a musician? If you like the look (or sound) of some free content, why not chase up the creator and see if they’re interested in doing some paid custom work for you?

Even if it ends up costing more than buying store-bought assets (or even pirating them for that matter), at least your game will have a unique aesthetic. And that’s priceless.

3 – Asset Flips give certain gamemaking programs a bad name.

There are people who refuse to buy games made with my preferred game makers, the RPG Maker series. This is a good example because there are literally thousands of plugins and possibly millions of graphics and sounds available for it, many of them for free. And you can use these to make very unique games – if you’re prepared to put the effort in. Which the majority of users aren’t, sadly.

If we take a look at the DLC for any entries into the RPG Maker series, then we’ll notice it’s basically all assets. So, if you buy some of the DLC assets and make a game with it, why is that bad?

I mean, isn’t that literally what it’s for? Well, simply put, Store-bought Assets are ideally used as placeholders or maybe as a basis for your own creative works.

Outback Survival crafting system – take note of the icons for wood, stone, water, and meat (on the toolbar at the bottom). The wood and stone icons differ from My Island, the water and meat icons don’t – for now.

How To Use Pre-Made Assets In An Ethical Manner

And that’s where the Asset Flip problem is. Asset Flippers haven’t made a finished game, they’ve made a finished prototype. Which is, of course, fine – any finished project in any medium is something to be proud of in the sense that you’ve completed your goals.

Let’s go back to our imaginary example of Halo being like the original Doom. They both have single-player campaigns but they both shine as multiplayer experiences, they both feature first-person shooter-based combat against an enemy force, they both feature space marines as the playable characters – and so on. But Halo brings other things to the table. Doom didn’t have shields or regenerating health or different classes.

To recap:

– Asset Flips are bad if they’re sold as games, but they’re great if they’re used as a game prototype or work-in-progress.

– Using standard or store-bought assets can be useful to save time and energy if you want to try a certain idea or test new and unique game mechacnics.

– They’re forgivable for free games that you’re making to teach yourself how to code (or how to use a game maker or whatever)

– Using them (and leaving them in the finished product) in games you’re going to release for sale is, for better or worse, considered the mark of a truly amateur creator.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for developers: A finished Asset Flip is just a half-finished game.

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