A closer look on the usefulness of game asset stores
Submitted by Duion on
After my article on why most open source game art is useless I wanted to also take a closer look on the usefulness of game asset stores. Since they are quite common now and an essential part of most game engines, people might think they are very useful and a great invention, so let us break down if that is true.
First I want to say that commercial asset stores are completely useless to me, since I'm making an open source game, to which all proprietary content is incompatible to, but I want to make a general analysis, if they are at least good for what they are intented for.
Use the original article for reference since I will address the problems with open source game art now, if they still exist with commercial asset stores: https://duion.com/blogs/why-most-open-source-game-art-useless
1. Not enough content of a certain kind or style was available
-This problem still exists with asset stores, but less intense, since content creators usually create more content in the same style, but you will face the problem again, if you need assets of a different field, that the certain asset creator you buy from does not offer, which forces you to buy from other asset creators that produce what you need, if they exist.
2. Too low quality content to be usable
-This problem is solved pretty well, since most people selling in asset stores know at least the basics, so most content you buy is at least somewhat usable, depending on the store and if they do content curation. Only on higher quality levels you will run into problems, but the baseline of quality is much higher for the most part.
3. Unfinished content that would require significant work to finish
-Not that much of an issue since most products on asset stores are obviously finished products, only in rare cases, people sell unfinished art for example as "prototyping art"
4. Inconsistent art style, since every artist has his own style
-Similar to problem 1, somewhat better than in the open source world, but if you are forced to buy from someone else the style will no longer fit, but since general quality is higher, it is not that big of a problem.
5. Restrictive licenses especially GPL (who the hell applies GPL to art and how is that even supposed to work?)
-Commercial licenses are usually much more restrictive, so here is where open source game art scores obviously, but GPL like licenses are even more restrictive if you want to do something commercially, so commercial/proprietary licenses are better in that case. There is also the case where open source licenses do not allow the use of DRM ( digital rights management ) , in that case the open source licenses are also worse than the commercial ones. So it really depends on the case which is better.
6. Incompatible art created for another purpose
-You will not find that issue much with asset stores, since asset stores are usually tied to a specific engine or purpose, so it is mandatory to produce compatible content.
7. Total incompetence of the creator, resulting in a major mistakes that make the art asset useless, even if it looked good
-This also does not happen that often, but in rare cases it still exists, I knew cases of assets from asset stores that had textures that were not power of two. So maybe not total incompetence like it is common in the open source world, but average or slight levels of incompetence are normal in humans it seems.
8. Illegal content, many release content as open source that is incompatible with open source or downright stolen
-This is also a problem with asset stores depending how much they care about it. Some asset stores are free from that and others are filled with stolen content and the site does not care, since they make money from it. If you use them in proprietary projects it is often less of a problem, since the licenses allow that, while proprietary licenses do not allow the use in open source, which makes the use of those assets illegal by default in that case. So if used in a proprietary closed source project, it is harder to prove that the asset was stolen or they are even legal to use, since many assets primarily textures are partly free, you just pay to get more bandwidth for downloading them. Overall if a store is tied to a specific game engine, it is probably very safe to use and if not, there is someone caring about it, general asset stores or those where general users contribute are still potentially dangerous to use.
9. You could do it better yourself, which removes the necessity to use open source entirely
-In commercial asset stores the content is usually created by professionals, so it is not very likely you will be able to create better content yourself, if you are not yourself a skilled artist with many years of experience. Though there is a point here which is more about consistency and style, which I will get more into later.
So overall an asset store seems to score in most cases versus content that is available as free and open source, which is kind of obvious since it is professional people making money with it.
Capitalism clearly wins as it seems, but I have some major critique points that address problems with the philosophical paradigm of having asset stores in the first place.
The major problem is game asset stores arose with the upcoming of game engines marketed to the end user, claiming they could make games, without needing the skills to create the necessary content, which is obviously a marketing lie. Even if it was possible for the end user to really create working games, how much worth will they have, if they all use the same assets? It either will result in a flooding of the game market with so called asset flips, where people just buy assets and release them as a game, thinking they have achieved something, or result in people buying the assets and never really producing anything with it, which is basically just wasted money. So no matter how it turns out, the result is bad and you cannot really tell which outcome is worse, they seem to be both just equally bad. So overall I think asset stores primarily target the so called dreamer customer, selling them a lie. They rely on those customer base, since that is the only way they can make profit. Imagine only serious game developers would buy those often cheap assets and they will use them in a finished game, first of they would sell a very very tiny amount, resulting in them making no profit and the market gets flooded with asset flips or at least games that use the same assets, which is fine for a few times, but the more they are used the more obvious it gets. So overall I think the asset stores, even though they offer quite good content overal are immoral to begin with, because they target dreamers and sell lies.
You cannot really make a full large scale game using only asset store items, there is simply not enough. I did browse some asset stores just theoretically, looking if I could fill all the necessary items I would need for a full scale 3D shooter with asset store items and even using everything the store had to offer, I still could not fill all the spots I needed, there is just so much you need, textures, levels, terrains, scenery models, trees, plants, grass, characters, animations, weapon models, sound effects, music, ambient sounds, particle effects, GUI elements etc etc. So you almost always end up with something missing and then you need to start learning how to do it yourself, which exposes the lie of the game engine marketing that you can make a full game without having the skills to produce everything on your own. Alternatively you can pay artists to make content specifically to your needs, but this will blow up your budget by quite a lot, since asset stores that are mass produced and sold to a lot of customers are often cheaper by orders of magnitude. For example a weapon model may cost you 100 to produce, if you pay an artist, but on an asset store you may get 10 weapons for 10, so people get a wrong idea on how much things really cost and the 100 for a weapon model is already very cheap, it could easily be much higher.
Another reason why you cannot make a game with art bought in an asset store is obviously the style. Art ist defined as something unique, if you copy it, it becomes a knockoff, so asset stores are degrading art to knockoffs on a grand scale. If you make a game, your art style has to be unique, if you are serious about it, there is no way around it. Games are an art form and if they are not art, well then they are not art anymore and the way art becomes non-art is by copying it. You are allowed to use ready made content to some degree, but you have to add your own art style to it, at least something to make it unique, which requires you to have the skills to do it and if you have the skills to do it, why not do everything on your own? This is the same as the problem with open source art, if you don't have the skills to make the art, there most likely will not be enough freely available for your needs and if you have the skills yourself to do it better, why bother with the ready made content?
Let's face it, no serious developer would ever buy their art in an asset store, the reasons should be obvious, just imagine the same characters that make up your game show up in another game completely out of context, it just just make everything ridiculous and you will likely be shamed publicly. Imagine you could buy Star-Wars models in an asset store, where are you going to use them? It would appear ridiculous in anything that is not a sequel or parody to Star-Wars, you cannot really do anything with them. Luckily asset stores mostly do not sell iconic items, but this will leave your game to be totally generic without character, which no serious developer would ever do.
In short my problem with asset stores in general are:
1. They run on a marketing lie and selling to dreamers that will never succeed in what they are promised, which is immoral.
2. Same problem as with the open source game art, which is you will most likely not find enough and needing you to learn to produce it yourself, which limits the use of ready made content to begin with.
3. If you use copied or mass produced content, it is not really art anymore by definition.
4. Flooding the market with low quality asset flips.
5. No serious developer would use them, leaving the market to unserious ones, producing unserious products.
Thats my summary with asset stores, yes point 1&2 and 3&4 are quite similar, but I listed them separately since one is more the moral aspect and the other is the practical aspect.
My advice would be that you better look into buying better tools or content creators, this way you get the benefits of both worlds, you get the time savings of asset stores and you still have unique content, that you produced yourself and in the long run your money investment pays off more in work saved and you also will improve your art skills, kind of a win win situation. This also seems to be the trend in the serious gaming industry, selling high quality tools with lots of templates that reduce the workload by a lot. To be honest this can result in the same thing like having asset flip like games, since most people are probably too lazy to change the templates from the tools, but I think the mere fact, that you at least have to put in some work yourself, to create the content, will filter out most of the incompetent people. Another exception is raw materials or raw models, like things you cannot really change much or add your own style to it, since they are just a representation of reality, like phototextures or object geometry. I think you can even use asset store items sparingly without it being too obvious, if you put significant work into it yourself, though you probably should try to avoid it, since if you get caught using asset store items, it automatically makes you look dubious. Yes some games I will not name here are getting away with using lots of bought assets and people not really care that they get an inferior product, but just because some get away with poor corrupt company politics does not mean it is good.
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