The Definition of "Asset Flip"

ZedClampet

Community Contributor
The term "asset flip" was coined by Youtuber and game critic Jim Sterling in 2015. In its original use, an asset flip was generally a game that was purchased in the Unity asset store and then placed for sale on Steam. Larger assets typically came with a basic, premade game included to help indie developers get started in creating their own game. For some less scrupulous people, though, this basic game was all they needed to launch a game on Steam.

Over time, the definition of "asset flip" evolved for some gamers to encompass any game that purchased any of its 3D models, which is quite a different thing than the original intent of the of the term. This particular definition has been used widely by a certain group of gamers, who may or may not be followers of Jim Sterling, to attack and harass any indie developers thought to have purchased one or more 3D models. The most commonly used definition of the term asset flip today is simply a game that uses purchased assets and took little effort to make. That would seem to me a fair definition of an asset flip. Unfortunately, the arguably toxic gamers mentioned above automatically equate "purchased assets" with "little effort".

First of all, in game development terms, an "asset" is anything that is in the game or used to make the game, anything from game engines to 3D models and physics systems. One of the things that seems to be most misunderstood is that AAA developers almost always use purchased assets, even often for 3D models. A good source for this type of information is Jason Weimann, a well-respected former Sony developer who now has his own YouTube channel. As an example of bought 3D assets, SpeedTree is ubiquitous, as are other generative systems that might create various environmental assets quickly and efficiently. Sometimes even specific 3D models are purchased (and often modified), and stock photographs, as well. What's more, sometimes AAA companies will even use (hopefully rarely) free assets. Capcom, for instance, made the news a few years ago when they used a watermarked version of a stock photograph in a game.

Most game specific models used in AAA games are made in-house, but for large 3D indie games, which have become increasingly common, that's an unreasonable expectation. AAA games often have hundreds of developers (a couple have even had more than 1000), can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make and take years of development. The ability to do these things is why they are AAA developers. Indie developers generally can't afford that many people, and if it took 500 people 5 years to make a game, how long would it take 6 people to make a similarly large and complex game? It simply isn't feasible. The solution is to either let indie developers use the tools available to them to counteract their inability to brute force a large game, or to somehow not allow indie developers to make large games at all. This latter option is, in fact, what is being attempted when legions of toxic gamers descend upon an indie game and start making angry accusations against the developers. And it's a shame because many of these games took herculean effort and are quite good.

The current example is obviously Palworld, whose developers have frequently admitted to using purchased assets both in Palworld and in their previous game, Craftopia. The creatures in Palworld were almost entirely created by a single graduate student (though the actual modeling and animation has been described as an assembly line approach), which is a remarkable feat, but other assets, like trees for instance, were apparently purchased, though the developers haven't specifically stated which assets it purchased, and some game specific assets were obviously created in house. But if Palworld is being criticized for purchasing things like 3D models of trees and rocks, why isn't Sony being criticized for using SpeedTree? It is exactly the same thing: neither one of them made their own trees. No developer is spending thousands of hours making trees, yet that seems to be what this group of gamers wants. They would rather indie developers' time be wasted on the little things that no AAA developer actually does. Time that could be spent on vastly more important parts of game development. I'm using trees as an example, but this same philosophy can be applied to most 3D models in open-world games. A section of a realistic looking brick wall is simply a section of brick wall. What is the purpose of creating it over and over again?

In reality, a more important aspect for indie developers who are purchasing assets might be whether the assets match artistically and work together to create a specific artistic style. But trying to nail down exactly what we should be criticizing is beyond the scope of this post. The point here is simply to express my belief that some people are unfairly criticizing indie developers for doing the same sorts of things that AAA developers are doing. Surely they buy more assets and what-have-you, but they really have little choice due to budget and time constraints. If we want big indie games, and that's just about all that I play, so I surely do, then we need to adjust our expectations to allow for their creation.
 

Zloth

Community Contributor
I would call a game an asset flip if it were almost exactly like another game, except it switched out 3D models and textures to give the game a different feel. Essentially, the game is simply a mod for an existing game. That's not necessarily bad, but it should be done with full knowledge of the original game's owner and they should ask for less money from the player.

But yeah, the idea that everything be original to the game is ridiculous. How far down is that supposed to go? I've seen plenty of the things I've had to do myself back in the 90's now be simple commands built into the language today.

P.S. @Pifanjr - my entire house was built by other people, toilets included! Are you saying I have to go outside!? Thank goodness I trim my own bushes.
 
Sony being criticized for using SpeedTree? It is exactly the same thing: neither one of them made their own trees. No developer is spending thousands of hours making trees, yet that seems to be what this group of gamers wants.
I want individually modeled blades of grass in the next Elders Scrolls game just so people can make endless videos about it or start a rumour that 2 of them are the same and let people spend years looking.

The point here is simply to express my belief that some people are unfairly criticizing indie developers for doing the same sorts of things that AAA developers are doing.
they are because its okay if they do it, just no one else.

Lots of hypocrisy in this. Too much emotion, not enough logic.
 
You mean like almost every NFT game?
Is that even a thing still? I thought the whole NFT went down with the Bored Ape fiasco. I do think I heard talk about Dr. Disrespect using NFTs in his upcoming game, but he is probably not serious about it. Like, with the whole Logan Paul and his scummy CryptoZoo, surely nobody would be dumb enough to jump into a new wagon of shait, right?
 

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