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Asset Flip

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A game made almost entirely with store-bought game assets.

This trope has been Nuked
Proposed By:
Schol-R-LEA on Apr 29th 2017 at 12:54:35 PM
Last Edited By:
Schol-R-LEA on May 5th 2017 at 12:57:14 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Since the introduction of inexpensive and even free open-source game development tools starting around 2005, one of the key elements of the democratization of game development has been the trade in pre-made assets which can be included in games. Generally speaking, this has been a useful thing, as it gives independent developers a starting point for their work; they don't need to recreate common elements such as trees, wall textures, furniture, NPCs, and the like; they make it easy to mock-up the game early on with stock assets that can be replaced with more game-specific ones later; and the character and object models can serve as a template for creating original models.

However, as with many things, this freedom comes with a price: while it can give capable developers a lever to push good ideas even further, it has also allowed passable games to be created with considerably less effort. This has partially contributed to market oversaturation and these games often rely on a low budget/low returns model, as well as residuals from platform-specific monetization such as Steam Trading Cards.

The logical extreme of this is when the developer takes a fully pre-made game package - ones sold either as tutorials or as frameworks for building a more complete game - and re-packages it as an original work.

Frustration with this development model led games critic Jim Sterling to coin the term 'asset flip' for this, by analogy to the process of 'flipping' real estate, that is, purchasing a property at an extremely low price (often in a foreclosure or seizure auction), performing some repairs, and selling it for several times the purchase price. House flipping is entirely legal, but can be considered mildly unethical when the flipper puts almost no effort into restoring the property or does only cosmetic fixes for serious issues. Asset flipping, too, is legal (assuming the assets were purchased rather than pirated), but since it can be done repeatedly with the same game, and with the same assets in nominally different games, it is seen in a much harsher light by its detractors.

The rise of online game marketplaces with minimal barriers to entry, such as the Google Android Store and Steam's Greenlight program, has led to hundreds or even thousands of would-be developers taking this approach, either as a way to raise capital for more serious development projects, or in some cases, as the primary source of income from the program.

The problem game industry critics see in this is less about the lack of effort in developing new models, per se, as it is about perceived cynicism behind its inception. Inexpensive assets, while a boon overall to indie developers, have also indirectly contributed to the market saturation that makes it hard for games to be discovered and assessed by both players and reviewers. Developers using this approach have been accused of depending on low consumer commitment - in a saturated field where the number of games available is so vast, and the cost of a bad purchase so low, that a significant percentage of players are willing to spend a small sum on things unknown games and then write off purchases afterward if they don't like the game - to make sales without regard to the perceived quality of the work.

Asset flipping can lead to popular asset models appearing in several unrelated games, detracting from player immersion for many players. Also, games using flipped assets often use whatever assets the developers happen to have already bought - they often mix elements that are radically different in design and tone (e.g., mixing realistic character models with highly cartoonish or stylized ones), or ones from drastically different periods and settings, which also can affect immersion.

This is a Video Game Production Process trope, or perhaps a game marketing and sales trope, though similar 'methods' can and have occurred in other media. Because this is a controversial and highly subjective trope, there should be No Examples, Please.

Feedback: 17 replies

Apr 29th 2017 at 7:50:02 PM

Not really. The focus here is less on the lack of effort in modeling, per se, as it is on the lack of design for the game as a whole - the use of off-the-shelf assets is a boon to indie developers in general, as mentioned earlier, but it has also had the effect of enabling the equivalent of shell game hucksters to make a quick buck off of a saturated market where the number of games available is so vast and the cost of a bad purchase is low enough that players are willing throw a few bucks onto things sight-unseen and just write off the purchase afterwards if they don't like it.

Apr 29th 2017 at 8:01:42 PM

I've actually added a modified version of that statement and some additional details to the proposed article to clarify the issue.

Apr 29th 2017 at 9:52:28 PM

Ugh, this is complaining magnet. Please rewrite the description to be more neutral in tone. Tropes Are Not Bad.

"Examples of games alleged to use ...". Nope. This makes it sound like you're accusing and demonizing certain games. We don't do that. Just put "Examples", like all other tropes in the site. While at that, the example section is filled with Zero Context Example, and the few that aren't are also filled with complaining about the game's quality.

And you need to torch the entire "Developers accused of" section. We do NOT trope real people or groups or companies, only fictional ones.

Apr 29th 2017 at 11:37:06 PM

From the Description:

  • "...facilitate lazy or unscrupulous developers to throw together an incoherent mess of a game with virtually no effort, and flood the market with a huge number of barely playable games..."
  • "...simply as a way of gaming the system."
  • "...lack of design for, or even interest in, the games as a whole on the part of the developers."
  • "...enabling the equivalent of shell game hucksters to come into online marketplaces to make a quick buck."
  • "...notably incoherent in their art styles...to the detriment of the game's look and feel."

And the examples:

  • "...only worsens the already poor experience."
  • "most notorious examples of...small army of egotistical and self-important indie developers...infamous
  • "...cliche-ridden and often offensive...little effort made to make the mini-games original or even playable."

A textbook case of Complaining About Games and Developers You Don't Like. If this were to be launched as is, it would immediately become filled with Justifying Edits, Natter, Edit Wars, violations of the Rule Of Cautious Editing Judgment and TV Tropes Customs - Don't be a dick, and so on.

The moderators have made it absolutely clear on numerous occasions that they do NOT want any more complaining tropes like this one, period.

Bomb thrown hard.

Also, in case this gets cleaned up:

Zero Context Examples have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.

Apr 30th 2017 at 6:17:01 AM

The above excellently describes the negatives of this trope. With that said, I think this concept could be salvaged, but...

It needs to be a zero-example trope OR a Useful Notes.

The fact of the matter is that that Asset Flipping is real, and you can avoid flame wars and Complaining About Games And Developers You Dont Like if you simply don't list them. Define the concept thoroughly, add a link to it to vaguely related pages, but don't go directly insulting others.

With that said, I do wonder if it'd be acceptable to list common sources of asset flipping, without listing any products derived from those sources. It's not insulting to list Unity or Unreal templates as these are the legitimate original work that others rip off.

Apr 30th 2017 at 6:18:35 AM

Point made. At this stage, I probably should nuke it - I was adding it primarily in support of some of the existing pages (primarily the ones for the gaming critics who use the term), and, well, I let my own opinions get the better of my caution. Does anyone have anything else to say before I burn this to the ground?

Apr 30th 2017 at 6:35:18 AM

I don't think this would need unpersoning. However, this would be more fitting as a zero-example.

Apr 30th 2017 at 7:20:00 AM

Schol-R-LEA: Check my post above yours. In the interest of repairing this article, I'd like to address the problems Arvine listed:

"...it also facilitate lazy or unscrupulous developers to throw together an incoherent mess of a game with virtually no effort, and flood the market with a huge number of barely playable games..."

This brings up a bit of concern...because this sounds like something Jim Sterling has once said. Did you directly quote him without attribution? Regardless, here's a possible rephrasing for that one (and the rest of that paragraph):

it has also allowed passable games to be created with considerably less effort. This has partially contributed to market oversaturation and these games often rely on a low budget/low returns model, as well as residuals from platform-specific monetization such as Steam Trading Cards.

"...or simply as a way of gaming the system."

or as a primary source of income.

"...as it is about the lack of design for, or even interest in, the games as a whole on the part of the developers."

as it is about perceived cynicism behind its inception.

"...have also had the effect of enabling the equivalent of shell game hucksters to come into online marketplaces to make a quick buck."

have also indirectly contributed to the market saturation that makes it hard for them to be discovered. (pretty much had to go and change the meaning of this one entirely, almost said "nuke the sentence")

"are notably incoherent in their art styles - "

Remove these characters.

", to the detriment of the game's look and feel"

These too.

(Laconic) A game 'developer' uses pre-made game assets unaltered with no attempt at originality.

A game made almost entirely with store-bought game assets.

May 5th 2017 at 9:56:58 AM

The statement in question was not a direct quote, however, I agree that your re-framing of this in more neutral terms, and moving away from phrasing that is a close echo of Sterling's, is called for. I will implement your recommendations ASAP.

May 5th 2017 at 9:56:58 AM

The statement in question was not a direct quote, however, I agree that your re-framing of this in more neutral terms, and moving away from phrasing that is a close echo of Sterling's, is called for. I will implement your recommendations ASAP.

May 5th 2017 at 9:56:58 AM

The statement in question was not a direct quote, however, I agree that your re-framing of this in more neutral terms, and moving away from phrasing that is a close echo of Sterling's, is called for. I will implement your recommendations ASAP.

May 5th 2017 at 9:56:58 AM

The statement in question was not a direct quote, however, I agree that your re-framing of this in more neutral terms, and moving away from phrasing that is a close echo of Sterling's, is called for. I will implement your recommendations ASAP.

May 5th 2017 at 9:56:58 AM

The statement in question was not a direct quote, however, I agree that your re-framing of this in more neutral terms, and moving away from phrasing that is a close echo of Sterling's, is called for. I will implement your recommendations ASAP.

May 5th 2017 at 9:58:39 AM

I don't know why that repeat-posted, something odd must have happened in my browser (not sure what I did wrong there). Is there any way to delete the duplicates?

May 5th 2017 at 12:57:14 PM

Anyway, I've made the recommended changes now. Does anyone have any comments on it as it stands?

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