Ultimate Guide to Game Asset Marketplaces

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Introduction

Game asset marketplaces are great sources to get high-quality and cheap assets for your game. Whether you are using them for a personal or a commercial project, you can save a lot of money and time.
 
They are perfect for kick-starting your project, prototyping, populating your world with general elements, developing the mood of your game, and making it more attractive for your future players or investors. Pre-made game assets and marketplaces are beneficial for solo developers and small indie game studios who have to work on a tight budget.
 
In this post, I provide an all-encompassing rundown of game assets, including an explanation of why game assets are essential, where you can buy them and how to get the best deals.
A cleric blinds his opponents

What are Game Assets?

The asset is a term in game development that we use as a collective noun for the different game elements: graphics elements (characters, environments, icons, images), background music, visual or sound effects. Specific marketplaces call scripts and in-engine tools assets as well.
 
In short, we can say that any part of the game that an artist or a designer makes or extends the game engine functionality is an asset.
 
You can buy pre-made assets on several marketplaces and use them in your own game. The main advantage of these stock assets is that you can get high-quality assets cheaply and instantly.

Terms to Know

AAA (Triple-A): Games created and released typically by mid-size or major publishers; usually anything that is not classified as “indie.”
Game designer: One who designs the aesthetic and structure of a game. NOTE: The terms “game designer” and “game developer” are often used interchangeably, though the two roles technically vary.
Game developer turns a game design into a playable game through coding and in-engine asset creation.
Game engine: Software that offers a suite of tools and features to game developers to build their games professionally and efficiently.
Model: A fully 3D asset in a video game created by adding textures and other features to a mesh.
Prop: Interactive objects in a game.
Prototyping: Creating different early versions of a game to explore other mechanics and features to decide which will be best for the whole game.
 
Here’s more common terminology you’ll hear throughout your career as a game developer, including game genres and terms you’ll find in Unity.

The Pros and Cons of using pre-made Game Asset

The Pros
  • Price: pre-made assets are cheaper than custom-made ones because they are made for the masses, not for a single customer.
  • Time: you get the product instantly after purchase, and you don’t have to wait for the product.
  • Predictability: you can learn a lot about the product before buying. Watch youtube videos, check the screenshots, read the reviews, and ensure this is what you need. 
  • Test proofed: since many others are already using the asset, you will encounter fewer problems (and if you do, you can rely on the community help) 
The Cons
  • Not unique: The assets you get won’t be unique to your game: the lower the price, the higher the chance a game already contains it.
  • Style matching: When you want to combine the different products from multiple artists, the style difference can be a rough problem.

Is using pre-made assets a good idea?

It isn’t unusual for game developers of any size to take advantage of prop packs, materials, and landscapes so that they don’t need to spend the art budget to make garbage cans, for example. 
 
In his GDC Talk (No Time, No Budget, No Problem), David Wehle, the creator of commercially successful “The First Tree“, recommends using pre-made assets when on a low budget and says he probably wouldn’t finish the game if not those.

The most common problem that inexperienced game developers make when using such assets is inconsistency. Because of this, the game looks “non-professional” and “cheap”. To avoid this, you can modify the assets to make them feel different. 

 
Here are some examples how others are using pre-made assets in their games:
  • Lionel “Seith” Gallat used Final IK and Amplify Shader from the asset store during Ghost of a Tail development
  • Team Cherry used the 2D Toolkit and the Playmaker for Hollow Knight.
  • Refractive Entertainment is an excellent example of using art assets. In their game, Luminary,  they cleverly modified pre-made 3D assets to make them more unique and match better to their art style.
  • Gameloft uses the Asset Store for its projects. “Whenever we need something off-the-shelf, it’s probably for sale or available for free in the Asset Store,” said Forestié in this case study.
  • Blizzard Entertainment used PlayMaker in Hearthstone to create scripted events alongside their animation system, and this enabled their art team to make fantastic in-game  events independently.
 
You can see, even the big AAA games are using assets from previous games or bought sources. Of course, they are the average, everyday object which does not leave any impression.
 Quixel Megascan is one of the most popular sources. Metro Exodus, Battlefield V, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider are just a few examples.

Picking the right Marketplace for your needs

There are several platforms where you can find game assets. In this section, I share a list of the essential marketplaces you should know about.
 
Unity Asset Store is a growing library of free and affordable assets that you can download directly into your Unity Project. You can find various assets here, ranging from textures, animations, and models to editor extensions and tools. 
 
Unreal Marketplace is similar to the Unity Asset Store, but it’s for the Unreal Engine. The significant advantage of this store is that you have free access to the Quixel Megascan library.
 
CGTraderunlike the previous two, this website is all about 3D art, not just for games. It’s a place where you can also find freelancer artists to work with a contract.
 
ArtStation is a place for artists to connect and showcase their work with others. It also has a marketplace section to find various 2D and 3D art, tutorials, and brushes for different software.
 
If you are working with Unity or Unreal Engine, I advise starting with their marketplaces. The prices are much better than the other two stores.
 
Thirsty for more information?
 

What to consider when buying an asset?

License: when working on a commercial project, always check the license before buying an asset to avoid legal issues. 
 
In the case of game engine stores, it’s pretty straightforward. You can use the large majority of these assets in any project. (Note: Unity has a “Restricted Assets” type for non-commercial or educational projects.)
 
CGTrader has two license types (editorial and royalty-free). At the same time, ArtStation operates with standard and commercial licenses (you can use both for a commercial project, but the standard limits you to 2000 sales or monthly 20 000 views). Both stores allow the creator to define a custom license.
 
Another license problem can occur when a creator doesn’t have the right to sell the asset. Game Engine stores have a regulated process of accepting assets from creators and a reporting system that lessens this issue.
 
Compatibility when you buy an asset, you expect to save significant time and make your life easier. However, an incompatible asset will cause you a headache instead. The compatibility check is essential in accepting assets in the game engine marketplaces. 
 
In non-engine stores, make sure the asset parameters are suitable for your needs. Sometimes, the artist uses a format your engine doesn’t support. Choose 3d models available in FBX or OBJ and textures in PNG or TGA formats. 
These stores often contain 3d models that are not for video games. They are incredibly detailed but result in poor performance when used in a game engine. Avoid these completely.
 
Reviews: Before buying an asset, you should always read the reviews and check the ratings. Stars matter only if at least a couple of people rated the product. Read the reviews with the lowest rating first because those tell you the most about the flaws. Take it with a grain of salt: some customers can be inexperienced or won’t bother to read the instructions.
 
Price is a good measure of uniqueness. The cheaper the asset, the more people buy it, the more game will contain. If something looks too good to be true, that most of the time is not: either the quality is poor or has legal issues (for example, the publisher ripped the model out of a game, and now he is trying to sell it as his own).
 
However, good deals exist: every Marketplace has regular sale events, where you can even get half-price assets. 
 
If your choice of platform is Unity, take a look at my recommended assets blog series:

I have an asset. Can I sell it?

The short answer is: yes, you can.
 
The marketplaces that I listed above are open to everyone. You can create an account, upload your asset, and wait for the money to come. Well, the real difficulties come with the last part.
 
Can you make money creating game assets? Absolutely. Depending on where you live, you can partly or even entirely cover your expenses. However, it’s not an easy money-making machine. You have to invest a decent amount of time or money (possibly both) to make this business successful. Having an asset to sell is undoubtedly a big step forward, but it’s the first step.

Summary

Pre-made assets are a cost-effective way to speed up your development. Although art assets aren’t unique and can appear in other games, you can save yourself tons of time by cleverly modifying them.
 
Professional developers from small indies to AAA studios are all using stock assets. It’s available for anyone through game engine marketplaces. You can use art-oriented marketplaces too, but be aware of these two factors: license and compatibility.

 

You can also sell your work on these marketplaces. Remember that asset publishing is a business, not a money-making machine. It takes time to build up and earn decent money with it.

I hope you find this article helpful. If you would like to discuss the topic further, join our Discord server!

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