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. Case in point: People have decided that PUBG is an asset flip.

Yes, that PUBG. Player Unknown's Battlegrounds. The one that fired the starting gun on the battle royale genre's hostile takeover of video games. Asset flip accusations have now become so pervasive that Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene said it "kills me a little inside" to hear them during an interview with Geoff Keighley last week at E3, and PUBG's communications lead Ryan Rigney recently took to the game's subreddit to explain why a developer might choose to use pre-made assets.

Rigney said that PUBG has used pre-made assets before, but as a means of trying out ideas and figuring out how to make the game fun — a common gaming industry practice.

"The first thing to understand is that if you're just starting up a team, you've got to lean on asset store work because that's the only way you can spin up a game fast, and for a reasonable price, to quickly find the fun," Rigney wrote. "Hiring an art team of 40 people to 'try a game' and 'see if it's fun' is simply not a smart way to work — this is what the asset store is for! It's a great resource for teams that want to work smart."

As PUBG grew and added an additional studio, the team was able to make more original assets and moved away from using store-bought stuff. However, in creating the game's second map, Miramar, the team still used some prefab assets "strategically," he wrote, and also re-used some originals from the game's first map.

"One of our lead artists," wrote Rigney, "puts it this way: 'Why should one of my artists spend two weeks on a generic sculpt if they could instead spend that two weeks adding real value for players elsewhere? How many times should a telephone booth be modelled? How many times do we gotta sculpt a cash register?'"

He added that most external assets end up getting modified by PUBG's artists, and that maps three and four use even fewer external assets than one and two.

It's a pretty textbook application of an asset store — why should game developers literally have to reinvent the wheel? — but some players still insist that anything involving pre-made assets is an "asset flip" and therefore proof of their worldview that game developers are lazy and duplicitous. If you didn't mould every playground slide and gymnasium locker with your own gnarled hands, you're cheating.

This of course makes no sense. Is The Godfather an "asset flip" because the chair that Don Corleone sat in wasn't made from scratch from a tree chopped down by the film's production team? Is a song an asset flip because if it samples another song? Video games are growing in complexity at an exponential rate, and fans want those games to be updated with new content at a rapid pace. If the shoe fits, does it matter who made the shoe?

Unfortunately, given the discourse surrounding developers on Steam these days, this latest development isn't really surprising. Actual asset flips have existed on Steam for years, largely as a means of preying on loopholes in Steam's trading card and achievement systems. They clutter up digital shelves, but generally speaking, you're not gonna see them on your main store page.

Steam's algorithms bury the majority of them, though they sometimes sneak their way into the front page's "new and trending" and "upcoming" sections. For the most part, though, they're little more than an annoyance, unless they're actively noxious, like Active Shooter.

You wouldn't know that from listening to Steam users, some ostensibly "pro-consumer" critics, and — to an extent — Valve. Those first two groups, especially, paint asset flips as an epidemic, a poison working its way through Steam's black-and-blue veins.

Why? Well, because a relatively small subset of developers are trying to fool Steam users, and even if they're not really succeeding outside of users who seem to want trading cards and achievements — and therefore know what they're getting into — this is a crime most foul against precious, innocent consumers.

But the defining down of "asset flip" gives Steam's angriest users carte blanche to go on the offensive against developers they perceive as lazy and deceitful. And so they do. They bombard message boards and review sections. They make groups dedicated to doing those things more effectively. Sometimes they even track people down on social media, when that's an option. They feel that they have a duty to police Steam, and if their behaviours verge on harassment or abuse, it's warranted.

This can quickly spin out of control, as we saw with 2016's Digital Homicide fiasco — in which an aggrieved (and admittedly sketchy) developer tried to sue Steam users for $US18 ($24) million — or any number of other high-profile harassment controversies, like what happened to Firewatch after its developer called for copyright strikes against Pewdiepie last year.

Valve, meanwhile, has its own term for asset flips: "fake games." The company has repeatedly claimed that "no real players" are buying fake games, but these games do confuse Steam's algorithm. For more than a year, Valve's been actively trying to thwart fake games by adding limitations to systems like trading cards and achievements.

Fair enough, but in doing so — and in failing to similarly take unilateral action against abusive users or other kinds of objectionable games — Valve has helped legitimise the so-called scourge of fake games and honest-to-goodness asset flips as Steam's single biggest boogeyman.

This brings us back to PUBG. At least part of the game's community is not pleased with where it's at these days. There are still too many bugs, they say. Performance needs work, the option to select maps is in a bad state, old maps need tweaks, new maps need to be released, etc. The developers, to their credit, have tried to be more communicative on places like Reddit lately, but what they have to say isn't always what people want to hear.

It's a frustrating situation. Being frustrated sucks. It's a lot more fun to be angry. A good way to justify anger is to call a game an asset flip and paint its developers as snake oil salesmen instead of dedicated professionals who are working as hard as they can, but whose entire company has been slowly building from the ground up over the course of a year. It's much easier to yell at people when you convince themselves that they are snake oil salesmen, if not criminals of the highest order.

That's what's happening here. Yes, it's patently ridiculous to call PUBG an asset flip, but accuracy isn't the point. People like feeling angry — but even more than that, they like feeling righteous.


Comments

    How many times should a telephone booth be modelled? How many times do we gotta sculpt a cash register?'"Once would be enough.fans want those games to be updated with new content at a rapid pace Exactly! New content, not pre-made. Using the asset store to find the fun during prototyping is all well and good - hiring 40 artists seems a little excessive at that point. But after release? When your game is one of the biggest in the world? - doesn't seem like a reasonable excuse to me.

    EDIT: definitely not an asset flip though.

    Last edited 19/06/18 2:18 pm

      That's because you're not a reasonable person.

      Depends. Is it a telephone booth you can go inside? Is it breakable? Does it have a phone inside that you can pick up and use?

      That said, your intent is right. There's no need to recreate something if it already looks good and does the job. This is actually why I was against Steam censoring games (thread from a week or two ago). I mentioned that some games could use ready made assets and still be worthwhile. I guess PUBG is a perfect example.

      I don't think it changes the question whether it's in prototyping or whether it's a huge best-seller. If the Asset they're buying is good quality and suits then who cares whether they made it, or some other guy and they just licensed it? To be fair, most (normal) players wouldn't even realise it's a re-used asset unless it's super obvious.

        Yeah I've got no problem with it at all. Just pointing out that he's defending the decision to use store-bought assets by saying that it's necessary in prototyping. But the game is currently past 1.0, and they're still using store-bought assets. Seems like a bit of a non sequitur to me.

      They made huge amounts of money in sales, tried to bite the hand that feeds them by suing the guys who make the game engine they use for "copying" them, and now they're upset at steam users calling them out for still using pre-made assets? I'll just leave this here....
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victim_playing

    Is a song an asset flip because if it samples another song?

    Yeah, it pretty much is.

      Lol, I see you have no idea about music production.

        Comes across as an old man yelling at cloud. Sampling is as valid art form as any. Can be transformative, can be crap

          You could call majoras mask an asset flip if someone was being petty. Released 12 months after ocarina of time, it used many same assets. Now that game is a classic.

            Bad example is bad.
            Nintendo owns both of those games therefore is using their own assets.

    Is there a variation of the Ship of Theseus that applies to asset flips? Something like "Can a game still be unique if all its component parts are premade?" For that matter, is Nathan Grayson an asset flip? All his body parts are just almost-identical copies of ones used in a bunch of other humans.

    There seems to be a case for philosophical debate of identity hidden in this subject. I feel like these are important questions that also tie in to Cyberpunk 2077 with its cybernetics.

    While I still play PUBG it is most definitely an asset flip, with only the new map being largely original art.

      What percentage is unoriginal though? Just as importantly, how many people recognise where those assets came from, and that they've been flipped in the first place?

        Pretty much all of the structures in the original map are from the store. The second map has a fair few buildings from the unreal marketplace. Converting premade assets to a standardised format (poly count, visual styling, optimisation, etc) can be pretty hard when you are working your way back through a product you already "completed". Hence why Erangel will likely always run the poorest of all the maps; it fucks everything because it is more popular than Miramar, so they can't just dump it and start again.

      Using premade assets doesn't make it a game an asset flip. Keyword being flip - being the part where you quickly develop and release a barebones game with minimal effort. I've worked on my game for 2 years, and the environment is entirely asset store. How the game runs and is presented is entirely original. Would you still count that as an asset flip?

        Sorry I must have missed the part where a lot of the buildings in Erangel are the same as from the closed beta and have only had a little bit of clutter (taken from a mixed asset pack) added to them.

          Yeah PUBG has premade assets, most games do. Now, show me the flip where they've failed to put in the effort to develop the game. PUBG could be much better than it is but there's no denying that there's been effort put in.
          flip: move, push, or throw (something) with a sudden quick movement.

            It was sudden, lets be honest. The game started development early 2016 and was in EA in March 2017. Nothing has changed for the assets that were placed in the game during the time it has been pushed to open beta or out of early access. Sure they added more content, but all of the core issues that plagued the game during closed beta are still prevalent now.

            PUBG is like McDonalds; everyone knows it is garbage, but no one else has that quick and cheap fix like it.

              Call it a bad game all you want. But to call a game with frequent, meaningful updates and ongoing support a "flip" would be completely erroneous. The point of asset flips / cash grabs is to make the game quickly with minimal effort, release it, abandon it and then move onto the next one. Sure PUBG hasn't fixed a lot of what people wanted and some store assets remain, but there's no reason to replace them all if they're working. There's no reason for me to pay an artist thousands of dollars to do trees and bushes when I have a perfectly good asset pack for $20. I'd rather they spend dev time fixing or adding shit than wasting time remodelling existing assets for no reason

                Frequent meaningful updates? Have you even looked at the update history? The only thing frequent are bug fixes in the form of 20mb updates. The last real update was Miramar about 2-3 months ago. The last content update was a minor weapon rebalance over a month ago.

                They aren't a small indie dev anymore, they are owned by Tencent. Stop making excuses, BH dropped the ball and aren't likely to pick it up anytime soon.

                  I'm not making excuses for PUBG, I'm correcting you on your application of terms.
                  PUBG could be way better than it is. Personally I've stopped playing it due to bugs and hackers.
                  It however, is not, under any reasonable definition, an asset flip. There's plenty of garbage games that the term applies to and there's plenty of original garbage games where it doesn't apply. It doesn't apply here regardless of your perceived quality of this game. If you start calling anything with store assets a flip then the term loses all meaning completely.

        I feel it's how you use the assets that's key. There is so much more to game development than simply making the assets. You can make a popular marketplace asset look unique based on how you use/modify it. Composition, level design, lighting, the list goes on; all contribute to the game in the end. In my opinion, PUBG doesn't use its assets very well, and that's why people point it out and claim asset flip. It's fairly clear that they didn't really try to make the assets 'fit' into their game, and that's the problem.

        For example: Take a look at the rocks used on mountains/hills in Miramar. They been over-scaled, to the point where the normal/diffuse maps are just blurs and only properly readable from a distance. There was no effort placed into dealing with scale, like a detail map, to help when up close. The asset was flipped and it takes away from the game experience.

        That's the core of the argument though isn't it? Is it the gameplay that gives the game it's identity or it's look (which relies a lot of assets)? There seems to be this unspoken definition of asset flip that people take to mean "a game that re-uses assets that I don't like because it feels like a rip off". But not everyone subscribes to that.

        I think some people like to use the fact that a good (or at least popular) game is re-using assets is proof that there needs to be a better term created than "asset flip".

      The actual game play is original though, and that's a pretty big part of a game. You won't find a prior game that is essentially identical to PUBG.

      Most of the "asset flip" games people complain about don't really add anything on top of the purchased assets, purchasing the game code as well as the models from the asset store.

      I think the music analogy makes a lot of sense: there is a huge difference between a song by the Avalanches and me putting together a mix tape of my favourite songs.

        Well, 'original' is a matter of debate, but it was likely written by their own team at least rather than grabbing a logic pack off the store like full-fledged asset flips tend to do.

          That's the difference I was trying to enunciate, yeah. Even with the pre-built assets, there is original work in PUBG on the game logic side. And that's what you should expect from a game using pre-built assets.

          Compare that to purchasing UnitZ for $30, uploading the game unchanged to Steam with a price of $1 and wait for trading card revenue to come in:
          https://assetstore.unity.com/packages/templates/unitz-26912

      I love DayZ, well, used to, myself. That game was a massive asset flip of Arma 2 realistically. Even the standalone still used textures from Arma 2 for a long time. It STILL uses the actual original map (though thoroughly expanded) so I guess that's still a big ole' asset flip too?

      In essence, I'm not against games being asset flips to a degree, but like all things, it's about the execution. We've been playing games like the Assassins Creed games and the Far Cry games for years which are big budget asset flips, they reuse textures, animations and hell, even character models year after year. Far Cry even went to the extent of reusing weapon meshes between 3 and 4 allegedly.

      But, in all those cases, they generally improved the gameplay, making the games somewhat more entertaining to play, so I can't generally fault them.

    "Asset flip" includes flipping the internal code too... most of them are using the assets to skin tutorial or open source code for shooting and platforms. There was a boxy zombie ganecthat kept popping up on storr cause the asset library include map and ai code too.

    Pubg has grwat shooting mechanics... you cant flip netcode or shooting code like that

      Pubg has grwat shooting mechanics... you cant flip netcode or shooting code like that

      DayZ did by utilising Arma2's base code for its shooting mechanics.

    ... and is now a weaponised insult. Case in point: People have decided that PUBG is an asset flip.

    People are idiots.

    The way people are making this sound, its as if near 100% of the playable game is someone elses work, while PlayerUnknown makes statements that suggest its far far less.

    I get the arguments against asset flipping. Its cheap and lazy, and usually just a cash grab not unlike scams. But PUBG isn't that. There is clear development, and a clear product that's had work put in to it.

    So what portion of asset flipping, when it comes to non essential components (doors, cash registers, etc that are pointless to remake) is acceptable? 10%? 25%? 50%? Some would make it 0%, but that's ridiculous. Its expecting wasted and inefficient design and programming, which doesn't help anyone.

      IMO it doesn't matter how much of your game is premade from the asset store. The key part of an asset flip is the flip. Minimal effort, quick release cash grab = Flip

        Same here. PUBG isnt that.

        As was said by PlayerUnknown in this, using premade assets isnt even unusual. A lot of developments use them early on to see if the idea has merit. Given how quickly PUBG exploded in popularity, its not surprising to me that a lot of those testing type asset uses still pop up. The popularity got way ahead of expectations with this, not unlike Minecraft.

        It wasnt a minimal effort --> cash grab process. Those trying to paint it as such are just causing trouble.

    Good to see internet hyperbole is alive and well. Wonder how these idiots traverse every day life... would make a funny film.

    Last edited 19/06/18 3:48 pm

    This make me so annoyed. Why should re-using assets be such a bad thing? If the gameplay behind the assets is fun and unique does it matter that some of the art or sound is bought of an asset store or reused from a previous game. If the game has soul behind the assets does it matter? If you ask me reusing assets is like reusing code... Efficient!

    Use of the word "store" in relation to these assets confuses me. It makes it sound as if these assets are made on spec and placed on the store, for developers to "buy" and use in their games.

    And if that it what it DOES mean, then how is complaining about use of prefab assets valid at all, in any context? That phone booth was made for people to use in their games. That is the point of it.

    Anyway, isn't the bad part of a true asset flip game meant to be that, well, it isn't much of a game? That it's just a generic shooter where the graphics are supplied by what is essentially clip art?

    PUBG was something new (or new-ish) so why would it even matter if the entirety of its art was licensed from, I dunno, Dying Light or something?

    Last edited 19/06/18 4:26 pm

    Asset flipping is meant to refer to a developer using basic engine pre-included assets or using a lot of assets from it's game1 in game2, without much change to the general gameplay mechanics.

    You could almost call COD that, but they do actually update the models and textures as time goes on. Plus its their own in-house assets so that's fine.

    I think in general, asset flipping is fine if its a decent game, but if its complete and obvious garbage....

    Last edited 19/06/18 4:29 pm

    The older I get the funnier I find these articles and comments. Who the f*** cares that much where game assets came from as long as they aren't someone else's I.P. Were text based games a dictionary assest flip? A game is to be enjoyed for what it is- A fun, waste of time and money.

    Complete internet entitlement. I bet 99% of users of the term "asset flip" as an insult have never inserted assets into a modern game engine before, let alone delivered a working game. Sure, it's not creating "Death Stranding", but a certain level hard learned technical competency is required.

    Back in the day we tarred "film licences" and "Spectrum ports" with the same brush. Having the knowledge to turn 6510 machine code into a one of these products takes a lot of learning. So even if you're flipping, go ahead - you've earned that right. The market will take care of the rest.

    TL;DR: If you're asset flipping, you're probably better off financially working on some Sharepoint project.

    Calling pubg an asset flip waters down everything the term means

    The important part is the "flip" of an asset flip, you arent JUST using prebought assets, usually you are wholesale stealing a dev demo and just uploading it the the store, like the innumerable clones of UNIT Z a sort of engine demo for the unity asset store that just gets wholesale reuploaded with no changes, probably not even payed for and just pirated too before the steam reupload

    THAT is an asset flip, its them flipping something already made with no effort on thier part, no creative input

    Calling pubg an asset flip makes the term meaningless against actualy asset flippers doing actually shitty terrible stuff
    Thats like calling any arma 3 mod an asset flip because it uses the arma 3 engine and its assets

    Fuck off

    "It's not an asset flip!"
    Writes whole article about how it's an asset flip.

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