Tuesday, 31 July 2018

What is and isn't an "Asset Flip"?

Judging by the discussion I've seen on the Internet as of late, I've seen a lot of conflicting definitions of what "asset flips" actually are, and what they are not. Such a seemingly simple and straight-forward concept actually has a lot of nuance and subjectivity built into it.

So first, let's work out where the term "asset flip" comes from. It was coined by Jim Sterling in his Jimquisition video appropriately named, "The Asset Flip". The term is based on the sleazy business practice of "flipping" wares for profit, most commonly houses and cars.

Specifically, flipping, say, a house would involve buying it at a low price from someone who wants to get rid of it, then selling it off again at a higher price almost immediately with little-to-no refurbishment. This kind of practice is actually illegal in some places since it often incorporates some form of fraud, at least from my pretty weak understanding of the situation.

The point is that the concept of "flipping" has existed for kind of a while, and only recently has it been brought into the games industry. When Jim Sterling first used it, Digital Homicide was a prime example, who bought a lot of pre-built assets and "flipped" them with little-to-no changes or thoughtful design to go with it.

However, as with all things there's some grey area. What exactly constitutes "thoughtful design", and what makes a change big or small enough to cross the boundary between "asset flip" and "genuine video game"?

Some people have even gone so far as to declare that Player Unknown's Battlegrounds is an asset flip, since it uses a lot of assets from the Unreal Engine asset store.

I'm not here to set the record straight or anything since I don't really think I'm even slightly influential enough to do that, but I will offer my interpretation of an asset flip. I believe that a game becomes an asset flip when there's reasonable cause to believe that the developer did not put genuine work or effort into the project and rather is attempting to sit on the merits of assets that somebody else made.

This means that I don't consider PUBG an asset flip. While PUBG does use a lot of pre-built assets, I think that the developer has clearly put in effort to make the assets they did use coherent, well-assembled and overall it comes together in a cohesive gameplay experience that a hell of a lot of people enjoy.

Digital Homicide's infamous title The Slaughtering Grounds is something that I would consider an asset flip, since the gameplay experience is far from cohesive, feels cheap and I get the impression that the assets are the only thing the game has going for it and Digital Homicide know it. They're attempting to score a few bucks from people who take a quick look at the competently built assets and decide that they'd buy it.

However, that's not the end of the story for the term "asset flip". There's an effort in some strange part of Twitter to actually re-brand "asset flip" as a neutral or even positive term to describe basically any game that uses pre-built assets. In so far as that goes, I think that's the wrong way to approach things. The fact that "flipping" already exists as its own derogatory term in the real world makes it a thousand times harder to re-brand asset flipping in consumer's eyes.

Also, defining "asset flips" as any game that uses a pre-built asset is kind of crazy and not only de-values the term, it actually shuts out smaller indies who might not be able to afford or otherwise accomodate a full-time artist and opt instead to purchase assets that they like from the Internet. If consumers think that using any pre-built asset is bad(which they pretty much do at this point), then I can't see that ending up as good for really anyone.

So in closing, I've got one more thing to say. I opt to not even say "asset flip" very often since there's a lot of controversy and confusion about what the term even means. I think a more useful and accurate term in most discussions(such as the whole Steam clutter problem thing) is to just say "bad game". Not all bad games are asset flips- in fact a lot of them aren't. Asset flips suck, but they're a subset of the larger issue which is low-effort and dishonest titles getting onto Steam and making things harder for everybody.

Anyway, thanks for watching and stay tuned for more videos that will probably make people mad at me in the comments section because this is a properly controversial topic.

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