If you're an animator, there's a good chance you've considered creating and selling game assets online. After all, it sounds like a great way to make some extra money on the side.
But how do you get started? And how do you make sure it’s profitable?
In this blog post, we'll answer those questions and more. So read on to learn everything you need to create and sell your game assets online.
What are game assets & who uses them?
Game assets are the files and resources used in video games. They can include 3D models, environments, textures, sound effects, and more. Independent artists and specialist studios create these assets and release collections to marketplaces for download and commercial project use. Indie game developers are the most frequent users of such assets.
Big in-house game studios (like EA Games) rarely purchase game assets as their current studio can already develop a massive amount of content. Smaller game designers are far more likely to supplement their production with assets, ultimately speeding up development timelines and reducing budget. During timed game jams, for example, indie creators will rely heavily on free assets to create an MVP within the deadline. Assets can be used by any mobile games and desktop games alike.
Typically, assets within the animation pipeline (e.g., 3D characters, textures, rigging, backgrounds) will be modified to fit the game project's visual style. In this manner, one game asset could be used in hundreds of games without issue.
Why would you want to make game assets?
Creating assets has a low cost to entry as a potential business. It’s free to list on asset marketplaces, and you can even use a free tool or software to create game elements.
Commonly, you might get started because:
- You’ve already got a bunch of assets that you’re not using.
- You want a freelance income stream where there’s no big boss involved.
- You want a passive income stream by building products.
But something to remember about creating assets; It’s not a quick fix. Many creators say it takes a year or two of making assets before you can earn enough to think about quitting your job. That doesn't mean you should give up, just that it’s a good idea to have another goal in mind.
In his asset seller’s guide, Lincoln Hughes says, “Creating tutorials [for assets] online isn’t just a way of selling stuff. It’s a way of establishing your name and reputation in an industry filled with an overflowing pool of incredibly talented people. It’s one of the best ways to demonstrate to companies that you know what you’re talking about.”
So beyond making a lot of money, here are some good reasons to start creating game assets:
- Help others with personal projects you’ve already built.
- Establish a name for yourself online and within the game industry.
- Establish expertise in a particular field or software.
- Build an audience that you can sell to in the future.
- Show potential employers your expertise.
- Improve your speaking by recording YouTube tutorials for your assets.
The eight types of game assets
Millions of elements go into creating any kind of game, whether it’s 2D, 3D, first-person shooter, or a “Candy Crush” style puzzle game. Developers typically supplement their own skills with assets to make up for a lack of knowledge or time. The most popular type of game asset is character models or artwork followed by environmental visuals such as backgrounds or interactive objects. Animation is another popular asset (especially true for 3D games) as it can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of game development.
- Rigged character models: These are models of characters or objects that have been rigged with bones and joints in 2D or 3D software. This type of asset ranges in time to create. Character assets that are easily customizable and have multiple characters in the same style will sell better than one-offs. You can also create concept art for potential clients, but this is done more on a commission basis.
- Background elements / Game items: Backgrounds can consist of 3D assets or 2D painted scenes. When creating background assets, try to develop variations that many games could use to increase your customer base.
- Textures: Textures are images applied to 3D models to give them color and detail. Texture assets are usually sold in themed packs and require hi-res photography. Some artists also use software like Substance Painter (now owned by Adobe) to create reusable custom textures for 3D objects.
- Motion capture animation: Motion capture animation is a technique used to record the movement of real-life subjects and apply it to rigged 3D models. You can use these assets to animate your characters. Check out the Rokoko Studio Marketplace to find out more.
- Sound effects & audio assets: Sound effects add another layer of immersion to a game by bringing the environment and characters to life. But the competition for a music composer is intense. Audio is some of the least popular gaming assets — likely because few people in game development make it to this later stage of game creation.
- Game User Interface (GUI): This interface can be designed in 2D or 3D. To create a good GUI, you need a rock-solid understanding of game navigation.
- Scripts: Custom scripts perform specific actions that would otherwise take a game artist hours or days to create. They can sell very well, provided you write a script that’s high in demand and relatively easy to use.
- Game kits & asset bundles: Game kits are collections of premade assets that can be used to create a basic game easily. They typically include rigged 3D models, textures, sound effects, and other necessary elements.
Each of the game assets listed above can and does sell on asset marketplaces. The one you choose should be related to your own personal skills and interests.
How do you know what kind of asset will perform well?
This is the million-dollar question! Eight years ago, a Reddit user made over $10,000 in under a month from a single asset. While that’s quite the headline, the whole story reveals that it took six months to develop, and the massive spike in sales was mainly due to a promotion within the Unity store.
Selling assets is like selling anything else in a marketplace; you have to get yourself at the right place, in front of the right people, at the right time. If you have the network, social media following, or marketing knowledge to do that, then fantastic! If not, you’ll need to learn.
The first thing is to decide what software you will use to create your assets and what type of assets you will make. Next, narrow down what category of asset you think will sell. Browse your target marketplace and see what’s currently selling and what’s not. Try to conclude as to why, and decide what to make first. Check out the in-depth video below to learn more about selling on marketplaces (specifically Unreal Engine).
Don’t rush the research process — it’s wise to test the viability of your idea by posting about it on social media or forums before even beginning development.
You can even create a waitlist at this stage by getting people to sign up for an email newsletter.
When you’re sure you’ve got a good idea, start making and releasing assets. Creating high-quality assets is always recommended as those will gain better user ratings. And better user ratings mean a higher number of sales.
Where should you list your game assets?
There are plenty of game asset marketplaces to choose from, and none require exclusivity.
For each of these online marketplaces, you’ll need to prepare:
- An asset title and description
- Relevant keywords
- Attractive thumbnail images
How you design/write each of the above components depends on your chosen online asset marketplaces. Look at the top performing assets in your category and mimic their style.
Let’s jump into the actual marketplaces you’ll want to list on if you’re new to creating assets.
Specific game engines and their marketplaces:
These marketplaces are a good choice if you’re creating assets in their particular software. The two marketplaces listed below are the most popular game engines in the industry and are highly recommended as a place to start.
There are millions of art assets on these popular sites. While not every platform is specifically geared towards the game world, you can still find plenty of game-ready assets.
- GameDev Market
- Art Station Marketplace (not exclusively for games)
- Gumroad (sales platform, not a marketplace)
- Turbosquid (not exclusively for games)
- Game Art 2D (2D only)
- Itch.io (2D only)
How to price your game assets?
Pricing can vary depending on the asset category. Make a list of similar assets in your chosen marketplace and set your prices in relation to what’s already available. This does not mean yours should be the cheapest asset. In fact, buying psychology says that being the cheapest might lead people to assume your quality is lower—instead, price in the upper third of your identified range.
Creator Oussama Bouanani warns against pricing too high because your asset product contains many useful items. He elaborates, “The most successful asset I released is S-Inventory, which includes an inventory system, an equipment system, a vendor system, a crafting system, a containers system, and a skill bar system for Unity. It only costs $15. If the price were higher, I don't think it would sell well and compete with similar assets in the store.”
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to pricing. Expect to experiment.
How do you market game assets to potential buyers?
While your marketplace may provide a few options to optimize your asset listing, successful sellers create hype in other ways. When you get started, just remember that marketing doesn’t have to be salesy; in fact, it shouldn’t be salesy. But you still need to get your asset out there and in front of people if you want to win customers.
Six marketing methods for game asset sellers:
Method #1: Create a forum post in the relevant space
Try using the ‘build in public’ marketing method popular with indie game devs. Create a thread in any forum of your choice, and update it regularly with details about your progress. Ideally, ask the community for their input. These early forum responders will become your first buyers. The best place to find these is CG software forums, gaming industry forums, Facebook, or Reddit.
Method #2: Run ads on your assets
When you have quite a few assets in the bank, you can run social media ads targeting animators. Just be careful; this could be an expensive exercise that might not pay off if your targeting is wrong. If you want to keep things free, consider building an email list and advertising directly to your subscribers.
Method #3: Run promotions on your assets
You can offer a discount for new assets that don’t yet have reviews or participate in your marketplace's big promotion events. Offering free assets in return for an email address or social follow is a great way to kickstart a following.
Method #4: Rely on word of mouth through social media
Post updates on social media, help out on forums when people have questions, and generally try to become a present, well-respected member of an online community. This might help your assets appear in search results due to better SEO. Over time, more people will know your name and discover your assets. This Unity forum thread has some excellent advice.
Method #5: Create in-demand assets no one has made yet
Look at what products are popular and not — is there a gap in the market that you can take advantage of? Or perhaps put a new spin on an old-time favorite? Finding novel ideas for assets is hard, but a single product can make you thousands of dollars every month if you crack it.
Method #6: Create comprehensive asset packs
If your asset is reasonably priced and appeals to a large range of gamemakers, it could quickly climb in popularity.
How will you start selling game assets?
By now, you should have a rudimentary understanding of how making money by selling game assets works. Join 5000+ animators on Rokoko’s Discord to get help from the community with creating assets, using motion capture for game development, and furthering your animation career.