I hear the question asked often, is it cheating to use prebuilt assets in your game? The short answer is “No, that’s what they are there for.” The long answer is a bit more nuanced.
1. The advantages of prebuilt assets.
Making games is a lot of work, and for a solo dev or a small team the use of assets for things like save systems, menus, resolution controls, and so on can literally be the difference between success and failure. Art assets can be used to prototype and quickly flesh out gameplay mechanics, build compelling maps from common objects like plants and other terrain elements, and fine tune player controls. At their most useful, prebuilt assets provide a fast template for you to use in the process of fleshing out your ideas in to a functioning game. High quality assets are available from the in engine stores for commercial game engines like Unity, Unreal, and Gamemaker.
Game development is very time consuming, and if given the choice between doing a poor quality job that compromises the playability of your project and purchasing prebuilt assets to fill in the gaps of your skill, the obvious choice is to purchase the assets. The desired result is to create the best finished product possible. If the assets help you accomplish this goal then use them happily.
2. The disadvantages of prebuilt assets.
Almost none of the issue involving the use of assets are intrinsic to the assets themselves nor the folks that build the assets. They entirely have to do with the expectations, laziness, and greed of the people that try to use them as a shortcut to success.
Let me get this out of the way quickly, if you are attempting to use assets as a shortcut to success, you will be disappointed very quickly. It’s simple not possible to create a high quality, compelling experience by stitching together a series of unaltered assets into some horrible Frankenstein of a game. First of all, your game will run like crap. None of the code is optimized to work together, and the longer the daisy chain of assets grown, the worse the overall performance of your game will be. Second, you will have a noticeable visual incongruity between the different asset type that will distract the player from enjoying the overall experience. Third but not least, consumers have become wise to this practice to the point where they have given the it a colloquial name, “Asset Flipping.”
What about complete game asset packs, you might be wondering? They are designed ready to go with optimized code, and visually compatible models or sprites.
Again, it’s complicated!
This issue also boils down to how you plan to use these assets. If the plan is to purchase one of these asset pack and throw it up on your storefront of choice unaltered for an easy pay day, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. This has been done innumerable times, to the point that your project might be removed from the store for being of extremely low quality. Steam and the other platform holders are in the right in my opinion for introducing this rule. In 2017-2018 this practice became a literal plague on the indie game scene. So pervasive was this issue, that it has forever tainted the use of asset packs in indie games. Again, consumers got burned too many times, and they became wise to this practice. Not only is customer fatigue an issue, but the platform holders are under no obligation to host your awful homunculus of a game just because you have a valid commercial license for all of your assets.
3. What to do about these issues.
This one is straight forward.
Don’t attempt to use unaltered assets as your final game. They are meant to be the foundation on which you build your original idea, not the idea itself. Nothing can destroy the reputation of your game and you as a developer like trying to pass off assets as your own original work. It’s boring for the player, and a nuisance to the platform holders. There is no shortcut to success through asset use. You still need to put in the hard work to integrate and optimize whatever you put in to your projects.