Short answer – yes, it‘s perfectly fine to use free assets in your commercial games as long as you follow the terms of the asset licenses!
I know when you‘re developing your dream game, it can be tempting to grab some convenient free assets to help bring your ideas to life faster. But you probably also have questions around how legally and ethically you can use free stuff you find online.
Not to worry! In this detailed guide, I‘ll walk through everything you need to know about safely using free assets in your projects. I‘ve done the research so you can use free game assets with confidence. Let‘s dive in!
What are free game assets exactly?
In case you‘re new to game development, "assets" refers to all the artwork, animations, audio, code, and other components that are used to build a game.
Free assets for game development typically include:
- 3D models – Characters, vehicles, buildings, props, and more
- 2D sprites – Characters, backgrounds, tilesets, UI elements
- Animation clips and rigs
- Materials, textures, and visual effects – Fire, smoke, lightning, etc.
- Sound effects and music loops
- Code scripts and plugins
These assets are created by 3D artists, musicians, programmers, and other game developers. They then choose to offer certain assets for free use by others.
There are a ton of great places to find high-quality free assets, like:
- Unity Asset Store – Over 1,500 free 3D, 2D, audio, and code assets
- Unreal Marketplace – Hundreds of free environmental, character, and animation assets
- OpenGameArt.org – 2D and 3D art assets under CC0 licenses
- FreeSound.org – Audio clips under Creative Commons licenses
Many individual artists also offer free assets on their own websites or platforms like itch.io and GameDevMarket.
Is using free assets legally allowed?
I‘m happy to say that yes, you can absolutely use free game assets legally in commercial projects!
The key is checking the license for each asset to understand any requirements or restrictions on usage.
Most reputable free assets will have an open license such as:
- CC0 – No restrictions, can be used commercially
- MIT – Can be used commercially if license is included
- Creative Commons Attribution – Requires crediting the creator
As long as you follow the terms, using free assets commercially is perfectly legal. Just avoid assets with "non-commercial" only licenses.
To be 100% sure, I always carefully review licenses for any specifics before using assets in my own projects. This takes a bit of extra time up front, but prevents issues down the road!
Should I credit creators of free assets?
While attribution often isn‘t legally mandatory, providing credit to creators is considered good practice even with freely licensed assets.
Here are some tips on giving proper attribution:
- Credit 3D artists/creators in game docs or credits
- Credit 2D artists in an "Image Credits" section
- Credit audio creators in audio/music credits
Giving credit shows your appreciation for creators who are helping you build your game. I know as an artist myself, I always love seeing my name in the credits for games using my free assets!
Attribution also allows players to look up and potentially support the artists behind assets they find memorable. It‘s a win-win.
Of course, be sure to double check licenses – attribution should only be provided if actually requested by the creator.
Are there ethical concerns around using free assets?
Beyond just legalities, using free assets also raises some ethical considerations:
Don‘t claim free work as your own
It goes without saying that you should never try to pass off free assets as artwork created by you or your team. Always credit the true creators.
Avoid overusing the same assets
I‘d advise against building your entire game using free assets from just one or two creators. This can leave your game feeling generic.
Mixing some free assets in with original art creates a more unique style.
Don‘t repackage or resell free assets
By license, you cannot legally repackage free assets as your own assets, even if modified. Best to create wholly original content for selling.
Watch for technical issues in old assets
Since free assets are often provided as-is, some may become outdated and cause bugs or compatibility issues.
If an asset seems abandoned, be prepared to fix problems yourself before release.
Only use assets from trusted sources
Never use assets from suspect piracy sites. Stick to trusted creators and platforms.
What are the pros and cons of using free assets?
Let‘s summarize some key advantages and disadvantages to weigh when considering free assets:
- Saves time – Faster than creating all art and audio from scratch
- Cuts costs – No need to hire more designers and composers
- Provides placeholders – Can use during prototyping before custom assets are done
- Increases variety – Mixing free and original assets adds more diversity
- Less control – Must work within bounds of existing asset designs
- Less unique – Overuse makes games seem generic and uninspired
- Technical issues – Outdated assets may require troubleshooting
- Artistic mismatch – Different art styles may clash
Finding the right balance is key to maximizing benefits while minimizing downsides.
Best practices for using free assets
If using free game assets, I recommend these best practices:
- Double check licenses and follow requirements
- Credit creators appropriately if requested or ethically appropriate
- Use both free and custom assets in moderation
- Modify free assets where possible to differentiate your game
- Update any outdated asset code/animations/textures before use
- Only use assets that match your game‘s visual style
Being selective and strategic with free assets helps ensure a polished, cohesive game.
Have major games used free assets?
You may be surprised to learn that many big-name games have used free assets during development:
- CS:GO – Used free textures from CGTextures according to lawsuits
- PUBG – Originally used many free Unreal Marketplace assets
- Slay the Spire – Some background textures from 2DTextures.com
- Return of the Obra Dinn – Free ambient audio clips
- Beat Saber – Early prototypes used Unity Store assets
Now, excessive use of recognizable free assets likely raises some eyebrows. But selective use of free assets is an effective strategy even for AAA studios on a budget.
Answering common questions about free assets
Let‘s tackle some other frequent questions on using free game assets:
Can I use assets across game engines?
In most cases yes. You can export assets to use in other engines. Restrictions may apply to code like Unity C# scripts.
Do I have to take down my game if an asset is removed from a store?
Generally no – as long as your license allows commercial use, you can continue using assets even if later removed from the store. But check your specific license just in case.
Can I use assets from older engine versions?
You can, but be prepared to troubleshoot issues in newer versions. Test thoroughly and update shaders, textures, etc.
How much of my game can be free assets?
Experts suggest having at least 50% original art even with some free assets. Relying exclusively on free assets looks cheap.
Can I modify free assets to make new assets?
Yes, as long as the new assets aren‘t too similar to the original. Make sure to credit original creators.
Should indie devs use free game assets?
For indie developers with limited budgets, free assets can be extremely valuable. They allow small teams to build great games without enormous art and audio investments.
However, leaning too heavily on recognizable free assets from just a few sources can leave your game looking amateurish or generic.
The ideal approach is to use a variety of assets from multiple creators, combined tastefully with original artwork and audio that gives your game its own unique identity.
With the right selective use of free assets, indie devs can build amazing games while keeping costs manageable. Download wisely!
The bottom line on free game assets
At the end of the day, free game assets provide a great opportunity to accelerate development and stretch limited budgets. But care is required:
- Thoroughly vet assets for permissible licenses
- Credit creators appropriately when possible
- Use both free and original assets in moderation
- Combine free assets strategically for unique results
By understanding legal and ethical best practices, you can safely enjoy the perks of free assets. Used appropriately, they empower developers of all sizes to make great games on a budget.
So bring your game idea to life using the amazing free assets available today – guilt-free! Just be a thoughtful and respectful member of the game dev community. Happy game making!