Building a game from scratch requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Much of this hard work goes into creating the art assets used to bring your game’s world to life. And with more assets, come increasingly difficult questions about how these assets are created, obtained, and licensed.
The Problems with Current Game Asset Management Systems
Building a game from scratch requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Much of this hard work goes into creating the art assets used to bring your game’s world to life. These assets include artwork for backgrounds and scenery, character design, animations, shaders, visual effects, and even music to set the tone. The larger, and more complex the game you’re building is, the more assets you’re likely to need. And with more assets, come increasingly difficult questions about how these assets are created, obtained, and licensed.
When you’re developing a game, whether you’re a small indie studio or a AAA game powerhouse, there are three primary ways that you can obtain the required art assets needed. The first, and most obvious of these is to simply make the assets yourself. By creating the assets in-house, there are no issues with ownership or licensing from outside parties. Creating the assets in-house can be a great way to save on costs if you have talented individuals on the team already.
The downside of creating each of these assets is that it can take a considerable amount of time to make them. This also requires your team to have artists proficient in everything from music creation to 3D modeling.
If you don’t have people on your team that can create artwork, another option is to contract out the various assets to specific artists that specialize in creating them. Having someone outside the team create assets lets everyone focus on their strengths, and reduces the amount of time needed to create the game as a whole.
Unfortunately contracting out your asset creation can be very expensive, as specialized artists charge a premium for their work. Additionally, since someone outside of the studio is responsible for creating the assets, you need explicit agreements on licensing and usage rights, which can become complicated down the road, should the game be released on new platforms, or if the game spawns additional forms of media, such as a tie-in show or movie.
The third and final way to produce assets for your game is the most common among indie studios. This option involves purchasing pre-made assets from an online marketplace. Engine makers like Unity and Unreal have set up storefronts where users can place assets they’ve created up for sale, that developers can purchase and license for use in their games.
The reason this method is most common for small studios is that the cost is generally much lower than hiring someone to create new assets, and the turnaround time for receiving them is instantaneous.
One of the biggest problems with this method is that ownership rights can become extremely muddied, depending on how the marketplace operates. Without some way to track the licenses for each asset and its original creator, this leaves room for bad actors to sell stolen assets which can lead to legal issues for developers that purchase them, such as the case of Bleak Faith: Forsaken, which was recently accused of stealing assets from Elden Ring creator FromSoftware.
Case Study — Bleak Faith: Forsaken Asset Controversy
Bleak Faith: Forsaken (BF:F) is an open-world survival/horror Action-RPG that was released earlier this year by Archangel Studios. Many games in this genre are dubbed “Soulslike”, due to mechanics that are similar to those introduced by the Dark Souls series, developed by FromSoftware, and BF:F is no exception.
The game was developed by Archangel Studios, an indie developer that’s comprised of just two individuals. To secure funding for their debut title, the pair turned to Kickstarter, where they raised just over $30k. With a budget of this size, hiring someone to produce all of the artwork would have been too expensive, so they worked to create as many of the art assets in-house as possible. However, roughly 10% of the assets were purchased from the Unreal Marketplace to augment the assets created by the pair.
Bleak Faith: Forsaken was released on PC on March 10, 2023. Unfortunately, the very next day, a Twitter user posted a video claiming that some of the animations used in the game were identical to the ones used in Elden Ring. Elden Ring was developed by FromSoftware, who also created the “Soulslike” genre in which this game falls.
The video posted on Twitter showed that the animations in question were not merely similar, but identical in virtually every way. This led to an uproar in the gaming community, as countless fans of FromSoftware games called out Archangel Studios, demanding accountability and action for what appeared to be blatant asset theft.
Days later the BF:F developers made a public update regarding the situation. As it turns out, they did not steal any assets from Elden Ring at all. Rather, like other assets they needed, they purchased the animations in question from the Unreal Marketplace. If you’re not familiar, the Unreal Marketplace is a storefront managed by Epic Games, which allows creators to list their assets for sale, to be used in games built on the Unreal Engine. Unfortunately, in this case, it appears that the party selling the animations used in BF: F had stolen them from Elden Ring and was profiting off of the stolen works.
Archangel Studios maintains that it had no knowledge that these animations were stolen from another game. In order to rectify the situation, they replaced every asset in question, incurring additional time and expenses on a title that had already been shipped.
Unfortunately, by the time Archangel Studios was able to respond, much of the damage had already been done. The title had only been released one day prior, and negative press regarding stolen art assets no doubt kept many people from purchasing the game. And even after clearing up the situation, many online insist that Archangel Studios should have done a better job analyzing each asset that was purchased from the Unreal Marketplace, rather than simply trusting that they had not purchased stolen goods. This raises the question of who is responsible for vetting these assets that are uploaded to the Unreal Marketplace.
As you can see, game asset licensing can be a complicated matter, and even purchasing them from a reputable source cannot guarantee your game will be free from legal troubles. As we learned from the Bleak Faith: Forsaken story, there are many potential losses for everyone, when situations like this occur.
A game studio using unverified content purchased from a digital marketplace opens itself to monetary damages from legal battles, including having game sales suspended until the offending assets are removed. Replacing the offending assets requires more time and money, and with game sales on the line, developers may find themselves paying a premium for a quick turnaround time on new assets.
Finally, negative PR can make or break a small studio. It’s too early to tell what the long-term effects of this situation will have on the sales of Bleak Faith: Forsaken and its developer Archangel Studios. However, the current sentiment suggests that this situation will follow them for quite some time in the public’s eye.
This kind of asset theft doesn’t just harm the buyer, either. The original creator of the asset is harmed in a number of ways, as well. This ranges from lost asset sales, should they choose to put them on a digital marketplace, as well as time spent in legal battles to protect their copyrighted materials. Their reputation can face harm as well, as taking legal action against a much smaller studio can be seen by some as anti-competitive or heavy-handed, which presents another set of complications for the artist.
How can the MetaStore, and MetaShield prevent issues like Bleak Faith: Forsaken?
To get a better understanding of licensing situations like the Bleak Faith: Forsaken developers experienced, and how blockchain technologies can alleviate these pain points, we talked with MetaEngine’s Head of Product, Romain Godard, so he could weigh in on the subject.
What do you see as the root issue in the Bleak Faith: Forsaken situation?
In the case of Bleak Faith: Forsaken, it’s easy to point fingers at the devs or the seller profiteering from stolen assets, but let’s not forget who was hosting the content in the first place. Asset stores need to do proper due diligence and moderation on their platforms. Instead, they have lengthy T&C indemnifying them against any breaches of policy. And most of the time, no legal action is taken because it’s either not worth it or the sellers won’t/can’t pay up.
By distributing stolen assets, Epic infringed on someone’s copyright. They should be responsible.
MetaStore creates a safe and trusted environment for creators and game developers by curating and moderating what is distributed. We use technology such as AI and blockchain to verify ownership and prevent theft or profiteering. In this digital landscape, it is essential to establish clear standards that enable artists to track and monetize their creations and enable game developers to use purchased assets without worrying about whether they have been stolen from another property.
How is MetaStore different from current asset marketplaces like Epic Marketplace?
We provide tools for creators and game developers to optimize their workflows and monetize their content easily. Our integrations with Unity and Unreal will allow for the seamless use of digital assets, and we are using blockchain technologies to record and track transactions. We are changing the way marketplaces operate, and we are putting our community first. We will be a platform that rewards creativity and compensate users fairly.
How does MetaStore protect content creators?
With the rise of new technologies, we now have the ability to track and moderate content in a way that’s never been achieved before. We can train AI models to detect duplicate assets and ensure intellectual property is preserved. Using blockchain and smart contracts to operate transactions on the platform will also allow for complete transparency and control for the creators. In the long term, we want to provide a safe ecosystem for users to operate in this digital landscape.
What kind of ownership does the content creator retain when publishing assets, or eventually games on MetaStore?
Complete ownership. We do not own or have the rights to any content published on the platform. We facilitate transactions and collaboration, and as long as the content is not offensive or illegal, users can operate freely on our platforms.
What is MetaShield?
MetaShield is the first step towards protecting the intellectual property of digital assets. By using blockchain and smart contracts to operate any transactions, users have complete control over how and where their assets can be used.
How does MetaShield track asset usage across content platforms?
Because every single event and transaction is recorded on the blockchain, users can easily monitor where their assets have been bought and how it’s intended to be used. We have some limitations with anything that’s outside of our ecosystem, but we are working on solutions to solve these challenges.
Why is blockchain technology necessary? Are current licensing solutions inadequate?
Blockchain allows for decentralized metadata and record-keeping. Anyone can see the provenance and historical record of any asset that’s been added to our platform. Blockchain will soon become a standard for any marketplace within any industry.
Specifically related to the situation with BF:F, what lessons can be learned about content licensing from this story?
Marketplaces should be held accountable for hosting certain content on their platform. They have a duty to prevent such situations by imposing a tougher moderation system and leveraging new technologies to do so at scale.
How could MetaStore and MetaShield have prevented the issues that BF: F developers encountered?
Any content uploaded on our platform goes through thorough manual and automated checks to ensure the user is the original creator or has the right to sell the asset. Asset Store users should always be able to trust the content sold on the platform can be used without fearing they should run their own cross-references.