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Unity Asset Store: the hidden cost of a DIY.

When we face the problem of needing a piece of Code or pluggin to do just what we need in our games, we head to the Asset Store, check prices, and return to do the things ourselves. Problem is, by doing so we may as well spend more money than in the store

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Recently we heard from Mike Bithell, developer of Thomas was Alone, how the Unity Asset Store was a great addition for non programmers. How for less than the price of a pizza, we could buy Scripts or plugins or something that  would get done in a matter of minutes, something that would take us hours, days or weeks. But what about when you are an indie too, but are fully focused on programming?

Well, one of the things that we often forget when developing a game, specially when you are an indie, is that everything has a cost. EVERYTHING. We rarely take thye time to messure how much an hour of hour work is really valued, or at least how we value it. And without knowing this, how can we know how much is a class, method or plugin in Unity is actually worth if we write it?

This is a question most of us just pass over and start with the Do It Yourself (DIY) mentality. But are we aware of the real cost of a DIY? For example lets say that we want a kick ass GUI controler for our game. First we browse the Asset Store, or the forums, and find, for example, NGUI, which is priced at $95. Then we rage about how expensive the thing is and that we could code it ourselves and that blah blah blah. The next step should be to ask ourselves, what is better, to buy it or to write it? And here there should be two things to consider: our current skill using Unity and the true DIY cost.

If our skills are very low, maybe we could attempt to code it, for the sake of learning. In coding (NOTE: coding, not algorithm design, that's a very different beast), practicing is the only way to learn more and improve our skills. Yet if our skills are good enough, then probably we won't learn much or nothing at all from attempting the DIY, it is at that point that knowing the cost for us comes into play.

Let's say that I value my hour of work at $5, then that means that a day of work is worth $40 to me (considering 8 hours only, yet we know that since we love doing what we do, we rarely spend only 8 hours). In perspective, if I could code NGUI completely from scratch by myself in less than 2 and a half days, I would be saving money. Any extra hour is driving the price of myGUI up by $5. So, if I could code it in say one week (6 days of 8 hours each), it would cost me $240. And i don't know how good are you in math, but $240 is way higher than $95. So, I'm actually spending an extra $145 for building my own tool. And yes, you will say, but what about the knowledge you acquired when programming it? Well, we actually said in the second paragraph that if you have enough knowledge in the field, then you won't be learning practically anything at all.

By failing to acknowledge the real cost of doing something by ourselves, we might as well end up paying much more money for something. This is something that we should always take into account, as indies, we don't run on infinite budgets, and sometimes spending money will save us lots of it!!! I know it's crazy, but is true.

Now, what happens when what you need is art? What happens when you are in need of 3D models? Different from code, the art will be an integral (and visual) part of the game. We just can't go and buy all the models from it and use it in a game. Or can we?

In my studio (Authentic Illusions), we are very good at programming (or so we say :P) and ... well, just that. Since we are a bunch of guys doing PhDs in Artificial Intelligence, we've become good at it, and at prototyping. The problem is we can't hire anyone else, and none of us is good at 3D modeling. And one of the key things that has helped us a lot in building better, and more visual prototypes, is the Unity Asset Store.

Recognize any of these guys (and girl)?

Our lack of more people in the art department has led us to one conclusion: We need someone there (I know, plot twist)!!! But being able to show what we could do if we had people with those skills has allowed us to show to general public, not just friends, what could be, if we could do it. We even went as far as to start a Kickstarter campaing using those models (if you'd like to see, or are awesome enough to join the dream we are trying to accomplish, it is here).

So, never forget, if you are a coder, DIY has its cost too, your time also costs, and most of the time, you'll end up paying way more money for going that route. If again you are a coder, or have a team made purely of coders, the Asset Store (or similar services), can help you make a more visual prototype of your game. Showing to someone a game that looks way different to what you intended (specially if models are pretty bad or are just cubes (plain white cubes, not the awesome ones from TwA)) might, and very possibly will deviate atention and real critique to what you what feedback from.

Never undermine the hidden cost of the DIY.

- Alejandro Garza





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