Unity unveils Icon Collective initiative to sell premium assets

AAA-level character models and environmental assets will be made available on an ongoing basis.

The Unity Asset Store is synonymous with a lot of things: indie game development, student courses, and even the dreaded “asset flip.” It’s allowed developers to create wide and varied landscapes without an army of employees in the early days of their businesses. Overall, the store sees more than a million downloads per month.

That said, there’s always been a ceiling of quality to most Unity assets’ graphical fidelity. No one could say that assets like these or these are pushing the limits of artistic merit, but Unity has a new trick up its sleeve that they’re hoping will do just that.

Dubbed the “Unity Icon Collective,” the new initiative aims to provide Unity Asset Store customers with tools and models that rival even the most AAA of developers, and they’re not doing it alone. Teased back in November, the Icon Collective’s first asset collection, “Buried Memories -- Yggdrasil,” is based on the work of Johnson Ting, a concept artist who has worked with Sony, Legendary, NCsoft, Tencent, and more on games like Gears of War 4 and Horizon: Zero Dawn.

You can definitely feel that Horizon: Zero Dawn aesthetic in the debut trailer for the Icon Collective.

Ting is backed up by a small team of artists, animators, sound designers, and more. This includes Assassin’s Creed Odyssey senior art director Mufizal Mokhtar and animation director Cyrus Lam, plus developers from Pinewood Studios (post-production audio on Wolfenstein: The New Colossus), Star Wars Battlefront, and more.

"I think the Icon Collective is such a great idea because it will help developers in so many ways, especially indie ones,” Ting said. “Having game-ready assets without going through many months of pre-production, production, and post-production is going to save creators a lot in terms of time and cost. This lets developers focus their energy on other aspects of their project."

It’s interesting to see Unity releasing assets that clearly have a level of polish and artistic flair most usual in-store products don’t. The level of detail present in the assets (and particularly the above video) showcase something that might be on par with a sci-fi game like Horizon: Zero Dawn, albeit before at least a few months of polish on textures and animation. In a world where indie developers are often trying to get by on the modest (read: affordable) assets available to them, something like the Yggdrasil asset collection could help level that playing field, if only just a bit. Normally assets like these could cost a studio thousands of dollars to produce.

"This project is so exciting because I literally can not wait to see what the community brings to life,” said Glen Gathard, head of creative audio at Pinewood. “The quality of the assets are truly AAA, and hopefully they will give people a high-end starting point to bring their visions to life. As someone who is lucky enough to work in both film and games, I can’t wait to see what the community can think up."

The environmental assets, built using scanned real-world objects and textures from Quixel Megascans, are modular, which ostensibly allows for easier creation.

“We share Unity’s mission of democratizing game development and we know that collaborations and partnerships are an essential part of progressing our industry,” Quixel CEO Teddy Bergsman said. “We hope that the Quixel Megascans assets used as part of the Icons project will inspire up-and-coming talent to continue building world-class games."

The assets are available to Unity Pro subscribers of small studios with fewer than 10 employees, or for $249.99. The assets are available as a singular pack, or split up between character models and environmental assets.

According to an earlier report by VentureBeat, the new assets are based on a new intellectual property that Unity is planning to develop as the Icon Collective packages continue. Unity will provide guidelines for developers to adhere to so they can contribute to the roboticized, overgrown world of Yggdrasil. Publishers who create “Icon-ready” content will be promoted across Unity asset store channels and even have the opportunity to join the Unity Icon Collective, with their content featured in upcoming asset packages. According to VentureBeat, future collections will cover a range of genres and styles.

Source: Unity
Source: Unity

It’ll be some time before developers really get to sink their teeth into this new asset toybox, but you can’t knock the improved visual quality. Considering it’s at a price point that’s peanuts compared to the thousands of dollars it might normally take to create such environments and models, it’s a mark in favor of further democratizing game development.

Though “asset flip” (the act of implementing a bunch of pre-made assets into a cheap game in order to make a quick buck) carries a lot of baggage, it certainly allows developers to get the ball rolling on projects that might normally have been outside of their grasp. The previously mentioned PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds started development using Unity assets to help the team find a gameplay loop that felt fun enough before committing to an art style, as outlined in this Kotaku piece.

It’s unclear what other genres or styles the Unity Icon Collective might tackle. At its present state, it seems like a healthy mix of AAA developers and indie. One can see room for the Icon Collective to touch on mobile or VR assets, especially considering 40 percent of indie studios survey by Unity are working in the VR/AR space.

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Joseph Knoop is a writer for Game Daily, IGN, PC Gamer, and plenty more. He owns an irresponsible amount of Overwatch merch. Break it down with him on Twitter @JosephKnoop.