True Story: How Bad Game Art Can Kill Your Game

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Why poorly chosen game art can kill your game

Many game developers think that the most important part of the game is its gameplay. “Art, music, story — that’s for casuals, we are making games for the real gamers”, — they say. And then they are surprised when their games fail in sales.

After the fiasco the same developers hire artists to try to make their game beautiful in their eyes. And still fail. But why? Because not everyone has a good taste and knowledge how to make the artists do their best. In this article we will talk about how to choose visual style for your game to make it more attractive in the eyes of the players.

A typical story of bad game visuals

There was a game developer, a big fan of Heroes of Might and Magic, Disciples, Civilization and other turn based strategies. He decided to create a slightly simpler copy of the Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (1999) because the original pixel graphics looked outdated back in 2012.

heroes 3 art style

First of all he thought about gameplay. HoMM 3 consists of two parts:

  • Management. The player needs to manage resources, armies, cities and magic to become stronger and be able to defeat enemies;
  • Combat. The player commands one of his armies in turn-based fight.

In original HoMM management and combat are evenly balanced: at first you manage your kingdom, then you fight for 5 minutes and let the enemies do their turn in management and combat. That developer decided to throw out the boring management part and focus on combat.

He made a prototype, adjusted mechanics and balanced gameplay.

game prototype

The prototype was fun to play, but there were no graphics, only green and red hexagons. So he found an artist and ordered him to draw a few sprites in his favourite style: angels and demons.

prototype art style

As the developer said, those new sprites made his game look like a candy. But the game failed: only 800 players have bought it for $1,5.

The developer tried once again: changed balance, hired additional artists and added a few new units to both armies. Visual style became more mature, but the new game failed too.

game art outsource

Next try: 6 artists to draw even better graphics, 2 scriptwriters to write exciting stories, 1 marketing specialist to make people aware of the game. Guess what? 1900 installs in total, total failure.

game art studio

A few days after the release of his last game the developer found a free to play game about turn based combat on a hexagonal map. This game had simple 3D graphics and cartoonish art style, was poorly balanced and full of ads. But still had 300 000 installs and good rating in Steam.

game art style example

In total, that developer’s games were fun to play, but their art style was poorly chosen. And the art style was the main reason for failure. 

What was wrong with those games visual style

The main flaw is the overcomplicated style of the characters where nothing is clearly visible. While playing on mobile you can’t distinguish one unit from another from first look, can’t suggest what the units can do, how many health do they have, how to play and who to attack first.

game art mistakes

Indeed, the characters look good. But the werewolf thingy has sharp contours while a living tree has none. Enemy crystal creatures are clearly from the same army because they look similar, but why do they have an archer skeleton as an ally? And what is that staff and totems? Can you use them or they are decorative? While every element of the game is well made on its own, the overall visual style is just confusing.

Now look at the successful rival game. All 3D models are well stylized and you can be sure: they are from the same game. Weapons in their hands are big and clearly visible to tell you the purpose of every unit. And there are no excess decorative elements which distracts the players from gameplay.

Why you need to push on visual style of the game

When gamers choose what they want to play they look at the setting and style, but not at the gameplay. Some games sell good only because of their visuals. For example, there are hundreds of typical fantasy games with swords, magic, dragons and ancient prophecies.

But what about steampunk games? There are only Bioshock, Dishonored and The Order: 1884. So when a new steampunk game called Iron Harvest was released, it had 100 000 copies sold in the first week. And it doesn’t matter that the game has mediocre gameplay and a bad story, because gamers wanted to pay to see the giant steam-powered robots on the battlefield.

We told you about the good game that failed because of visuals, now it’s time to tell about the game that somehow became famous because of it — the Void Pyramid. Yes, it’s the official main screen of the game.

indie game art style

Void Pyramid is bad. It has a strange story, disgusting RPG system and awful graphics. But it still is famous between game artists as an example of how the visual style can make a game look better than it is.

game style

At first glance you may suggest that the person who made this all doesn’t know how to hold a pencil and how to use a color palette. But no, it was a developer’s plan — to make a game which would completely stand out from those polished candy graphics, cute sprites and bright colors which every mobile game has. And the Void Pyramid gained popularity, made some money and allowed the developer to make games with better looks.

How to make a complete visual style for your game

Choose the setting of the game: past, present, future, alternative history, parallel universe, space, Australia, whatever. Then describe characters, NPCs, landscapes and props in the design document. Pay some artists to draw you a concept art or find references and do it yourself. Hire artists to draw hundreds of sprites for your game, control the result and try to contain all the images in one style while arguing with artists. It will cost you money, nerves and a lot of time.

Easier way: hire the Kreonit game art outsource studio to make art for your game. We will analyze the market and your game to choose a suitable visual style, draw the concept art and follow the chosen style.

game art outsource

At the end you’ll get complete visuals, including interface, ingame menus and ideas for posters and ads. But the best of all is that you’ll save your nerves and time.

So if you need not just a few cool sprites but a complete art style for your game — contact us and we will help you.


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