Why is no one downloading my visual novel character assets although they're free?

There we have it: that question reverberating through many a one free visual novel character asset makers' heads, especially the newbies.

One would generally expect that free assets are a boon to developers and therefore automatically sought after and downloaded in bulk, but this isn't always the case. There may be occasions where you'd upload your assets, price them for free or have a pay-what-you-want payment scheme, and still get little to no downloads at all, even if you do get some views. It happens.

Now, the first thing you'd probably fret about is the quality of your work - I've definitely heard of new artists joining the VN asset-making world and feeling discouraged by the lack of views, downloads and/or comments they're getting - which sort of led a number of them to tearfully question their ability to draw on off-site platforms such as Discord. But again, in my opinion quality isn't always the direct cause of this lack of public interest - while the quality of the art does play some part in the amount of views and downloads we get, they aren't always the main reason why our assets get overlooked or ignored.

I wrote this devlog since I've made a number of visual novel character packs over two years and have been looking at their respective graphs over the past few weeks, seeking to make some notes for personal record. I've only my own data and contacts to go by, so the sampling's a little smaller than what's viable for an actual study. I'd advise you to take whatever you read here with a grain of salt - they're theoretical at best.

Anyway, without further ado, here's the first possible reason:

There's an over-supply of free character assets on the market

I recently had a conversation with a digital art dealer who was lamenting that the art scene was quiet as of late, and that potential clients were having buying fatigue.

When he said, "fatigue", he really meant fatigue. From the looks of it, collectors are literally getting tired out from the constant supply of art and collections out there, and this is no different when it comes to free game assets.

Digital art has become easy to produce and push out, and with the influx of suppliers uploading visual novel character assets for free, there's likely an oversupply of them for developers to download and use. There are to date (as of this log) 945 free visual novel assets available on Itch Io itself (1,761 if you count in the ones that aren't free) - and that's not counting the ones you can download from forums like Lemmasoft or Japanese material sites. 345 of the 945 assets on Itch Io are characters.

Therefore, a developer's spoiled for choice. 345 characters are a lot of characters available to download and use, and obviously any asset project page can potentially get buried, regardless of whether they're newer or older. One of the few ways to rise above the pack is to get a spot on the Popular tab, which tends to feature certain types of characters based on consumer view/download algorithm in order to "curate" them and bring the best possible result to a developer who's searching for something, based on what many others are searching for.

This brings me to my next point, which is:

The character asset just doesn't fit a popular genre or sex

Look, downloads are generally a numbers game - and when it comes to numbers, popularity's always going to come up somehow.

Whenever we draw characters based on niche or period settings, we're generally going to see fewer numbers whether it's view-counts or downloads overall. Niche or period settings can be very difficult to write as the creator would need to study or create the culture and politics of that particular setting, so if a developer who was just starting out were to make a game, the easiest and quickest solution would be to make a visual novel with a modern-day setting.

The other thing about visual novels is that the popular ones tend to be adult in nature, featuring female characters. As of the date of this log, there are 36,566 visual novels on Itch Io, 11,534 of which are tagged Adult. Top of the Popular tab are hentai games, and from the looks of the thumbnails, the characters featured are female. Even the popular furry ones are adult-oriented.

That said, visual novel character assets that are female, containing full or partial nudity and set in a modern day era do tend to dominate the Popular tab. A developer looking for more downloads and/or payment would no doubt need to draw attention by making adult-oriented games featuring female characters as love interests, or a general hentai game, so downloads for these would likely be higher, assuming they aren't hiring their own artist.

If you want larger amount of views and downloads, sexy is generally a starting point. It's not to say that assets featuring male characters from different worlds or eras won't get any downloads, but you might get fewer of them, or much fewer views in comparison to female characters.

The upside is that characters from niche settings have little to no competition since they're rare to begin with - and developers specifically making game based on that niche era or setting would have no choice but to download your stuff! I'm definitely seeing relatively high download numbers for some of my niche-setting character designs, as it seems I'm the only one providing them at the moment.

On to possible reason #3:

The distribution format of your assets may not be compatible with many developers

Believe it or not, quite a number of developers who download and use game assets don't really have much knowledge when it comes to image editing programs. They've probably heard of Paint or GIMP - but I've definitely heard of developers who don't know what GIMP is, or are unfamiliar with the concept of layers in general.

As artists, the concept of using layers or editing programs comes naturally to us. I've been known to dump Illustrator and PSD files on unsuspecting clients in the past, and have since stopped because they're extremely confused by them. A little bit of hindsight - these folk aren't digital artists for a reason - therefore expecting them to understand layers and save each expression or pose on their own is kinda... yeah, some of them are going to find it pretty hard.

I tend to flatten each piece into PNGs for that reason. Ren'Py facilitates the use of code to layer images, which developers are generally a little more accustomed to than, say, opening the PSD file and trying to figure out what a layer actually is in an unfamiliar program. Granted, they can learn it over a few hours and save each expression or layer themselves, but if it's a developer who's new and they're trying to crunch for a game jam submission, losing even an hour of development work can be brutal.

On top of that, there's actually an option on Itch Io's tag filtering mechanism that allows you to search specifically for PNG file formats when looking for assets to use. If you're not seeing the views and downloads you're looking for, it could be that your asset page has been filtered out by this mechanism when a developer's specifically looking for something a little more instant to use.

So yeah, consider saving a few pieces in PNG format and seeing if that helps with views and downloads. You can still add the PSD files on the side for those who want more expressions and are willing to save them on their own.

Last but not least,

A storyteller or writer is more likely to look for custom character art, not premade ones

For a visual novel developer, 345 free characters to choose from is a lot. That's 345 different character sets to sieve through. I say this through experience - I have sifted through these sprites myself for a game jam and it took me a loooooooong time. Unfortunately, I only found one I could sort of use, and as the artist had only uploaded one guy of that particular era, I had to scrap my plans to use any.

I can't speak for other niche-setting visual novel developers or writers, but I do know that when I have something in mind, I really do have something in mind. At that point I had wanted to make something Victorian-inspired - and as a anime BL developer, it had to be an anime sprite of some sort, and male at that. My specification was so specific that... well, I only managed to find ONE sprite that sort of suited it.

So what did I do? I made my own sprites using my old sprite bases - the quickest way I knew.

As visual novel writers, I personally feel that one aspect of our personality may be that when we present a story, we're looking to present our story. While it's not to say that we won't use another artist's character design in our works, they do need to fit what we have in mind and a number of us can be real sticklers to that story/setting. So no matter how crappy our art abilities are, some of us are really just going to draw it ourselves, even if it means using MS Paint and creating very, very questionable Yaoi stickmen to tell that sexy, steamy story of ours.

Developers don't exactly need to pay for custom art either - in case you haven't noticed, there are quite a number of artists who're willing to work with a developer for free as long as they get their art and characters seen by the public. It's not that hard to get custom character art for free if you know where to look... which I won't be teaching you, since I'm mean like that.

So yeah, all in all, it's not to say that your art's bad or anything if people don't download it. There are other reasons that that might happen, and while some are within our control, such as putting out new art that fits more popular categories, some aren't, such as our niche characters not fitting even the demands of developers making games depicting a niche setting, or custom art being easier to find and use than ours (thanks, search function that keeps spitting out irrelevant titles!).

That said, this devlog has gotten long! For those of you who were here hoping to see me whine about low views or downloads, I'm sorry, but you've been had! 😂 Cheers~

Get Character Pack: Merman Undersea Anime Boys


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I don't know about other people, but for me it's 2 or 3 things, I don't know about other people. 

1. I am lazy and don't want to download an asset that I'd have to create a special page to attribute an author (especially since i have never created a special page before) 

2. While I do love your stuff, very beautiful stuff. I Have no backgrounds to go with any setting that any of these characters would be in and have no idea where to find them other than AI art (which I don't want due to it's controversial nature) or commissioning someone to do them...(which I don't want to do for monetary and attribution reasons) while I could draw them I am not confident in my drawing ability being up to the character assets (they have to at least match in quality for me) (Manipulating photographs look weird when combined with anime/cartoon style art). So essentially on top of being lazy I am particular or picky.

3. While I do wish to write adult visual novels the characters don't need to be nude for it, only shirtless if male, so technically as long as I either have permission from the artist or they don't mention that they don't want it in adult stuff I can still do it. So technically if someone doesn't want to put your art in there as long as you have a basis for adult content through story-telling it's their problem not yours.

4. If I write a visual Novel I want to be able to charge money if I so choose and your permission on this point is vague: This is a non-commercial project. Does that mean that i can't use it for Commercial things are that you aren't charging for it, and putting it in the More information box makes me have to troll the internet to look up what the license is, and gives me permission to do.

5. I haven't currently got an idea for a story in my head for your assets. (Which isn't helped by not having backgrounds to put them against (Seriously the backgrounds is my biggest problem with pretty much any story)).

I suppose ease of use and not currently having something in mind to put the characters in is what this whole long comment is about.

I Love your assets they are very good.

Hi, thanks for your comment! You bring up a great point about not having any backgrounds for certain character sprites - I did forget to mention that it's easier to find modern-day backgrounds or those featuring Japanese school settings compared to, say, Neverland, feudal Japan or anything of the Victorian era. It's one of the things that causes developers to not use specific assets or write specific stories as well, even if they could.

From developer to developer, though, I can try to help you with your issue in Point (1). You don't actually have to create a special credits page to credit the artists or sound creators - you can just edit the About page in Ren'Py, if you're using that as an engine. You can find it in the screens.rpy file and edit it:

Alternatively, you can write the credit module in your text once the game ends, in your script.rpy file itself:

I can't speak for other creators out there, but you're probably going to have a difficult time finding free assets you can use if you don't find a way to credit them, especially if you intend to sell your game. Free assets can take hours, days or weeks to make, so the lowest bar of use is to credit the creator of the free source you're using. This also extends to sound files and background music.

As a developer, we can potentially get into trouble with customers who've bought our game and decide to report us for not crediting our sources, once they find out we're using free assets instead of purchased ones since they're paying us in the first place. I've seen some pretty... vocal people on the Internet. Having a credits page tends to help us as developers quite a bit.

Point (4) appears to be specific to my assets, so I guess I can only answer for myself. I tend to put extra information within the metadata - this is because developers specifically looking to create commercial games to sell will most likely check the metadata or extended information due to legalities. Most prolific commercial game creators tend to have a dedicated team for scripting, timing, QC as well as art, animation, sound, voice-overs and music, and these are usually paid assets. When I mention my stuff is commercial-free, it simply means that I don't accept payment for them, and that I'll put out only a standard set of free stuff and modifications are for the team to make, not me. While I do allow them to be used commercially, it'll absolve me from further involvement. Legal use is always in the metadata/further information area. It's neater-looking, more professional, and still within the same page.

If you don't know anything, it's not a bad idea to ask in the comments. Hope that helps! Cheers~

And thank you for yours too ^_^