How stolen art impacted the Braythe project
For Braythe: Shattered Realities, I have commissioned a lot of art – it’s one of the biggest investments I made for the entire project. I specifically decided against the use of AI art, both for quality, ethical reasons and because I wanted to support artists. While I still think this was the right decision, it was not without problems, unfortunately. This is a cautionary tale, and I hope it will help other game developers make the right choices.
I contacted artists I found on social media and who offered commissioned work. To be honest, it was a straining experience. Some never wrote back, or ghosted me in the middle of a conversation. One person I hired got half the money upfront, completely misunderstood the assignment (a.k.a. basically not reading it), and never delivered a result to me. But that was merely the shadow of things to come.
One of the artists I worked with directed me to Fiverr – it was their business platform of choice, so I made an account. And honestly, at first sight, Fiverr looks great. I found many awesome artists there, most of the art created for Braythe was purchased there. I am happy about the opportunities I got thanks to Fiverr.
At some point in the project, I decided I’d need a cover artwork. I chose an artist with truly amazing references, and invested A LOT in the piece. It was entirely disappointing. The artist delivered, well, something. But it just didn’t look right, and no matter what I told them, it only changed, but never improved. I basically gave up. The artist had invested their time, so I wanted to be fair and paid.
I have a social media group for one of my playtester groups, and posted the artwork there. One of the artists I worked with is part of this group, and she immediately noticed that this wasn’t a genuine piece of art – it was a photoshopped merge of existing artwork from other people.
In other words, that “artist” sold me stolen art.
I was devastated, and with the help of my artist friend, checked all the pieces I had commissioned. Google Lens was extremely helpful for this. In the end, I found five different pieces that were stolen and had to be replaced. This was not only a financial setback – it broke my heart. I wanted to bring my dream alive, and wanted to support artists at the same time. But instead of working on something amazing together with other creative souls, I got scammed. I could have faced legal backlash. This was such a slap in the face, I couldn’t work on Braythe for a while, at all.
In the end, I gathered all the evidence I could find, and contacted Fiverr support. That’s what they are there for, after all, right?
To make a long story short: It was a mess. I combined all the information into one support request. The support employees ignored everything but one order.
In the end, I gave up. I tried again, after quite a while, to put in specific requests for each order where I had explicit proof. This time, they merged the remaining two support requests into one – so it seems they ARE capable of handling different topics at once, and were just totally unwilling in the first case. Unfortunately, I still got a negative answer. Despite having definite proof for art theft, I didn’t get my money back – this time reasoning that the order was completed too long ago.
For two pieces, I couldn’t find definite proof, but they were from the same people where I had proof. The fact that I obviously couldn’t trust the “artists”, and couldn’t use their deliveries for my commercial project, didn’t bother Fiverr at all. Without explicit proof for every single order, they don’t care. And even with proof, they still try their very best to NOT give you your money back. At least, that’s my experience.
Of course, I had to find replacements. As I was already very active on Twitter by that time, and followed several amazing artists, I asked around there. But this time, I was prepared, and triple-checked every single artist that contacted me. The results were, once again, devastating.
About 40% (!!!) of all artists that offered their work sent me either photobashed images (reworking stolen art into something “new” with Photoshop), or bluntly sent art from other artists as their own references. In the end, I found the right people to work with, and received some more truly amazing art pieces. Still, both the emotional and financial impact were heavy on me.
Oh, and the consequences for those artists on Fiverr? This is what the support promised me:
The artists are still active on Fiverr, still selling stolen art.
If you ever consider commissioning art, and you don’t know and trust the artist yet, here is my advice:
- Make a reverse image search (for example, with Google Lens) for both the overall image and the most important elements of the image.
- If an artist gives you references with wildly varying styles, be VERY, very cautious.
- If a seemingly highly talented artist is asked for changes, and they fail to deliver anything even close to what you asked for, be VERY VERY cautious.
- Don’t trust the Fiverr support. You might be lucky, but don’t count on it.
And despite all these negative experiences, the heartbreak and loss that resulted from all this: I want to say thank you to each and every honest, amazing artist I worked with so far. You helped bring Braythe alive, and I will always be thankful for that.