Reskinning Games: Cloning or Breathing New Life?


Every year, new projects with exciting stories and gameplay appear on the market. In this world, even the most creative products lose their appeal over time. In such cases, reskinning comes to the rescue. Find out what reskinning is, how a project’s new skin works, and what the point is in our article.

What is reskinning?

Reskinning is creating a project with an original look, graphics, and narrative on the basis of an existing structure, mechanics, and content. In other words, it is putting a new skin on an existing skeleton. In game projects, reskinning can take the form of changing the setting—the stereotypical and recognizable world in which the action takes place. This could, for example, entail moving the story from a steampunk setting to a sci-fi setting, or from the Wild West to a fantasy world.

Changes to graphics can also be an aspect of reskinning, whether making them more sophisticated, more simple, or adapting them to a new style. In some cases, it is a reinforcement of the game’s style from casual to realistic. In others, it is a change of graphics production from 3D to 2D, if such an approach is faster or more suitable for the project’s new format. As a rule, changing the graphics of a game as part of a reskin entails changing the whole narrative of the game—adapting the lore and texts—even though the mechanics and structure are retained.

What types of reskin are there? 

Reskin alterations may include the following options:
– Setting
– Style
– Production method
– Target audience characteristics

The famous game Super Mario Bros 2 was a reskin of the Japanese game Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic for the American market, where Mario was already well-known

In 2021, we worked on a project localizing the card game Solitaire Cruise into Arabic. To enter the Middle East market, it was important to take into account not only lexical and cultural changes in the narrative, but also national characteristics in style. During the project, Inlingo’s translators and editors removed or changed subjects in the narrative that were sensitive or prohibited, proposed unique events for the region, and consulted the client on the game’s visual presentation. The main changes were to the character’s clothing, the locations, and the game’s symbols, which were fully adapted to the Middle East.

Yana Glotova, Art Director at Inlingo

Why are reskins necessary?

A reskin is a great way for developers to repeat the success of a project in a new audience segment. To do this, you can just change the setting, or go further and enter a new market. For example, the tastes, demands, and laws of European and Asian audiences differ greatly, so changing the graphics becomes easier than adapting the game itself.

Let’s imagine there’s a game about a farm in the Wild West, but it’s not interesting to that segment of the audience that prefers a sci-fi or fantasy setting. In that case, a reskin will take much less time, as all the technical, economic, and other basic components of the project have already been created, tested, and are guaranteed to work. All that remains is to create a “new skin” for all that and you can go to market and win over another segment of the target audience.

Yana Glotova, Art Director at Inlingo

The game Homescapes (right) and the reskin Fishdom (left). In both games, the plot revolves around the hero restoring and decorating their environment, and the main mechanic is match-3.

One further reason why developers may consider a reskin is to update the graphics of their game or app. For example, if not enough attention was paid to them initially, or if a lot of time has passed since the project was launched and the graphics are clearly outdated. In such cases, a reskin can help freshen up the product and increase interest among old and new audiences.

Upsides and downsides of reskinning 

Reskinning is a widespread practice in the video game industry. This approach can be attractive to developers as it has a range of advantages. Here are some of them:

  • Short development time: Updating graphics and narrative is easier, faster, and cheaper than creating a new project from scratch.
  • Working base: If a developer bases their reskin on a working project where everything is well-established, checked, and balanced, they can minimize the element of surprise in the launch.
  • Reaching additional audience: A reskin allows you to breathe new life into a project, improve perceptions of it, or adapt it to a new target audience. In this way, developers can attract players from different age groups, geographical regions, or cultural backgrounds. 
  • Compact team:  In comparison with full development of a new game, which requires a big team of developers with different skills, reskinning requires fewer participants. It can therefore be performed by a small team of just a few people—such as an outsourcing studio.

Although reskinning can be useful for developers thanks to the savings in time and effort, there are some disadvantages that may affect the popularity of the game among players, as well as the reputation of the developer.

  • Competition and clones:  When some projects gain popularity and become hyper-successful, a large number of “clones” will quickly appear on the market. These games do not just use similar mechanics, they copy the product completely. For this reason, developers of original content have to act fast to roll out their projects in full.
  • Market saturation: Before launching a reskin, it is vital to analyze the dynamics of the main project’s indicators and the level of market saturation for similar genres. With the rapid growth in the game industry, by the time the reskin is ready—even taking into account reaching new audiences—the project may have lost its relevance.
In the games market, you will often come across cases of one game copying another with minor changes in graphics. That was what happened with Hearthstone. A reskin appeared on the Chinese market a couple of months after the first beta tests, completely unexpectedly for the owners of the original franchise. While the games industry is more than familiar with repetition, and many games use identical mechanics, completely copying somebody else’s game is against the law. Third-party developers who grow overly fond of a reference and employ it excessively risk being sued by the original developer.

Yana Glotova, Art Director at Inlingo

Inlingo’s practice

Sometimes, localization of a project requires not just a translation that addresses cultural differences, but a complete change of contents. That was the case with the popular Chinese game Three Kingdoms: Attack! The client approached Inlingo with a request to adapt the project after a reskin for the Western market. The plot of the original game is set against the backdrop of the Three Kingdoms era in China, while the characters are famous military commanders and their followers. The setting, the characters, items, skills, and narrative all underwent changes. The plot of the game was transferred from Ancient China to a post-apocalyptic world, the names and stories of 77 characters were changed, and the warriors’ horses and weapons were turned into futuristic vehicles and gadgets. All that remained from the original project were the mechanics and the general character of battles.

The generals’ horses and items adapted to the new setting

The main challenge for our work on the project was that the localizers had to create the greater part of the game from scratch—they came up with replacements for the items, names of missions, and the characters’ stories. Furthermore, not all of the content had been visually adapted. For example, several characters were only drawn after the localization.

The reskin of the Chinese game Three Kingdoms: Attack! for a Western audience

The Inlingo team has sufficient experience, expertise, and enthusiasm to provide comprehensive services on tasks like reskinning, narrative, localization, cultural adaptation, and art. Engagement, initiative, and an analytical approach to the job are what characterizes our work, ensuring a high-quality result and making working with us pleasant and productive.

Yana Glotova, Art Director at Inlingo