My earlier post airing my dissatisfaction with GameMaker since YoYoGames was acquired by PlayTech has been unexpectedly popular. Shortly after the post went live, prominent indie game developer and owner of the ersatz gamemakerblog website, TrueValhalla, retweeted the article, bringing a great deal of traffic to this site, and many other retweets, likes, and comments.
This evening, the article received some attention from Shaun Spalding, of YoYoGames, and I had a brief exchange with him on Twitter, although due to the time zone difference it was late for him and we weren’t able to go in depth. Shaun’s a recent hire at the company, and has been in charge of the community forums since joining. Previously, his YouTube channel has provided a great series of GML tutorials. He’s an all around good guy, and I have nothing against him personally. In fact, I’d like to be clear, I have nothing against any of the other prominent YYG personalities such as Mike Dailly or Russell Kay, or GMC forums administrator Mark “Nocturne” Alexander, or former YYG CEO Sandy Duncan. All of them have been friendly and accessible, and have always responded to questions, suggestions, and even the occasional complaint professionally. It’s great to have such accessible and visible people standing behind the product. I’m not looking to make enemies or get into a fight with anyone. I’m interested in frank dialog.
TrueValhalla characterized my post as detailing the “decline of GameMaker” since the PlayTech acquisition. I didn’t use those words myself, but it seems like a reasonable way to characterize my position, given the numerous disappointments and failings I had outlined in my post. I would say that my confidence in YoYo and in the future of GameMaker is at a low point. In my opinion, GameMaker hasn’t declined, exactly — it’s improved over what it was a year ago — but the rate of improvements has slowed noticeably over the last year. With the failed migration of the GMC Forums n the last couple months, I’m very concerned.
Absent insider knowledge of what’s going on, I am left to speculate that it’s due to the way PlayTech have managed them. A large part of the problem has been YYG’s failure at maintaining community relations to let concerned users know what’s going on with the product.
The minute the new GMC Forums release was late, or better still, the moment they knew it would be late, YYG should have communicated to the community to let them know what was going on, why, and what to expect, and when.
I’m not slamming YYG by saying this; I’m trying to help them by calling attention to problems, so that they can make improvements. My dissatisfaction with GameMaker doesn’t mean that I want to see GameMaker fail, or even that I don’t like GameMaker. Quite the contrary, I love it and want to see it thriving. But, the fact is, I don’t see GameMaker thriving right now, and I see numerous reasons for concern as I outlined in my previous post. There should be no controversy: a company must listen to its customers and be responsive to their needs.
But, given their track record over the last year since the PlayTech acquisition, I don’t have much hope for improvement. And so I’m looking at alternatives, and I’m currently very interested in the Godot engine, which seems to be delivering improvements with great velocity and doing all the right things to attract my attention as a developer. It’s good to have alternatives, and anyone who’s passionate about game development is constantly looking for better tools anyway. However good GameMaker is, they have to improve continuously in order to remain competitive in the marketplace. Slowing down or stagnating is death in this business climate. I really don’t want to see that happen.
Let’s look at Shaun’s responses in detail.
First, he responded by tweeting that he disagreed with “basically everything” in my post, but couldn’t articulate why in 140 char. So, ok. That’s fair. This blog post is an invitation for Shaun or anyone else at YoYo or PlayTech to respond in depth to my points.
Next, he tweeted a link to reddit, where on May 26 he responded to someone asking about why the new GMC Forums were so late. The explanation offered there is that PlayTech does gambling software, and so has much more stringent regulatory requirements for security, and because of these requirements, their IT security hasn’t cleared the new forum for release yet due to unforseen issues with the security of the new forums.
This is really sub-adequate, for at least four major reasons:
- This explanation happened on May 26 — the GMC forums went offline on April 8, with a promise to return in about two weeks, which would have been April 22. So this explanation is over a month late.
- The explanation is buried on a subreddit, not on the front page of yoyogames.com, or even on the front page of gmc.yoyogames.com, where it belongs.
- Someone had to ask what was going on. Didn’t it occur to anyone at YYG that the community would want to know what was going on with its forum, and that they should proactively communicate what’s been going on? YYG seem to have completely disregarded the importance of the community of active users who support their business.
- The explanation reveals that they weren’t prepared to perform the transition, and did not plan adequately. Good IT practice says that:
- There should have been a rollback plan in case the deployment couldn’t happen as planned.
- The gap between the old forum going readonly to the new forum going live should have been minimal. Even the planned two weeks of no GMC forum was far from optimal. There really isn’t any good reason why the old forums should have gone readonly until after the new forum was up and running.
- You should understand your security posture and ensure requirements are met before you start deploying a new system. During deployment is not the time to start testing the security of your new system!
It sounds like YYG went about the transition thinking that it wouldn’t be a big deal to make changes live on the production server, and midway through PlayTech caught wind of what was going on, at which point their IT Security department said, “Hold up, just what are you doing? Oh, hell no.” And since then, they’ve been stuck trying to comply with whatever PlayTech IT Security’s requirements are. And this has been going on for two months now, with no announcement or explanation in the most obvious place to make announcements, and no end in sight, and no rollback. GMC forum users are without a forum that they can post discussion on.
There’s no way you can convince me that “it’s all for the best” or “this was the way it had to be” or “this was the best we could do under the circumstances.” It’s a disaster born of mismanagement, poor planning, and poor communication. It harms the community of customers, and it harms YoYo’s reputation.
I highly, highly doubt that since the PlayTech acquisition that the YoYoGames web servers were integrated into PlayTech’s infrastructure in such a way that a security compromise in the GMC would have any impact to PlayTech’s compliance with any gambling regulatory concerns.
Absolutely, YYG should be implementing a secure web forum to replace the old GMC. But they should have had an acceptably secure solution ready before they went to deploy it.
You can bet if the GMC forums were directly generating revenue for YYG, this would never have been allowed to happen. But YYG seem oblivious to the fact that the community of GameMaker users is the lifeblood of their company, and that trust in YYG is essential. Users do not become customers without faith in the vendor.
Next, in response to my question of why YYG haven’t fixed the performance issues in My Library for over a year, Shaun’s response was that they have a small team and struggle with prioritizing fixing existing stuff and delivering new stuff.
I don’t doubt that. However, nothing about that admission inspires confidence. It generates a little sympathy, perhaps, but I can’t build video games with sympathy.
Here’s what’s wrong with Shaun’s response:
- Having been acquired by a larger company, YYG should have resources to hire additional staff to get to these tasks.
- YYG project managers need to assess the capability of their team and release only what they can maintain.
- The Marketplace is a major new feature. Releasing a beta, and then not continuing to develop it is not the right way to do a beta. Beta releases should be actively developed, and given priority. The purpose of doing a beta release is to allow the users an opportunity to use the solution, and provide feedback that can be used to improve it prior to the official release. Failing to act on feedback about the beta defeats the entire purpose of releasing it. Labeling something “beta” is not an excuse for poor quality.
- The workaround solution offered by YYG limits the number of assets a user can effectively own. Any defect that limits or discourages users from purchasing assets in the Marketplace should be considered a critical bug and given top priority. The whole purpose of the Marketplace is to generate sales of the assets sold there. Anything that discourages or limits the number of assets a user of the Marketplace can own is a top priority problem. Imagine if Amazon had a bug whereby every time you buy something from them, it makes the amazon user experience slow down, eventually preventing people from using anything they bought from them. What priority do you think Amazon would give to fixing that problem? Do you think the fix would be to advise customers to not buy so many things that it hurts performance, where “so many” is a number that can be represented in 7 bits?
- The performance problem of My Library is embarrassing. YYG should prioritize fixing it out of pride. Or shame. Either way. There’s no way a computer built after 1977 should have a problem managing a list of 100 items! Even an Apple ][ should be able to generate the list in under a second. Whatever is wrong with the code in My Library that causes this performance degradation, it is very, very wrong. No matter how bad Delphi is, surely it was always capable of managing a list of 100 items in a few milliseconds. It shouldn’t take a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo with 8 GB of RAM 11 minutes to populate the list! It shouldn’t take another 11 minutes each and every time the list needs to be refreshed!
- If your team is hard pressed to balance fixing current issues vs. building future solutions, your team needs to stop working on building future solutions immediately, and start fixing problems until you’re free enough of technical debt that you can advance while maintaining what you’ve released. Ideally, fixing problems can be accomplished by releasing the future solution. Get off the Delphi codebase and work on releasing a clean, maintainable rewrite. But don’t introduce more new features that you can’t support until you’ve gotten a handle on supporting what you’ve already released. If Delphi makes development difficult, stop using it.
My conversation with Shaun ended before we could get very deep into these points, so I don’t mean to bury him before he’s had a chance to address things, and I hope to hear more from him or others at YYG about how they intend to address these problems. But the response that I’ve seen so far haven’t been what I’d hope to hear, and do not inspire confidence.
I sincerely hope that YYG can turn things around and give its customers the GameMaker they deserve. But how they can accomplish this, given what they’ve shown lately, I don’t know. Getting the new GMC Forums up and running as soon as possible has got to be a top priority for them. Addressing the performance problems with My Library for “large” manifests has got to be a top priority for them. Releasing GM:S 1.5 or GM:Next, and getting off of the Delphi codebase that has given them so much technical debt has got to be a top priority for them. YYG need to understand what’s important to their users, and act to deliver the most important things. They used to do pretty good at this, prior to being bought by PlayTech. They need to get back to that, right away.