GameMaker EULA restricts developer creativity

[Editor’s Note: After a busy year or so of low posting frequency, during which I started but never completed many articles, I’ve been going through my old drafts, working to complete old articles that still hold relevance. So this is an old topic, though not out of date, which I started writing in May of 2015, and I don’t mean to stir up new debate over it, but it’s worth being aware of.]

YoYoGames has restrictions in the EULA for GameMaker which states in essence that users agree to allow YoYo the authority to determine whether a game produced by the user is in line with their moral standards, and the right to terminate your license if they wish should you produce something they deem objectionable, without explicitly spelling out what counts as objectionable.

An April 2015 discussion on the old GameMaker Community forums raised this issue, but is now hidden due to the closure of the Suggestion Box subforum, but still available through the Internet Archive’s Wayback machine.

To summarize the discussion, YYG don’t seem to be actively policing their policy, nor are they specific in explaining their standards for acceptable content in games. They seem to be treating the EULA clause as something they can invoke if they so choose, but not actively evaluating published games to ensure they don’t violate it. And currently they seem to be pretty lenient about what they deem acceptable — for example, they deem Hotline Miami to be clear of violating their standards. Accordingly, I don’t read YYG as bad actors here.

But this does give rise to what one would have to do in order to cross the line with respect to YoYo’s standards, and why have them in the first place. It seems the answer to the latter question is to allow YYG the contractual authority to nix a license more or less arbitrarily, in order to make clear that they do not have any relationship with a developer who they deem too offensive. Which is to say that if a game produced with GameMaker were developed and it generated negative publicity for YoYo, that’s probably ultimately what their standards boil down to.

YoYoGames motivation seems to be that they (understandably) do not wish to be associated in any way with a game that someone else develops, if that game is “deeply offensive” (whatever that means — it varies from person to person what offends them). Considering that many games these days address topics which many might find “controversial”, and thus may be offended by, it gives a developer pause. And even those games that are not exactly controversial routinely depict subject matter which upon a moment’s reflection make us wonder why they’re not considered offensive. A huge proportion of videogames depict violence in a casual, matter of fact, even joyous manner. But most games would be instantly get a Mature Audiences rating if they depicted nudity, even if the context isn’t sexual.

It’s tough to say what the guidelines are for producing a game that is free of these concerns, and YoYo weren’t very interested in stating their guidelines explicitly. “Use common sense” seems to be their question-begging non-answer. Common sense falls down in controversial cases precisely because they are controversial. There’s undoubtedly a whole classification of things that are offensive to marms and nuns but that teenage boys think is fine, but the only answer that matters in this case is, “is what’s considered offensive by YYG?” Debating “what is too offensive?” is an endless quagmire but “What does YYG consider too offensive?” is something that can have a start and an end to it, and is probably a succinct bulleted list, which people may be free to disagree with or not as they choose, but still helpless to change.

I surmise that there are things that are commonly topics addressed by the medium of videogames, such as violence and war and crime that are not included in the “truly offensive” category, but that a game could step over the line by being too explicit in its depictions of these things, or by appearing to advocate for doing these things in real life, or by appealing to the player’s “prurient interests” in such depictions. The “common sense” approach seems to be a way for YoYo to say, “We don’t want to say because it’d probably just give horrible people a to-do list, but if everyone could avoid things such as explicit torture, rape, and so on, that’d be great.”

Still, the fact that someone else can tell me what I can or can’t put into a game that I’ve designed, is inherently offensive to me. I think it unlikely that I’d produce something that would cause YoYo to take notice and strip me of my license, but the fact that they can, and that they think that it’s right for them to have such power, is offensive to me. To me, there is a boundary where their responsibility ends and my responsibility takes over, and I should be responsible for my creations; once the tool they’ve produced is in my hands I don’t need their sense of responsibility for their creations to encroach upon my creativity.

It’s tough to see why YoYoGames would be associated with a game that was developed by someone else, even if they happened to use GameMaker. One reason might be their logo is used as the default splash screen and application icon when a game is built with GameMaker. These are removable by the developer, but are often left as-is by amateur developers. But there, a simpler remedy would be to compel game developers to remove YYG logos from games that they do not wish to be associated with at their request. Or, if YYG wanted to, they could ban games that they deem unfit from being sold or otherwise distributed through their online store, while not taking away the developer’s liberty to release the game through other means, or to continue using GameMaker to develop other games.

YoYo declined to change the policy, taking a “take it or leave it” attitude, and then closed the forum topic to quash further discussion. It seems to be the YoYo forums general policy to kill topics when moderators deem that further discussion is “pointless” since they are firm about not changing their minds. Obviously that’s not the case, as there may be much to discuss whether or not YoYo change their minds, and getting YoYo to change their minds is not always the aim of discussing some topic on the forums. Really, it’s about stopping discussions that may lead to users expressing views deemed critical or negative to YoYoGames, which they (wrongly, in my opinion) feel is harmful or threatens their brand.

Which, since it’s their forum, that’s their prerogative, but I can’t say that I like or agree with the practice. And now that they’ve restricted access to that particular forum, the topic is no longer visible. And this is one of the reasons why I have my own website where I can exercise my right to free speech without censorship.

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