In recent weeks, I’ve been fairly outspoken and critical about the velocity with which YoYoGames have been delivering change in their core product, GameMaker: Studio, since being acquired by PlayTech.
In response to this, Twitter user and fellow GameMaker developer @doppp pointed out that my remarks about YoYoGames’ failings with GameMaker of late serve as an anti-sales pitch for my GameMaker assets:
— Daryl Yeo (@Doppp) August 16, 2016
Well, I suppose that’s a fair point to make.
I gave @doppp my short answer: if you’re already using #GameMaker and are happy with it, there’s no reason not to purchase assets that look useful.
A long answer demanded more space than I can put into a tweet, or a series of tweets.
So how can I simultaneously ask people to pay money for the assets I’ve created while criticizing YoyoGames?
Criticizing isn’t bashing. Or negative.
When a problem is real, pointing out that it exists and that something needs to be done about it is NOT being negative. People like to say that it is, but it isn’t! Ignoring problems and acting like they don’t exist is worse.
As a user, I’m entitled to criticize the product, to say what I like about it as well as point out problems and ask the developer for remedy. Why? Because I’m a user! These are my experiences! That’s why.
Also, GameMaker is closed source, so I can’t freely modify it to better suit my needs. That’s why.
And because I paid for a license. That’s why. I paid for a Master Collection license, which costs around $800.
To be sure, even a user who’s never spent a dime on GameMaker can have a valid opinion about it. And the fact that I’ve spent money on a license doesn’t make my opinions more valid. But it does show that I have a larger stake in the product than does someone who hasn’t.
My time is valuable, I’ve sunk quite a bit of it into GameMaker, and I want GameMaker to continue to improve and be successful.
I’ve been using GameMaker since version 8.1, for a good six years now. I was an early adopter of the GameMaker: HTML, and GameMaker: Studio. I purchased a Master Collection license for Studio in order to have full access to every feature the product offered or would offer. I’ve contributed technical review to two published books on GameMaker.
I have the experience to offer valid opinions on it. Does that mean I know everything, or am right about everything? Of course not. But it does mean that my opinions are not uninformed.
Software development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Developers depend on users to make it known what their needs are and what their pain points are. Providing this feedback in a useful and productive manner is a valuable service, and developers ignore stakeholder input at the peril of the product they’re producing.
Obviously, any company has limited resources and can’t do everything that every customer wants, and YoYoGames is no exception. But it’s still necessary and important for their customers to provide feedback. I haven’t once felt that the employees of YoYoGames resented my feedback. They may not always agree with it, and that’s fine. I respect them, while at the same time striving to make the best case for the validity and importance of the feedback that I offer to them.
Let’s be clear: We all know that there are pros and cons to any product. The cons are negative. Acknowledging that they exist, pointing them out, and discussing them isn’t negative.
OK but it’s not fair to slam YoYo in public. You’re hurting their reputation and their sales. Therefore, you cannot say you like them.
First, I would dispute that my public comments re: YoYo are “slamming” them. I do my best to offer fair and valid criticism. And doing so publicly is actually my last resort, something I do sparingly and reluctantly.
I’ve actually provided feedback to YoYoGames in a number of ways over the years. I submit bug reports. I engage with YoYoGames support. I post suggestions on the official community forums. All of this gets read. Generally speaking, the bug reports and support requests are handled well. Bugs that turn out to be real issues get prioritized and fixed.
The situation with the My Library bug that I’ve been publicly vocal about, has not been handled well. After submitting a support request and opening up a bug report for this issue, I’ve waited well over a year, and seen no remedy to the problem, other than a suggested workaround to deactivate some of the Marketplace assets that I own, until the performance My Library becomes reasonable. This is not a solution, and even as a workaround it’s not very good. YoYo needed to address this issue as soon as it came to light, and they didn’t.
Fortunately, subsequent to my article appearing in public and getting some significant exposure, YoYo Community Manager Shaun Spalding started a discussion in the new Forums asking people for what they’d like to see done with My Library. I take this as a sign that they’re listening and starting to take steps in the right direction. Would that it were sooner, but at least it’s happening now. Maybe that discussion wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t sounded off about my frustrations. Sometimes you need to speak out.
The other situation I’ve been vocal about was the poorly handled migration to the new community forums. Here, YoYo should have done a better job of explaining to its users what was going on. They didn’t, and after two months of waiting with no official word about what was happening, I felt it was necessary to state the reasons that this was unacceptable. The only place I had available to do this was in public.
Brand management, community relations, and customer service are extremely important, and it was very distressing to see YoYo failing so badly at it. It was entirely appropriate to express serious concerns over the future of the product.
Bottom line, YoYoGames exists in public. It’s fair to talk about public things in public. Whether or not YYG’s hands are tied to talk about their product in public, the public is going to talk about their product. The best way to get people to say good things about you is to be good, and to fix things when you are not good.
Overall, YoYoGames have been very good owners of GameMaker. I’ve yet to see reason to believe that PlayTech is a good owner of YoYoGames. I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, so I can’t say for sure, but it feels to me like YoYo was doing more, better, sooner before they got acquired. That may or may not be true, but that’s how it appears to me.
OK but if your criticism of YoYoGames is true, then why should I sink any money into GameMaker development when it has these problems?
Well, that’s something everyone has to decide for theirself, but of course that answer won’t suffice here.
Ultimately it’s YoYoGame’s job to persuade you that their product is worth your time and money. But definitely, customer testimonials are strong persuasion.
Look, every product has flaws. People who are enthusiastic about products tend to talk a lot about ways they could be improved. That doesn’t mean they don’t like the thing they’re talking about. Far from it!
I used to recommend GameMaker perhaps more enthusiastically, but always conditionally. I still do, actually, but now it’s with a bit more conditions. It’s a fine tool, that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
Why buy into GameMaker? Whether in terms of time or money, GameMaker is great if:
- You want to do rapid prototyping and get something up and running quickly.
- You want to do 2D game development of relatively small, simple games. (Sure, GM:S can handle larger projects, but there are other tools to consider when your project scales above a certain size.)
- You want a simplified developer experience without all the headaches of more complicated tools.
- You have no experience developing software and want to express your creativity with a tool that won’t overwhelm you with its complexity.
- You need or want access to the features that a paid license unlocks.
- You feel appreciation for the work YYG have done so far and want to contribute to that success financially.
I used to say that GameMaker is worth considering for game developers with professional aspirations, because since I started working with the product at version 8.1, I saw consistent, rapid releases of impressive new features that expanded the capability of the tool, year after year.
I’m not saying that now, because in the last year I can’t think of anything new that they’ve introduced since the PlayTech acquisition, and professional developers depend on their tools to continuously improve. Here’s a timeline showing what YYG have delivered during the life of GM:S so far:
- GameMaker HTML5 (essentially a beta of GM:S that built only to HTML5)
- GameMaker Studio launches.
- Windows 8, OS X, iOS, and Android build target
- GM:S available through Steam
- Publish games to Steam Workshop
- Tizen build target
- Ubuntu build target
- YoYo Compiler
- GameMaker: Marketplace
- GameMaker: Player
- PlayTech acquisition (February)
- Then-CEO Sandy Duncan says they expect to release GM:S 2.0 “sometime in 2015”
- Universal Windows Platform (UWP) build target (November)
- Roadmap goes dark.
GM:S 2.0: originally planned a release sometime in 2015; as of August 2016 it’s still in closed beta. Delays happen, and often for good reason. It’s plausible that the delay in this case has to do with the acquisition by PlayTech, as being acquired is often disruptive to operations, but I don’t know what the reason is.
- New forum software goes live (after nearly 3 months delay while old forum in read-only archive state).
So, unless I’m missing something, apart from UWP, basically nothing new/major in the last 2 years, coinciding with their acquisition by PlayTech. Just bugfixes. That’s not nothing, but that’s not major, either.
That could be a coincidence, I suppose. It could be that not much was delivered in 2015 due in part to the transition of ownership, but also due to so many new features being part of the new codebase that makes up 2.0, and 2.0 being delayed. But it does seem like their velocity of delivering major new features has slowed, especially compared with 2012-13.
My point in saying all that is not to be negative, but to present evidence. If YYG were delivering with the same velocity they were in 2012-13, I’d be very happy and recommend them without reservation. They don’t seem to be, and that’s a concern. They’re no longer talking about what their future plans for the product are, and that’s a concern. They had a very visible failure to deliver the new forums, and didn’t handle the community relations around that well, and that’s a concern.
The product is as good as it’s ever been, and it’s never been better. Can I use it now? Absolutely. Do I like using it now? Apart from My Library, yes.
But does it have a bright future? Is it going to be what I’m going to want in three or five years? I have no idea. They stopped publishing their Roadmap, so I literally have no idea. I presume they’ll continue to be around, but I don’t know what new features they’re planning, or approximately when to expect them. I don’t know that they’ll continue maintaining what they’ve built so far, or if they’ll neglect features as they’ve neglected the My Library feature. It does raise cause for concern.
Let me be clear: I fully expect that GameMaker will still exist 5 years from now. But I don’t know how much better it will be from today. And I think there’s some reason to be concerned that it won’t be as improved from 2015 in 2020 as it was from 2010 to 2015.
So, bottom line, if you have GM:S now, and use it, and like it, there’s no reason not to spend a small amount of money on extensions or other assets that look like they’d be interesting or useful to you. Just watch how many assets you keep active if you own a lot of assets.
If you’re new to Game Development and considering purchasing GM:S, or one of its competing alternatives, I don’t know what to tell you. GM:S is still great for beginners, and the Free edition is a great tool to start learning with. The free edition certainly is worth checking out. But as far as purchasing, you’ll have to decide for yourself based on how well you like it, and what your own impression is of the product’s future.
I like GM:S for a lot of reasons, but there’s good reasons to consider other tools: Unity3D, or Construct2, or Godot Engine, or something else. As for spending money on the Professional edition, it’s a maybe, downgraded from a recommended.
What could turn that recommendation downgrade around?
Well, right now it’s a wait and see game to see what happens with 2.0. If you haven’t paid for 1.x yet, it may be smart to hold off until we find out whether 2.0 delivers the greatly improved experience with the IDE, or if the IDE rewrite turns out to be a bust. I have high hopes, and I’m eager to find out.
On the other hand, there are plenty of risks? Will 2.0 drastically change GML, such that Marketplace assets all break and need to be rewritten? Will the improved room editor be a dream to work with, or minimally improved? What new features will be coming with 2.0? It’s worth waiting and seeing.
On the other hand, if you’re already invested in 1.x, and are using it, then sure, you know what you have and that it’s good enough for you right now. Go ahead and spend some money on extensions that other GM:S users have developed.