Tag: drm

DRM signals early death knell for legacy GameMaker development

It’s generally known that GameMaker 7 and 8 use a DRM technology called SoftWrap to manage license and product activation. Today, YoYoGames released the following announcement, regarding this technology:


Update for GameMaker 7 and 8 Customers: Please Read

We want to inform all GameMaker 7 and 8 customers that Softwrap, our exclusive technology provider for GameMaker 7 and 8, has announced a change to its business. By August 31, it will no longer be possible for GameMaker 7 and 8 customers to install or reactivate their licenses. After August 31, if you are having issues reactivating GameMaker 7 or 8, please register a ticket that includes your Softwrap license code via the YoYo Games Support Center and our agents should be able to help you.

In reaction to this news we would like to help migrate users to GameMaker: Studio. “Studio” is the current version of GameMaker and the only version where we offer regular updates and support. We’re therefore offering customers of GameMaker 7, 8 and 8.1 an upgrade to GameMaker: Studio Standard for only $9.99., which is a $40 saving on the regular price.

To upgrade to GameMaker: Studio Standard, simply click here and enter your Softwrap license number to purchase a license for GameMaker: Studio Standard.

For more information on how to migrate games from GameMaker 7 and 8 to GameMaker: Studio Standard, please read our Wiki entry “Porting GameMaker 7 and GameMaker 8 to GameMaker: Studio.”

We apologize for this inconvenience but hope you find our offer to upgrade to GameMaker: Studio compelling enough to take advantage of it.

Thank you for your continued support of YoYo Games.

The YoYo Games Team

It’s not entirely clear from this what the help YYG plans to offer GM7 and GM8 users will consist of, or how long they’ll continue to offer this help.

A consumer friendly failsafe for the contingency of the DRM license servers going offline should be to unlock the product for all users. Not doing so can present a great inconvenience. If YYG and Softwrap goes out of business, or simply change their policy, that’s it for your GameMaker license. Short of hacking around its product activation, there’s no way you’ll ever be able to use it again.

That’s for a product that you paid for. This changes the nature of purchases into something more akin to a subscription or rental — only, your continued right to access that which you have paid for is contingent upon the continued existence and goodwill of the business entity who provided it to you.

Imagine having a tool chest filled with expensive tools that you paid for, but then finding one day that the chest has become permanently locked as a result of the manufacturer going out of business. That’s what it’s like to use DRM-encumbered tools.

Offering a discounted upgrade path to developers who haven’t yet adopted Studio is better than nothing, but it’s likely that developers who are still on these old versions have not upgraded yet not because of financial reasons, but because of legacy projects that are not easily ported to Studio due to a dependency on now-deprecated functions that are no longer supported in Studio. For any such developers, migrating their codebase from GM7 and 8 to Studio could involve substantial re-engineering.

YYG no longer use SoftWrap DRM with GM:Studio, but does continue to use a DRM solution, and YYG have stated in the past that they will likely never abandon DRM. I disagree with their stance on the matter, but I recognize that it is their decision to make. I continue to recommend that they abandon DRM in the future, and figure out a business model that allows them to do so.

I also encourage them to release a non-DRM encumbered version of GM7 and 8 for existing licensees who wish to continue supporting legacy codebases that they are unable to port to Studio. When a business elects to cease support for a product that they released, the most ethical thing to me would be to release the source code for the product, so that those who wish to continue using it can develop their own patches and updates. Failing that, at the very least they should unlock any DRM that would prevent customers from being able to use what they’ve paid for.

XBox One: Why REAL ownership matters, and will always matter.

On ArsTechnica, today, I read the following in defense of XBox One:

“This is a big change, consumers don’t always love change, and there’s a lot of education we have to provide to make sure that people understand.”

…a lot of the way people have responded to Microsoft’s moves was “kind of as we expected.” But the implication … was that this temporary confusion and discomfort among the audience would be worth it as gamers and consumers adjust to a console world without game discs.

“We’re trying to do something pretty big in terms of moving the industry forward for console gaming into the digital world. We believe the digital world is the future, and we believe digital is better.”

[Microsoft] made a comparison to the world of home movie viewing, where inconvenient trips to Blockbuster Video have been replaced with Netflix streaming on practically any device instantly. On Xbox One, having all games exist as cloud-connected downloads enables new features like being able to access your entire library at a friend’s house with a single login, or loaning games to up to ten “family members” digitally and remotely.

Immediately, I want to point out that Netflix (and Hulu) didn’t replace owning a copy — my copy — of a movie. They replaced movie rental and scheduled broadcast television — with something better and that eliminated inconveniences.

With Netflix and Hulu, you don’t have to program a DVR, or go to a store, or deal with rental returns and late fees. And assuming you only want to watch a thing once or twice, and don’t care to own a copy of it for all time, it’s great.

But online streaming on-demand services cannot replace certain aspects of owning a copy. And those things are very important. Users of these services know already that what is available today may not be available tomorrow. If the copyright owner decides to stop licensing the programming through the service, it will not be available any longer on the service. But a physical copy that you own can always be played, whenever you want to, as long as you own it. So if you want to guarantee availability of something forever, you can only do so if you own your copy.

And the copy you own will remain the edition you bought forever — no 1984-style “memory hole” for the old edition when the producers decide to release a new cut as the canonical version. No forced upgrades pushed over the network, eliminating or changing some scene that some group found objectionable for some reason, and managed to successfully pressure the studio into changing.

Video productions are re-cut and re-edited all the time, and for the most part people don’t notice it, or care. But sometimes the changes can drastically change the meaning. In the 1990’s, singer Sinead O’Connor once made an appearance on Saturday Night Live,  during which she unleashed a storm of controversy by tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II on live television. NBC and SNL immediately distanced themselves from the incident and claimed to have had nothing to do with it, apologized for the offense it may have caused Catholic viewers, and claimed that it was something that O’Connor did on her own without informing the producers of her plans. This act of protest was never rebroadcast, and to my knowledge cannot be seen in any format today. Today, apart from viewers memories of the incident, it may as well not have happened. Unless someone with a VCR happened to tape that episode and kept it, as I’m sure many may have done, it would be lost forever, imprisoned in NBC’s video archive, if it exists at all. O’Connor’s act was an act of political speech, and whether you agree with her message or not, she had a right to say what she wanted, in the way she wanted. Of course, NBC and SNL own the rights to the video of the event, and have the right to not to make it available if they want, or edit it in whatever way they choose. But it was also broadcast to millions of homes over the public airwaves, and those who witnessed it own their memories of the event. And, for those who have have their own copy, and because you can own and control your own copy, NBC is not able to suppress it completely, or to compel holders of copies to surrender or destroy them. If need be, it could be proved that the incident happened, and, although they haven’t gone so far as to deny that the incident never took place, they certainly don’t like to bring it up, and if NBC wanted to pretend that it never happened, people can contradict the official histories, not just with memories and eyewitness testimony, but with evidence. Owning your own copy can help save The Truth from the memory hole. It gives you the power to own a little bit of the The Truth, outside of your own skull.

If you’re not a political person, you’re probably thinking “Whoa, you’ve gone off the deep end. This is just entertainment we’re talking about. Movies, TV, and videogames. We’re not talking about the news, or matters of public record. Surely this isn’t important stuff, get a grip.” But games do get censored, or pulled from the marketplace, and this can effect people who already own them, if they give up control of the copy that they purchased to DRM. Moreover, wherever DRM technologies make inroads, it tends to result in their becoming more accepted and likely to be used elsewhere. If we accept DRM for television, movies, and games, the technologies are then already in place, and may be used by hard news and official government content providers. Even if they were only used for entertainment, this is our culture — do we really want it to be completely controlled by corporate copyright holders?

Microsoft’s XBox One distribution offers to replace ownership of a physical copy with something worse. It might beat rentals, but it sucks compared to buying. It’s not the digital distribution and decoupling from physical media, it’s the DRM and the licensing vs. owning a copy.

There are pros and cons to decoupling software from physical media, but on the whole I am fine with owning my copy of a computer file, vs. owning a disc or ROM cartridge that came in a box. But de-coupling need not be accompanied by artificial limitations of use imposed by DRM and the need to authenticate a license to a copyrighted work. A license-to-access model is inferior to a model of owning a copy.

Learning from history

I have, in my personal game collection, consoles from Atari, Mattel, Coleco, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and Microsoft. The oldest of these systems were built in the 1970’s. They are still fully playable, barring hardware failure.

Even back then, there were very early attempts at online play and distribution of games. They were ahead of their time, but from the earliest days the game industry tried to figure out ways to get people to subscribe to a service that would allow them to sell games directly to customers, replacing traditional retail distribution with digital download over a modem connection.

These services are long gone. Any games that were distributed exclusively via these means are exceedingly rare. If they exist at all, it’s only because someone who downloaded the game never erased it from their media (typically an audio cassette tape, or possibly a floppy disk), and because the game didn’t depend on the online service in order to run. This last bit is absolutely crucial. If these games could not be played if they depended on the continued existence of servers which were closed down by the vendor when they were no longer profitable, these games could not be played today.

“Well, who cares? Who cares about these old games?”

It turns out, a lot of people. Everyone who owns them, and would like to continue to be able to enjoy them. Anyone who wants to introduce their favorite games from their childhood to youngsters today. Collectors. Historians. Game designers.

“But popular games get re-packaged and re-sold with each generation!”

I suppose they do. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a good thing.

But what if your favorite game isn’t one of the few lucky popular games that gets chosen to live on? What if you want to play the games on the original hardware? What if you don’t want to have to re-buy games that you already own in order to play them again on your current-generation console?

“But you can’t go out to a retail outlet and buy a traditionally distributed game that isn’t being made anymore. So why should it matter that you can’t buy a digitally distributed game anymore?”

Because, the games that were sold while it was available are still available. They are tangible, transferrable, resellable goods, and as long as they remain physically intact, and someone in the world wants to enjoy them, there is a market for them. It might be garage sales and flea markets and eBay, but it’s possible to find and buy a videogame that was made in 1977. It might not be easy in some cases, but it’s possible, and it’s no more complicated than finding the game, plugging it in, and playing it.

I guess it may be starting to become more difficult now that old-fashioned NTSC CRT TVs are disappearing, along with their antequated analog signal input jacks, but the point is that there’s no need to negotiate the right to play the game with the copyright holder. If you have it, you can play it.

Digitally downloaded games could be just as transferrable — far more transferrable, in fact. Files are easy to share and copy. Compared to making a copy of a printed circuit board and ROM chip, it’s dead simple. The future should be making it easier to do things, not harder.

But if games have dependencies on network-based resources that the player does not control in order to function, this all changes. It seems likely that game companies will sell the client, but not the server. But when the company no longer sees value in maintaining the servers, and decides to take them down rather than sell them to someone who’d become a competitor, or release the source code so that the player community can host their own servers, that will be the end of that game.

The level of dependency may vary considerably, from simple license/subscription validation, to enabling multiplayer features, updates, and downloadable content, to online leaderboard and achievement data. From the gamer’s perspective, the possibilities are rich, but they all disappear when the servers go offline. Nothing can compel a company to release the server software as a product or as a freebie once they decide to end-of-life an obsolete title, but without the server side, the clients are potentially useless, and at the very least are diminished.

Furthermore, servers can be used to killswitch the client, or to force unwanted upgrades. What if you liked the 1.0 version of your favorite game, but hated what they did with 1.1? If you can’t roll back, if you can’t decline an upgrade, there’s not much you can do. Game companies that serve the player’s interests well should design their upgrade systems to allow the player to play the game in an earlier version mode if they desire. And server code should be made available (whether for free or as a product) once the parent company decides it’s time to shut things down, so that players can continue to have full access to the complete experience indefinitely, as long as there’s a community who wants it. Of course, security concerns will mean that any code running on a network node will need to be patched, so it would be best if the source code is available to enable patches to be made.

Obviously, many of those requirements for libre software are too much for most game companies in their current thinking. “Allow our obsolete products to continue to be sold so that we have to continue to compete with ourselves? Release our server source code, are they mad?” While it’s difficult to imagine many companies doing anything like this in today’s market, these are the sort of things that gamers need as consumers, and the culture needs from the vantage point of the historian. Some companies, notably Id Software, have opensourced their older game engines, so it’s not unthinkable that the same could also happen with server technologies, though there are certainly many obstacles, such as software patents, and the fact that many game design studios license third party engines.

Still, even if it’s a highly unlikely ideal, it’s important as a point of comparison, to know just how much you “own” the things that you “buy”, and a target for the consumer to strive to push the market toward. Consumers do have power when they act collectively. It is only for us to realize this, and seize the power that is within our grasp.

XBOX One: No thanks

Microsoft’s recent announcement of their next-generation console, the XBOX One, has raised a lot of ire in the gamer community.

The two major issues are “digital rights management” and privacy.


The Kinect is a motion sensing control interface that was introduced late in the life cycle of the XBox 360 product line, and has been generally accepted by users as a novel method of control by motion, similar in certain respects to the Nintendo Wii’s Wiimote. With XBox One, the Kinect interface is mandatory, and always on. The Kinect isn’t just a motion sensor. Unlike the Wiimote, it uses a camera and microphone to, essentially, bug your living room. This allows the XBox One to respond to voice commands, like the USS Enterprise‘s shipboard computer on Star Trek, and do other things that are pretty neat. But it also allows Microsoft to watch you live at all hours and in all states of undress, all day every day, like the two-way televisions of George Orwell’s 1984. It turns the home into a zone of no expectation of privacy.

Microsoft’s response to these concerns has been weak. They claim that you can control what the XBox is allowed to do, but can you really? It’s always on, always connected to the internet, and running Microsoft’s operating system — how hard is it for someone to gain unauthorized access to the XBox and use it to spy on you? How easy is it to imagine Microsoft rolling over for government requests to use this technology to monitor citizens suspected of “un-American” activities? How often in the past have we seen large technology companies like Yahoo! and Facebook decide to re-set user-configured preferences to defaults that they prefer, and quietly allow the savvy user who pays attention to re-opt out, again and again, until they wear down and accept the service provider’s preferences? It’s a virtual certainty that Microsoft’s click-through EULA and ToS will grant them the ability to do whatever they want with the information they gather through the device, and hold them not harmless and not liable for any damages caused or enabled by the device. And they’ll turn around and claim that they do nothing with the information that you do not authorize, as though you have control. In reality, the only control that you have at all is whether to buy the device or not.

We are already living in an age where the general public has more or less accepted a total erosion of the expectation of privacy. Is this a step too far? For anyone who thinks about it even for a moment, it would seem to be. Yet, almost no one seems to behave as though they think about it at all. We use the services of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and so on, sharing very personal information about ourselves, often in full public view, and certainly in full view of the service provider, their partners, and anyone who eventually buys them out. We willingly pay Verizon, AT&T, and others hundreds of dollars a year for the convenience of carrying tracking devices that monitor our locations, what we read, who we know, what we buy. We send emails un-encrypted, containing sensitive personal information that is easily intercepted and re-transmitted to anyone in the world. The NSA sucks all of it up into giant datacenters, and apart from a few headlines, barely any notice is paid. And for the most part, nothing happens, and we don’t seem to care.


In a nutshell, DRM, as implemented for XBox One, means that you do not own the game you thought you bought. You don’t even own the copy — the physical media you own, but all the physical media is a transport vessel. The data on the media is intellectual property, owned by the copyright holder, who controls how it can be used. You own the “license” to play the publisher’s intellectual property — under their terms, which they can change at any time, for as long as they continue to exist, or decide to continue allowing their intellectual property to be made available.

You do not retain the ability to transfer your “rights” to someone else, either as a gift, loan, or re-sale — unless the publisher decides to allow it, and then only through some approved process wholly controlled by them.

It is an extremely raw deal for the consumer, and something which no one should allow to stand.

Of course, ridiculous, draconian licensing terms are nothing new to commercial software. It’s been around for decades, from the earliest days of Microsoft and the personal computer. It’s just that, for most of this time, it hasn’t mattered to consumers, because there was no way to enforce many of the terms stipulated in EULAs, and circumvention was trivial.

It’s been all over the internet by now, with virtually every source that I’ve been able to find coming out against Microsoft’s policies. Here are just a few links:

  1. http://news.xbox.com/2013/06/main
  2. http://www.polygon.com/2013/6/7/4406170/xbox-one-internet-trade-policy
  3. http://www.nowgamer.com/features/1955108/xbox_one_its_for_publishers_not_for_you.html
  4. http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/major-publishers-silent-on-xbox-one-used-game-poli/1100-4659/
  5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22812743
  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9APmJHu8DNs
  7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1StPJgWkN-U
  8. http://techland.time.com/2013/06/07/microsofts-xbox-one-used-games-policies-are-clear-as-mud/
  9. https://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2013/06/07/microsofts-xbox-one-how-things-have-changed/
  10. http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=580169

Final Thoughts

All of this comes at a time when the game industry is struggling to figure out a business model that works. The internet, digital distribution, piracy, in-game purchase, free-to-play, freemium, lowered barriers to entry enabling indie developers and hobbyist developers, and other rapid changes have made it very difficult for many companies to remain profitable. This response by Microsoft is the most heavy-handed, top-down approach that we’ve seen so far, and cannot be the future of videogaming entertainment.

It is a future with no history — when the publishers DRM servers are shut off, an entire generation of gaming will be lost forever, never to be seen again. And so it must be a future with no future, as well. An informed consumer who understands the issues at play and what’s at stake, could only reject a product offered on these terms. It is up to gamers to educate the general public to stand firm against this.

There are alternatives. The upstart Ouya console is perhaps the best of them in the current generation.

DRM bug afflicts legitimate Game Maker Studio licensees

Game Maker Studio users should be advised of a potentially disasterous bug that can permanently disfigure their graphical resources.

I have (so far) been unaffected by this issue, and am unaware of what triggers it or who might be affected. From reading the story over at Gamemakerblog, it seems that it may have to do with Steam, but details are still unclear.

This is a good time to re-emphasize the importance of good backups. If you don’t have something to restore from, it’s sad, but you really only have yourself to blame for not having better backups.

GameMaker Studio even incorporates source control features that allow you to store your project resources in a Subversion repository. Anyone who uses subversion with their GameMaker projects should be pretty safe, as long as they have a version of their sprites checked in prior to the images being corrupted.

As well, it’s a good practice to maintain your graphics resources outside of your gamemaker projects. While useful, the built-in sprite editor is rudimentary, and many graphics artists prefer to work in a more robust professional quality tool, then import into GameMaker. If you work this way, you should still have your originals intact, and won’t be as badly affected by this problem.

I really hope that this incident will spur Yoyogames to look at its anti-piracy philosophy and find other controls that they can use to curb unlicensed use of the features that they reserve for paid licensees.

A Viable(?) New Business Model for Indie Game Development?

This article has also been posted on Gamasutra blogs.

So, I was thinking about making games, and why I do it. I’ve always said that I don’t care if the games I make generate income. I’m doing it because I love it, and while that’s enough motivation for me, any money I do make will help justify doing it more.

Then I thought about business models, and piracy, and copyright, and all the pain that goes along with that, on all ends of it. And I thought about the “pay what you feel like” model, and the crowdfunding model, and the way some AAA games get pre-ordered so gamers can reserve a copy at their retailer. I kindof like pay-what-you-feel-like. But then I thought of something innovative, that combines the strengths of these approaches, and takes them to the next level.

It’s a secret to everybody

So here’s my idea: All the games I release are free/pay-what-you-want. There’s no DRM on any of it, you can play it as much as you want, share it with whoever you want. I think most will agree that DRM sucks, and I don’t want to spend time or resources trying to come up with some copyright enforcement mechanism that will only be broken hours after I release the game, or tie the game to some online service that will mean that if the company ever goes out of business, all the games will become unusable. I don’t want to inconvenience legitimate owners of my game and then have to offer a quick patch and a lame apology for it later. I *want* people to play my games — and share them with their friends — why would I want to put an obstacle between them and the game that I want them to play? I’ll even put in social features that help you share it with all your friends and tweet about how much fun you’re having playing my game.

Let’s play money making game!

Here’s the money-making part of the plan: You pay for me to make my next game. Whatever it is. I’ll announce my projects and work at them at the pace that I can sustain. If I have to work a lot at some other job in order to pay my bills, then I spend more time working, less time making games, and the game still happens, but probably not for a long time, and maybe not ever.

This is, after all, pretty much how Kickstarter works: you pay up front for a thing to be developed, and you wait some time until it is ready to be released. And like Kickstarter, pledged funds would not be collected until the goal has been reached. And it seems to work well, at least for established names who have a reputation and fan base. But how does an unknown attract The Crowd and convince them that they’re worthy of funding? Anyone can start out small and build their fanbase over time, assuming they are dedicated and talented and put in the work. I know of no other way to build a fanbase than to release high quality games and distributing them as widely as you can, and ensuring that people who get to play them learn how they can get to play more awesome games even better than the one they just played. And the best way to ensure the widest distribution is to release for free. Once you have fans who believe in what you are doing, enough of them will gladly pay to see more.

If I finish the game before it has reached the money goal, I hold on to it until my fundraising goal is met, and taunt you with YouTube videos showing how awesome it is, and asking for money to release it, and otherwise marketing the game. Once I hit my revenue goal, I release it, for free, no DRM or anything, and the game becomes an advertisement for my next project which I am happy that you share with anyone and everyone.

So, if you like the games I make, and you want to see more of them, give me more money, and the more I get, the more time I can spend making games instead of doing other things that make me money.

I like it. It’s straightforward, it completely eliminates any concern about piracy or DRM, because you can’t pirate what hasn’t been built yet, and in fact my games’ popularity is aided by people who enjoy the games spreading the word about them, and getting more people to play them, it basically de-fucks copyright and performs its original purpose — To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts — and, if the money comes in, it encourages me to make more, better games faster.

Learning from previous business models

During the shareware era, the proposition to the market was: “If you like this game that you just played for free, pay the shareware license for this game, because if you don’t then I’ll go out of business and there won’t be any more games.”

But most people ignored this. Revenue from shareware releases was always a tiny percentage of the total number of people who used the software. Users don’t like the nag screens and the guilt trips, and they’ll hack the binaries to eliminate them. They share the activation codes or crack whatever license controls you can think of, and you end up spending more time researching anti-piracy and fighting the spread and popularity of your game than you do making more cool games. It’s counterproductive.

But with this new approach, where the developer is explicitly saying: “This game is free, play the hell out of it and share it with as many friends as you can!” but also, “Here’s what else I have to offer, and you can help make it happen by contributing money to the project.” Kickstarter and IndieGogo have proven that this is viable. So, we’ve fixed all the problems of the old model — although the difference is subtle, the business model is crucially different, and addresses the failings of the previous models, and turns them into strengths. All the games are free upon release. Suddenly, there’s no longer an adversarial relationship between the players and the developer: I do what I love and make games, and you do what you love and play them. And if you want to play my next game sooner, you help me out by funding it.

By itself, I think many, perhaps most gamers would still ignore and pay nothing, like always. I mean, sure there’s always going to be leeches in any system. Leeches gonna leech. But that’s fine, because in my business model, they’re performing a valuable service: they’re doing your marketing for you, if you get out of their way and let them. Some people would pay because the idea that they’re helping to create the next game sooner holds great appeal. It’s that hipster “I was into X before X was cool” prestige. But there does need to be enough of those people. I think Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and others have established that there are indeed enough of these people. So, there just needs to be ways to encourage and incentivize gamers to fund your next project.

We’re already seeing this done with the Kickstarter model. A pitch video, a tiered system of rewards, regular, open communications between the creator and the backers. That’s part of what was missing from the old shareware model. In the shareware days, the developer was faceless. But today, the developer’s on the web, on youtube, on Twitter, in your inbox. You have a relationship and they’re more responsive to you than ever before. This makes you much more likely to be willing to spend some money. Because you know who it’s going to, and you see what it does.

To encourage people funding me, I would have a progress bar tied to my income stream showing the actual money raised, making that information public. And some kind of goal showing what my expenses are. We’re not just talking direct project expenses, but the funding level needed to buy me out of my job and go full time indie.

There could also be a progress bar for each project I have announced, or each feature, showing how many hours are needed to complete them, how many hours are funded in the next week, and how many dollars need to be raised to fund more hours.

That way, you could see things like:

  • How much I’m making
  • How much I need in order to not have to work on anything but game development
  • How much the money you’re paying towards my projects is helping me to get them done
  • What projects I have announced
  • How much progress has been made on each project
  • How soon you can expect my next release to be

I’d also establish a relationship with the players of my games, through active blogging/tweeting of what I’m doing with the game projects, and where my time is going, why it’s not going to game development, and stuff like that.

I figure if people see the person creating the games, it will tend to humanize them, and make it clear that the developer isn’t a faceless corporation with huge revenues that won’t notice if their money isn’t added to the giant swimming pool of gold that we all splash about in.

Plus, if gamers know how much money a game is making, it will tend to disabuse them of the idea that wealthy corporations are raking in all kinds of money hand over fist, that they can’t possibly be hurt by people not paying anything to enjoy the games. And by tying the money paid directly to new projects, it’s easier for them to see what they’re getting for their money.

Actually, hell, I could turn it into a web service and let any indie dev sign up for an account, and they’d each have their own blog, their own projects page, and their own “fund this and it will happen sooner” button. Maybe an API that they can tie into their games, allowing them to meter usage so they can show “X number of people played this game X’ times in the last 1|7|30|365 days, and collectively have kicked in Y dollars to fund my next project, an average of just Y_avg cents per play, which means that I am in H financial health, and so my next project will get delivered in Z months.” And here’s an appreciation leaderboard showing the G most generous, loyal fans, thanks so much for your patronage.

I’d love to develop this idea into an actual business, but I’d also gladly work with an e-commerce services provider who could set up a system that would work this way.

Game Maker beta license expiration cuts off access to tools

This past weekend was the Game Maker Community Jam, a 72-hr game development competition sponsored by Yoyogames. I didn’t participate in this one, unfortunately, due to my license for Game Maker Studio being revoked. Here’s what happened:

Back in January, I participated in Global Game Jam, at which I obtained a free, time-limited license for Game Maker: HTML5, then in beta Due to bugs that I encountered with Game Maker HTML5, I had to start over twice after my project became corrupted, for reasons still unknown but hopefully long since fixed by Yoyogames. I ended up completing my project that weekend with my old standby, Game Maker 8.0 Professional. I just barely got it done, but had to sacrifice a lot of sleep and many features that I’d hoped to include as a result of the time/work lost due to the project corruption bug.

A few months later, in April, Yoyogames released Game Maker: Studio beta, which I downloaded, and I began using it. I played with the Studio beta a bit during Ludum Dare 23, but quickly realized that a 48-hr competition is no time to be discovering a new version of a tool, so again I fell back to a stable release, this time Game Maker 8.1. After LD23, I began porting my project, Bactarium, to Studio, refining it along the way.

Some time later, Game Maker Studio concluded its beta testing, and released 1.0. My beta license stopped working, so I had to buy Studio. Yoyogames had made an offer with their Global Game Jam that participants who tried out the HTML5 beta, which they had offered to GGJ participants for free, would be able to get 50% off when it was finally released. So, when I went to their web site to purchase my license, I was expecting to have to pay something. However, when I entered my old HTML5 license, the store allowed me to download the core Studio 1.0, as well as the HTML5 add-on license, for free.

Apparently this was in error, but at the time I had no way to know this, no way to claim the 50% discount that I should have been entitled to. I assumed that Yoyogames was being really gracious to people who participated in the HTML5 and Studio beta program — maybe I was getting two discounts and they stacked? In any case, I would have been willing to pay for the product if the site had been set up to take my money, but it wasn’t, and it didn’t require me to pay anything. The HTML5 license I received at GGJ apparently entitled me to download the GM:Studio 1.0 core, plus the HTML5 module, all for free. I was of course thrilled.

So I downloaded Studio 1.0 and used it, working on bringing Bactarium into Studio so that I could port it to Mac OS X and HTML5, and worked on a few other tech demos as well to familiarize myself with the new features. Things have worked fine up until last week, when I went to download and install the latest update. After installing, when Studio launched it told me that no license was detected and I needed to enter it. Figuring the license data had gotten blown away by the upgrade for some reason, I went through the license recovery process and re-entered my license key. However, Studio refused to accept my key.

I opened a ticket with Yoyogames helpdesk, and promptly received a response within 24 hours, informing me that my license key was no longer valid, as the HTML5 license that I had from Global Game Jam had expired. OK, I can accept that, no big deal. The communication from Yoyogames helpdesk further explained that they would be sending out coupon codes within about a week to people who participated in the beta, so they could get their discount. So, basically, I could choose to wait up to a week for the coupon code, or pay full price now. I would have thought that the old license key itself would have been the discount code, but oh well. I’m electing to wait.

Waiting put me out of participating in the GMC Jam this weekend. Oh, I suppose I could have worked in 8.1 again, but by the time I received the notification from the Yoyogames helpdesk, I’d lost enough time that it didn’t seem like a good idea to try to throw something together. I had other things to do this weekend, so I did them. No regrets about any of it, but it would have been better if the logistics had worked out a little better. I don’t mind the license expiring, since I’d expected it to anyway, and I don’t mind paying for my license, but not being able to purchase with the discount because Yoyogames didn’t think to distribute the discount codes prior to expiring the beta licenses is a bit disappointing.

So, today’s Monday. I still have not received my coupon code, but as they had said it would be happening sometime in the next week, I’ll try to be patient and wait for it to come by Friday, hopefully. I’m really hoping it’ll come through soon.

Darker Implications

One concern I now have is that, in reading up on the way Game Maker currently works, apparently you need to connect to Yoyogames server at least monthly to re-validate your license. This anti-piracy measure goes a bit too far in my opinion, and potentially hurts legitimate users. Copy protection crackers will always find ways to defeat such measures, while legitimate users will always be at risk of having their license killed in error, thereby denying them access to software on their own hard drive, that they paid for.

I can understand why Yoyogames feels they need to control licenses with a phone-home system tied to a remote killswitch, however the potential exists for legitimate users to be left in the cold if Yoyogames decides to kill an old version in order to force everyone to upgrade to their latest. If Yoyogames ever decided to stop supporting this version of Game Maker, or discontinue Game Maker entirely, or go out of business, all the paid-for licenses of the product potentially go bye bye.

It’s one thing to stop supporting an old version of a product, quite another to shut down license servers, effectively killing off the old version so that users are forced to upgrade. To be clear, I’ve seen no indication from Yoyogames that they plan to ever do this to their customers, only that they now have the mechanism available to them that allows them to do so. I sincerely hope that they never do this, as the backlash from the community would be substantial.

I would hope that as a last measure that they’d release some patch that permanently unlocks all licenses so as to prevent this from happening, and if they don’t then I’m sure the cracker community likely will, although this would technically violate the EULA as well as laws such as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.


It’s Thursday, and I’ve woken up to find the coupon code from Yoyogames waiting for me in my inbox. They’ve changed things up a bit from the original offer, and it’s about the same although I think it works out better from a certain standpoint.

Originally, participants in Global Game Jam were going to get Game Maker HTML5 1.0 (when it was released) for 50% off the originally announced price of $199. Yoyogames was selling beta licenses for half off, so essentially GGJ12 participants were getting access to the beta for free, and paying the same price for the finished product that the beta testers were paying anyway. This was nice because A) you didn’t actually have to pay anything for a beta, and B) you could try before you buy for a few months.

Somewhere along the line, Yoyogames changed their mind about their products and pricing. Game Maker HTML5 1.0 was never released; instead, it was folded into Game Maker Studio, becoming an optional $99 add-on.

As a result, the original deal no longer made any sense. So instead, Yoyogames has substituted Studio. With the coupon, you get the $99 Studio core for free; and if you want the HTML5 module, you pay full price for it.

Comparing to the old deal, this is better in two ways:

  1. You get Studio, which can build to Windows and OS X for free, and you can stop there if you want to.
  2. For the same cost as the original deal, you can buy the HTML5 module and have three build targets instead of two.

My old complaint still stands, that they should have issued the coupons and given developers a week or two to use thembeforedisabling the temporary licenses. On the other hand, apparently those licenses were only supposed to have been good for two months, and I think I got about 6 or 7 months out of mine, and I’m definitely not complaining about that. All in all, a week’s worth of inconvenience is still a week’s worth of inconvenience, but I’m glad that in the end, they’ve given developers who worked with the beta something worthwhile.