GameMaker Studio - The Golden Ticket

GameMaker Studio promises aspiring devs a painless path to indie super-stardom. But is it all too good to be true?

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GameMaker Studio - The Golden Ticket

While there have been some fantastic bargains on the Humble Store over the years, last year's Battleborn fire sale demonstrated two salient points. Firstly, some programs aren’t worth buying at any price – like an online game without a player base. And secondly, sometimes the Humble Store will sell software that simply isn’t worth owning. 

They recently offered a trio of Humble Bundles encompassing software from the GameMaker family of programs. On paper even the most expensive of these represented phenomenal value – around $1,800 USD worth of warez for a mere $15 USD. For the price of an indie game, any punter could purchase GameMaker: Studio Pro, the plugins needed to compile and sell games on some of the world’s most popular formats, and the full source code to several published games. 

A great deal – on paper. But recall that there was also a Humble Bundle for the games of THQ – right before they went out of business. 

There have been faint but audible rumblings of discontent in the GameMaker community ever since YoYo Games was bought out by PlayTech in February 2015. The pace of ongoing improvements has slowed drastically. The GameMaker forums were migrated to a new platform this year, and nebulous technical difficulties resulted in them being offline for months. The GameMaker asset Marketplace interface is buggy to the point of being vexing, and the IDE’s code-base is so laden with legacy cruft that YoYo Games now finds it easier to drop features than to maintain them. 

These myriad quibbles will presumably be squashed with the release of the long-promised GameMaker 2.0, but as of this writing YoYo Games isn’t even hinting at when it will launch. Oh – and YoYo Games recently changed their EULA, granting themselves the right to terminate a user licence if said user creates content that YoYo deems ‘objectionable.’ And what do they consider objectionable? They won’t tell us! A curious attitude to take, considering that their parent company PlayTech makes gambling software. 

Indie dev Chris Sanyk has written at length about these woes; his essays are required reading for anyone considering sinking a thousand hours into learning to use the closed-source GameMaker IDE.

The absorption of a small, agile developer into a larger corporation seldom runs smoothly. Recall what happened to Westwood Studios, Bullfrog, etc. 

So: is it worth learning GameMaker? Over 200,000 punters purchased it via Humble Bundle in this most recent sale, which would suggest that the user base is healthy and/or growing. Then again, while I’m not an economist, I’m pretty sure the market can’t support 200,000 indie devs. 

Digital distribution has reduced overheads, and middleware has lowered barriers, but neither can increase the total number of entertainment dollars that gamers are willing to spend. 

If IDEs like GameMaker are destined to grow the market, it will be in a manner similar to the eBook phenomenon. You may scoff – ‘Aren’t eBooks mostly tawdry pick-up artist manuals and dinosaur erotica?’ Yet by their very existence eBooks represent a publishing revolution. Authors fearful of being laughed out of a publisher’s office can now connect with a new breed of über-deviants. 

Considering how much money could be made from ribald dino-dating sims, YoYo Games’ commitment to ‘moral standards’ seems pretty short sighted. Then again, we may already be well past the point of market saturation. Maybe GameMaker itself is diving head-first into the tar pits. 

After all, it was originally created as a form of digital training wheels, so that those who mastered it could move on to more mature pursuits. Likewise, Young Adult novels were once created primarily for children, as was Lego. But grown-ups with disposable income soon learn that they can buy all the Ghostbusters Lego sets and Artemis Fowl graphic novels they could ever want. 

In all likelihood, those who fill their apartments with such artefacts saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in their formative years, but failed to internalise its subtext. Those who honestly believe that all they need to make another Hotline Miami is a GameMaker licence may find themselves floundering in a metaphorical river of chocolate, as an allegorical chorus of orange midgets chide their misconceptions. 

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