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YoYo Games Update

Posted on 10 May 2011

It's been a long time since I've posted here, but it doesn't mean that I haven't been busy !

Since we opened our office in Dundee last July a lot has happened, so I thought I'd give a bit of a "State of The Nation" update.

First up, we're definitely building a fantastic team in Dundee.  We started with Mike and Russell to be quickly joined by Kirsty and Andrew .  Then I think it was Stuart and Geoff who joined next, they were soon followed by Lee, then Malcolm.  Next week Chris and Paul will arrive and by the end of June I expect two others ("j" and "D"), who are receiving  job offers as I write this, will be joining us.  That's a total of 12 people in Dundee.  There's still me of course and most of you will not have realised that Mark Overmars has been spending most of his time in the last few months at YoYo Games in our Dutch office. (also known as Mark's study)

These days we see YoYo Games as being three things.  A Web Community (www.yoyogames.com),  Developer Tools (Game Maker) and Publishing (YoYo Studios).  All are linked by one thread, Game Maker.  When I present the business to people inside and outside the company I use the following slide :



Here's a quick overview of what's happening in each of these areas:-
PUBLISHING
We started publishing games in October last year and we're incredibly pleased with the results so far.  In all we've published 11 different games and we've re-issued almost all of them several different times. In total we have more than 20 different games, including free, ad supported versions of many of the titles on iTunes.

Highlights have definitely included Karoshi and They need to Be Fed.  Both games have seen fabulous reviews and we are constantly being asked to port these games to multiple platforms. Simply Solitaire has been a huge hit for us on iPad and we have a new release of that game this week.

We're doing some interesting things at the moment with a company called OpenFeint (www.openfeint.com) so look out for the games we publish using many of the social networking features they provide.

One disappointment has been PSP.  Sony have proven much more difficult to work with than the other platform owners even before their recent disaster with PlayStation Network.  We're not convinced they can recover quickly, nor are we impressed by what we've seen of the new "PSP".   Although we haven't completely given up supporting Sony's platforms our activities are definitely on hold.

We've also learned that we get the best content when we work closely with the most promising developers.  We've therefore been hiring some more people in the production team to help provide better Game Maker development support as well as great art and music for the games that we publish.

Unfortunately we are unlikely to ever publish more than one or two games every week.  So far we're publishing a new game  every two to three weeks), but we expect the pace to pick up over the next month as we now better understand how to get games completed and published.

One BIG learning for us is the importance of QA (pre-release testing).  Although Apple are very rigorous in letting games through to the iTunes store, they don't spend very much time looking for bugs.  The result is games with serious bugs CAN and DO get through to iTunes.  Since it can take as long as three weeks to get an update approved, a serious bug can mean the end of any sales for your game.  We now spend at least 20 hours testing every game before we release it.  Although it's not hugely expensive (we use students at the University of Abertay) it's one of the main reasons why we are publishing fewer games than we would like to.

Unfortunately, with limited publishing "slots" available for the foreseeable future this means that we're unlikely to be able to cope with the demand from so many of you who want to get your games published .  This is why we've delayed the store opening.  We WILL open up the website to independent games submissions soon, but we want the YoYo Games Store to be a showcase for the best games so I expect we'll disappoint many of you since we can only realistically publish fewer than 100 games a year.  Although this might look like bad news please read on as we think some of the other things we're doing more than mitigate.
COMMUNITY
You probably aren't reading this unless you're one of the Million or so regular visitors to the website every month.  The website has been up and running for more than 4 years now.  In that time we've made some significant revisions to it's appearance and functionality but it hasn't really kept pace with the way that YoYo Games and the community has evolved and it's starting to feel very tired and crusty.

One thing that hasn't changed is that many of us come here  because it's the best place to discover, discuss and enjoy Game Maker.   I'm not sure we have ever really delivered  a great website for that purpose.  Back in 2006 we were unsure whether we were focused on people who play or people who make games.  Somehow we landed in the middle of those two goals with the site we delivered and now is the time for us to make it clearer that it's people who use and enjoy Game Maker who are at the heart of our community.

Kirsty and other members of the team are now working hard on a plan to improve the best parts of the site, erase the sad and tired bits, fix stuff that is important but doesn't work well and give the whole place a completely fresh look and feel this summer (or winter if you're in the southern hemisphere :) )  The end result will be a website that is more clearly dedicated to the Game Maker development community.  I'm very excited about these changes as I think they're long overdue.
DEVELOPER TOOLS
In our frenzied activity getting the publishing business started we really hadn't noticed how much value we were adding to Game Maker.  We've created a completely new runner in C++ that allows us to ship games with very few, or even no changes on Windows, Mac, PSP/PS3, Android and IOS.  We posted a video for you here in the Glog a couple of weeks ago to give you some idea of how this all works.

We can and will add platforms to this list.  It takes about three months to port the C++ runner and start publishing games on a new platform.  We're currently looking at Smart TV, Windows phone 7 and Symbian, though with the success we're having on IOS and Android we're a long way from committing ourselves to any new devices at the moment.

The problem we have is none of this is prepared in a way that we can easily package it up and sell it.  It was designed primarily for our internal use and takes a bit more manual intervention than you see in the video.

We WILL deliver all of this multi platform functionality to you.  We're working on something we refer to as Game Maker "Studio Edition".  First up is a complete rewrite of the "Maker" code in C#.  The new Maker will run on both PC and Mac and once it's complete, those people interested in self publishing will be able to do so.

I just want to point out , as a publisher ourselves, that publishing games isn't cheap or easy.   Apple for example will regularly reject games for all sorts of reasons and it can take time, effort and a high professional standard to get through their content submission procedures.  The same process means you need to own at the very least an iPod Touch, and a Mac as well as getting enrolled in Apple's developer program.  A total budget of around $2,000 would not be unreasonable, especially  if you allow some money for the development tools too !  Android is easier, but the Android Market is a tough place to get noticed and it's populated with a lot of poor quality content that makes users very careful when it comes to downloading games they haven't heard of and from publishers they don't recognise.

Having said all of that we appreciate that many of you have plenty of potential to become great games developers and we want to help those of you with the ability to do so to publish yourselves without having to rely on us to manage the whole thing for you.  We've also been approached by several established studios who would like to use Game Maker more extensively than they do today.  In response to this demand we will be adding other important "team" features like version control to Game Maker "Studio Edition"

We'll keep you posted on "Studio" developments as they happen, but we don't expect to ship a product with a rich feature set this year.  This will be a package for professional developers and that will take time.  We want Game Maker to be a tool that can continue to be used by beginners and hobbyists too, so you'll find that we'll continue to ship regular updates every few weeks to Game Maker 8.1   Future versions of Game Maker Standard and Lite (Mac and PC) will also benefit from a lot of the work we put into the "Studio" release.

HOWEVER.... the last thing in this post is probably the best part of what we're doing.  If you believe you have talent to get your games published, and/or can't wait until 2012,  and/or you might not get one of our weekly publishing slots and/or want to use Game Maker to build a career in Games development.

Using the existing Game Maker 8.1 code and our C++ runner we started a little project in March to see if we could create the next generation of browser based games using Game Maker.  As some of you may have already noticed we called this "experiment" Game Maker HTML5.  We've been so impressed with the results that Mike and Russell are now working pretty much full time to create a product that you'll be able to buy.  It will be much cheaper than Game Maker Studio, but more expensive than Game Maker Standard.  At the moment no exact details of launch or price have been decided, but we're confident we can make this happen this year.

With HTML5 you will be able to make games that you can embed on your own websites or even try and sell them to the many portals who distribute Flash games today.  There is no doubt that sites like Addicting Games, Spill. MiniClip and others are all eagerly anticipating and actively looking for HTML5 content.  JavaScript and Canvas are great platforms but programming for them is a challenge...... unless you have Game Maker :)

We're hoping that HTML5 games developed in Game Maker will have superb performance and will also work well in browsers on Mobile devices such as Android phones and iPod Touches.  This relies a lot on the browsers having great optimisation for JavaScript (this is certainly the case with IE9 and FireFox 4 on PCs today) If this does work out, then it should be possible to get your games running on iPhones, for example, without the expense of getting them approved by Apple !
THE END
In conclusion... (sorry for the long post)... we're really excited about everything we're doing in Publishing, for the Community and especially with Game Maker.  A BIG thank you from all of us at YoYo Games for your support so far. We're really looking forward to the next year and beyond in a big way and hope that you will continue to enjoy being part of our community and many others will join us.

ps - we'll keep you posted on developments here...  :)

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