YoYo Games – Serious Discussion

This morning I got an automated e-mail from Google Alerts, to inform me of an Open Letter to the YoYo Games staff.

Connor Wilkins (also known as Phoenix, Phoen, sh1fty, and Dr. Watz0n) has taken the time to openly express his opinion and criticism of the new Game Maker management with an Open Letter to the YoYo Games staff.

In the letter found on his blog, Connor points out three main problems with the way YoYo Games is conducting business. Firstly, he states, is the lack of a FireFox 3 Instant Play add-on, and with that the inability for users with the browser to play any games from the YoYo Games website. Considering Firefox now has a 20% market share, it is the feeling of many users that ignoring the 1 in 5 people who can’t access the games on the site is unacceptable.

Secondly, it is pointed out that there is a distinct lack of updates on the progress for Game Maker’s C++ runner conversion. The last official announcement concerning the C++ runner was made over a month ago on the YoYo Games glog, to indicate it was running smoothly and a BETA would be available by June. No beta has yet surfaced, nor has there been any further announcements about it to our knowledge.

Lastly, the letter discusses the Mac OSX port of Game Maker. YoYo Games first said a BETA was expected in March,  months later a glog post was made to indicate there was small problem with the port, but for the 40 odd days since then there has been no progress updates or indication of whether the problem was eventually fixed.

The main point of the letter is to make clear to the YoYo Games staff that they are not believed to be doing enough on their part to inform and keep users up to date with the internal going-ons of the company. There is growing criticism from many users regarding their lack of transparency in business decisions and activities. The letter hopes to show that if this continues, it will adversely affect their strong and large user-base.


[warning, the following paragraphs are in editorial style and contain strongly biased opinions
that are not necessarily shared by the rest of the community]

It is my personal opinion that YoYo Games should start to care for its software users as if they were large investors or shareholders in the company, and I can’t imagine shareholders would be satisfied with the team’s low level of transparency, and uncertainty of what the company plans next. It seems to me as though the staff in charge of business planning are not doing their job. To my knowledge, YoYo Games has not been able to meet a single deadline they’ve set (and it’s not to say there was pressure to rush things, these dates were of the company’s own choosing).

To my knowledge, the date for the YYG website launch was not met, the date for the Game Maker 7 release was not met, the date for Game Maker for mac (beta) was not met, the date for the C++ runner beta was not met, the date for the server changes and updates was not met, and even the due date for the last official competition had to be delayed. When you get to the point where every date you set actually means months later (for some), it is time to re-evaluate your business planning and start figuring out where you’ve gone wrong and how you can make sure it doesn’t happen again… and again…. and even again.

I also think that something definitely needs to be done in terms of customer service and support. I can’t tell you how many users complain to me and on the GMC forum that after contacting the YoYo Games staff several times over several weeks, they have not received a response at all. I myself have contacted YoYo Games twice this year, one time with URGENT priority. Neither of my support tickets were answered (the newest one being 22 days old), and I am a paying customer.

What is even more disconcerting is the fact that users who payed for site licenses (involving lots of $$$), and other products like the Game Maker CD shipment are also being ignored, and this is when a company starts to head in the direction of scamming, having people pay large sums and not providing the product or service they advertise.

What YoYo Games needs to do (in my opinion):
——————————————

1) Get a new software wrapper/registration system

Nothing good at all has come from Softwrap. Right from the beginning when Game Maker 7 was released, the company should have clued in when there were hundreds of reports from users unable to upgrade, unable to purchase, and unable to run the Game Maker software, that something needed to change.
Almost every day users are posting about Softwrap errors, and Softwrap related purchase problems on the GMC and due to the nature of the user-based forum are unable to receive help even though neither Softwrap nor YoYo Games responds to their support requests.
If I remember correctly, one of YoYo Games’ own staff members admittedly said that in retrospect they were not very satisfied with software wrapper’s performance.
In addition to these problems, using Softwrap immediately restricts use of the software to Windows 2000+ even though the software on its own can run on older Operating Systems.

2) Fix customer/technical support!

If this means taking away funds from Game Maker’s development so-be-it. At this point, it doesn’t seem to matter since there hasn’t been any public updates to the Game Maker software since the company first started out and all other developments seem to have halted/encountered problems that are apparently beyond their control.

What I would like to see is a live chat. All you need is one or two people dedicated to providing live support on weekdays (they could even work from home). This would make the world of a difference, and if you entrust these jobs with Game Maker users, I think you’ll find it’s likely they would be willing to work for free or minimal pay if it means making a difference and actually answering users questions and getting their problems solved.

I also think they should set-up some policies to get e-mail/support tickets answered after a certain amount of time (e.g. 48 hours) guaranteed whether or not they have the answer. Even if they are still looking for the answer, they can at least write back to give progress updates.

3) Be more transparent!

Don’t be shy! Open your business up!

At the start of YoYo Games, I seem to remember the company was constantly referring to the site as an online Web 2.0 social networking community. This implies that users of the community should have some level of control over how the website and community is run. From my perspective, YYG has fallen on deaf ears for most users suggestions. Some times YYG does make changes for the benefit of users, but these changes are often very low priority on the wish-list (e.g. turning on forum post counts)  and users would much rather that the time was better spent doing something that is actually meaningful.

Also, and more importantly, I think YYG needs to tell us what exactly it is the company is doing and planning in the future.

I don’t think many users appreciate the general comments indicating something is ‘coming along smoothly’ or is ‘progressing well’. We want the specifics, we want to know exactly what it is that is being worked on. If the C++ runner, is having problems translating over a specific Game Maker function, then let us know what that function is. For all anyone knows, the users could actually be of some help and get the show on the road a lot faster.

I think the Glog should have a goal of updating users ever week (Sandy, this should just take 15-20 minutes each week, not much to ask) with what exactly is going on. If you post an article on June 18 about the Firefox instant play and how you are working on the problem, by all means please tell us what has been done in the past four weeks to resolve the problem, or at least attempt to solve the problem. When you don’t keep us up to date, it is in our nature to assume nothing has been done, and this is just something else to cast a blind eye to.

Lastly, tell us what exactly the staff is doing. So far we’ve heard about several different people being part of the YoYo Games team and contributing to Game Maker, yet we are not really seeing the progress to back this up. In many ways, I think Game Maker would have had more updates by now if it was still a one man operation. I would like to know exactly how many people are actually working on each of these areas: customer service/support, general management, game maker updates and new feature additions, c++ runner development, mac OSX game maker port, PR & Investor & Business relations, etc.) and whether they’re dedicated to that one job or are trying to juggle several tasks leaving important goals on the back-burner.

4) Learn to plan!

Take a course in business planning and scheduling, and learn to make appropriate business planning that is actually realistic. There is no possible way that estimations for release dates should ever be several months off, obviously there is something seriously wrong here.

One of the first things you learn in planning is to make sure you account for unexpected delays. If you think you can finish something in two weeks, add at least a week on to that in your announcement. That way should anything go wrong it gives time to fix the problem, and if everything goes to plan, there is time left over to do testing and polishing.

Also learn to set reasonable smaller goals. Instead of having just 1 ultimate goal (e.g. “Get C++ Runner by July 31”), set several smaller milestones and split-up the runner into different key parts. This will give you a much better sense of progress and accomplishment and will allow you to better estimate the actual release date.

If YoYo Games were to just do 3 of these steps, I can guarantee the business would take a turn for the better, and I really hope they consider these suggestions seriously and with an open mind.

P.S. Excuse my long rant, I’ve been wanting to get this out of my system for a while.

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12 Responses

  1. […] Links: GameMaker Blog Article GMC Topic GMNews Article […]

  2. Have to agree with everything you said. I myself made that ‘ticket’ twice and never got a reply.

    My biggest issue is the payment system for GM. Right now there is no option to let the customer pay without a credit card. I contacted them but.. well..

    Second problem is with the Instant Play thing. I don’t like playing games on browser, hell, I don’t want to play anything in my browser and quit if I find a game running on one no matter how ground breaking that game is. I am a Opera user and I currently find Download option in only few games and other have a Play option. I don’t want play, I want download, give me that option.

    Third. What’s with their site colour schemes? Lime on white? Trying to blind your users is not nice. Unless their website designer thought that everyone on earth uses their monitors with no gamma correction at all.. it’s a pretty lame colour choice for a website (along with their other ‘Web 2.0″ look).

    Fourth (yaya, ranting is fun). Like you said, update the blog. It can’t hurt to post what’s going on at YoYo Games.. can it? The only reason for their blog is to post useless information on new server changes (yay, now what about GM?) and few words on how the new Mac port is doing just fine at the end (which just feels forced). I am sure they are working on something new, but please, do show it to your fans so they can get their check books ready.. oh I am sorry, they CAN’T, because they need credit cards for that payment thingy. It’s Web 2.0 I tell ya..

    [/rant]

  3. You know, we might as well start up a petition, if there’s not already one out there [?].

    But yes I agree with all of that + the credit card issue.

    I remember way back when I was first switching over and softwrap was not being cooperative. But randomly one time like 8 months ago (give or take a couple months) game maker unregistered itself and I had to go waste a couple days getting that fixed. The one time I actually used a support ticket – guess I was lucky.

    Seeing I don’t use the site to much I’m not so much worried about that. But of course if it lived up to said non-existent standards I might.

    The big thing for me, like everyone else, is updating everyone on whats happening behind the scenes. When was the last time gmnews actually got to report on whats happening backstage, like not an overview progress report, but specific issues and stuff – its been quite a while.

    The current status is gm is self sustainable without yoyogames. If they actually want to stay in the game then they need to start playing.

  4. I do agree with much that is up their.

    I think that Yoyo Games do need to have a good look at them selves and what they are really doing to GM users, being us,

    I would have thought that GM8 would be out by now, but seeing as they are doing all of this porting and C++ Stuff, I think that it will be a while now.

    The Mac port, I know that the Apple Mac is a growing platform, at a some-what rapid rate, but, maybe you should go one project at a time? I mean, I know that it maybe hard sometimes, but you are a company, and as a company, you must set out goals, goals that you know that you can accomplish, on time. NOT months later.

    As I am also a paying custemer, as is many other people, we expect things to get done on time.
    Like the FF3 error, I am not a user of Instant Play, I never use it infact, but it is a very sirious issue to many other people.

    The Glog, I think that Sandy could atlest take some time out of his week to write something, because, from my perspective, it seems like nothing is being done.

    I know that they maybe having problems, but they will be problems wheather they like it or not – big or small.

    (Ranting is fun, as I do it so, so much on this blog 😛 )

    -Matt

  5. I’ve not been active in the GM community for quite some while now. But one thing remains unchanged and that is YoYo Games. No updates, and no information. By now we should’ve had Game Maker 8! The speed at which GM is updated is terrible, it seems even Mark alone got more done in his time.

  6. Oh and yet another post in their glog

    “Sorry it took us so long, but this will be fixed July 15th midday (UK time). I can also look forward to using the latest version of FF3 myself now !

    Sandy”

    looks like the massive uprising is working.

    If they can keep this deadline met then I think they will regain a little respect.

  7. […] article, bolded, in a paragraph all by itself specifically states: [warning, the following paragraphs are […]

  8. A few observations.
    – YoYo Games is more transparent then Mark Overmars was in the past.
    – Planning release dates, especially for software, is very difficult and almost any company will miss deadlines unless they lie to there customer and claim it takes three times as long.
    – Being transparent means informing users of there current expected release dates. Dates not yet set in stone. You both want them to announce clear release dates well in advance (being transparent) and keeping promises. Unfortunately that doesn’t tend to work as deadlines will get missed.
    – From my personal experience I always get replies to my posts to there helpdesk. I tend to write clear, concise, polite and argumented messages if that makes any difference. Your experience may vary. Response time is also certainly higher then in the past when mailing Mark Overmars’ public email address.
    – Upgrading Firefox early after the release has always been a time filled with annoyances about incompatible add-ons. I still have several add-ons in my list that are not yet compatible.

    I by no means want to claim they do everything perfectly but people get so quickly used to added features that they directly demand more. There are very few problems which you can solve by simply throwing a bag of money towards them. Getting the issued ironed out takes time and patience.

  9. I hang somewhere between the blog post and Simon Donkers opinion.

    I think that YoYoGames bunged up some stuff, but they are trying to look a lot farther into the future. Plus, they have the whole money issue. We always look at whatever side we choose. Not the whole picture.

    There may be sides to all of this that we don’t see. So I’ll go without to much bashing. Lets just give them time.

    However, I will agree with the firefox 3 issue. That’s just poor. For a company that is driven by it’s plugin, you would think the update would have been a heck of a lot faster.

    -Elmernite

  10. I’m glad to see people rallying together and trying to improve YYG by reasonable discussion. Those are three great points that YYG cannot overlook. Just a few updates would be nice 🙂

    …and if we receive no updates we conquer them by force…

  11. I used to use GM a lot, and GML was my first introduction into programming. I thought the program was great, and that it only had a few minor problems that kept it from being the greatest game creation software ever made. But now I’m looking for new game creation software, and have been for some time despite the countless hours I put into learning GM and working on projects in GM — I’d rather learn a new piece of software and start those projects over from scratch.

    Why? Because the development of GM is basically dead. I know YoYo Games is working on new improvements blah blah blah, but let’s face it, we haven’t seen anything new for a LONG time, and probably won’t for even longer. When it comes to game creation software, being able to adapt and update the software means everything — it’s the most important aspect for a program of this type to have. That’s because no matter what you are working on, unless you are a full blooded programmer (and if you are, why would you be using game creation software), you will need help. Technology is constantly changing, people are constantly coming up with great new ideas, and your game creation software has to be able support that. Even if YYG is working on a GM 8 (I’m pretty much convinced they’re not), it is still a private, secretive project, and as others have said, it feels like requests from the community are falling on deaf ears: you don’t know when (or if) an update is ever going to come out, and there’s no way of knowing if it will have what you need. There are so many game creation programs out there now, many with enthusiastic programmers working on them and constantly updating their software, and other open source projects encouraging any and everyone to help make their programs better — so why would I stick with a company like YYG? Mark Overmars made a brilliant piece of software. Then he sold it. YYG could have done something really great with GM, but they haven’t, and I’m tired of waiting for them to realize what a great program they’ve got…

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