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):
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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.

iPlay & G-Flash

In the interest of conserving time and title space, iPlay will now refer to the official YoYo Games Instant Play plugin in any future articles.

For anyone who uses Firefox 3, it’s quite obvious that iPlay does not share your enthusiasm for browser upgrades. When you visit the YoYo Games site, you’ll have no choice to download games, and instead will be prompted to “Play Now”, a feature incompatible with the world-record breaking Mozilla software.

Although the YoYo games team is taking their time to fix the problem, there are now several users have discovered work-arounds. One of Scorptek’s very own programmers, ari_aaron, modified the YoYo Games .xpi plug-in installer to make it fully compatible with version 3 of Firefox. Unfortunately, after contacting YoYo Games with ‘high priority’ to demonstrate the easy fix, the YoYo Games staff neglected to respond to our support ticket and seemed to have ignored it altogether.

Also to our dismay, the YoYo Games website ‘Terms of Service’ strictly prohibits us from distributing the modified plug-in to others :(.

So the next best thing we can do is recommend an alternative work-around which keeps your browser safe and secure (un-like the common about:config ‘hack’ which could potentially put your web browser at risk).

1) Download the Nightly Tester Tools add-on for Firefox
2) Upon reboot (of Firefox), install the YoYo Games plug-in and click Force Install

I thought I would also take time to mention Caniac’s continuing efforts to send in news tips (so if you want to win this month’s prize I suggest you get cracking). Caniac wanted to let our readers know there are some new developments to G-Flash, an oldie project long assumed dead until now.

According to Caniac, about 20 new functions have been added to the Game Maker to Flash converter, and the project now has four new members on the team. It is hopeful that with some help, the project can be brought back to life again.

Check out the G-Flash subforum here.

Runner & Maker Info

According to a recent post by Sandy Duncan, Game Maker 8 will most likely be re-written in C++, making development for multiple platforms much easier. For now they are simply working on re-writing the runner and porting the ‘maker’ to Mac.

The main goal with the C++ runner is to essentially copy all the functionality of the current runner. When that has been accomplished, additional functionality may be added such as the ability to obfuscate the code, making decompilation of executables much more difficult. The main reason for using C++ Sandy says is for its portability, and not so much for increased performance.

Sandy also notes that there is only a “slight chance” the C++ runner will run games ‘faster’. Since the C++ runner was announced, this ‘chance’ was one of the main reasons the community has been so supportive of the idea.

May News Day

To make up for time lost in our venture to improve our other Scorptek services, we have compiled a list of news items to cover the past couple of weeks.

GM Tech Magazine Issue 12

Issue 12 of this popular magazine was released earlier this month. It includes 50 pages of content covering all aspects of Game Maker, including quality articles, exclusive interviews, game reviews and more. It’s a great read, and is visually appealing. We highly recommend the magazine to any Game Maker user.

For those who don’t know, Wyatt (bendodge), one of the principle writers for GMNews also contributes to some of the magazine’s content.

You can visit GM Tech site and download the issue from here.

GMHC – The GM Hacker Challenge

uuf6429, a well known user of the GMC forums has posted a new challenge for all Game Maker developers to take part in. It is an effort to help improve the security of Game Maker games so that hacking games (for example with the use of a decompiler) becomes very difficult.

While this is potentially a good idea, it also means further security exploits could be exposed in the software, and until YoYo Games fixes them in the next release of Game Maker, it could result in exactly what the project hopes to avoid, easily hackable games.

Unfortunately the challenge was not as successful as previously anticipated. Uuf6429 was taken by surprise when Smarty (former GMC Administrator) was able to recover a script from the game yesterday without “even [starting to decompile] either the game or the DLL.”

Game Maker Games – This Game is Art Competition

Game Maker Games has come out with a new competition just a few days ago called ‘This Game is Art’.

Unlike many other competitions, this one has no pre-defined theme or picky requirements. In fact, it is just the opposite. The competition encourages expressing yourself in an artistic form through your game either as an individual or a team.

For more details and entry requirements for the competition, see this page.

C++ Runner Almost Ready

According to an interview conducted by GM Fetch earlier this month, the C++ runner for Game Maker is nearing completion. This will help to enable Game Maker to run on different computer platforms (e.g. Mac) and should improve the overall performance of Game Maker game executables.

See their website for more information, and for the full interview.

Microsoft Releases Simple Game Creator

This May Microsoft released their own free game creator, Popfly Game Creator, as part of their Popfly social networking effort. The current version is limited to two-dimensional, online games only and requires Microsoft Silverlight and a Microsoft Passport account.

At first try, it appears that the kit is very, very easy to use, with the result (as usual) being that the games all tend seem like the kits they came from. In fact, you can select a game type (I tried Fire Cars) and it will play right then with no more modifications. The only reason this has a chance of success is that Microsoft, with all its manpower, has created an extensive assortment of drop-in characters, scenes, games, sounds, you name it.

Games created with this appears to require Silverlight and are locked to applications that can run Javascript, namely browers and Vista’s Sidebar. What impact this new entry to the easy game creation market will have is currently anyone’s guess.

GM7 *Is The* Decompiler

By now all of you are most certainly aware of the GM decompiler floating around, but what Caniac discovered today may come as a bit of a shock to some readers.

The user discovered that GM7 in fact ‘decompiles’ packaged extensions for Game Maker 7. This allows any user to view the source code to any Game Maker extension and possibly steal and modify said code without permission from the extension’s author.

You may know that the GM7 decompiler can already ‘decompile’ such extension packages, however this is a bit different. This method of extracting the contents of the package does not require any additional decompiling software, tools or hacking methods. In fact all that is needed is notepad to remove a single line from the extension file Game Maker outputs after the package has been installed in the program.

This is just a small warning to those Extension Makers who are perhaps concerned their work could be stolen or modified without permission. One use of Extensions (prior to this discovery) was to release a secure library of functions to perform various programming tasks which could only be called by the programmer, not viewed or modified. Now it is no longer possible to share programming functions with other developers without also exposing the source code behind them.

YYG Full Update & Earth Hour

Sandy Duncan has made another post on the YoYo Games official Glog detailing some of the recent and upcoming changes to the YoYo Games company, their website and also the GMC. For your convenience, we have summarized the changes here:

GMC
– Full upgrade complete and working smoothly
– Increased PM box storage size (2x previous storage space)

YoYo Games’ Website
– Expecting to install 3 new servers to run the website
– Site should be moved over to the new servers within 2 week

GMac
– Progressing smoothly
– Expected beta release in April (on schedule)

YoYo Games company
– Competition closes in a couple of weeks, new competition announced soon
– Looking into getting GM games on the iPhone

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Reminder: Earth hour for is today between 8:00 and 9:00 PM. During this time you should turn off your lights and electronics (including computers) to help the environment by reducing energy consumption and waste pollution. Google is also participating in Earth Hour and you may notice their home page is now BLACK for the time being.