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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Mark – Seeking help on Animation Project

Mark Overmars is currently seeking help for an animation experiment conducted by his research group at the Utrecht University.

According to a post by Mark on the GMC:
“One of the topics we study is how to create walking animations out of short recorded motions of real people. The main problem here is to blend the motion segments to create realistically looking total motions. It is difficult to establish what “realistic” means here.”

In total there are 43 questions (separated into 2 parts) in the survey which involve viewing animations and rating how realistic they appear.

The survey/experiment is located here. A winner will be drawn for a free iPod shuffle gift
(on a side note: don’t forget GMNews is also giving away prizes every month for adding comments to articles or submitting news tips to postMyGMNews@scorptek.net)

GMac/Linux Nearing Beta

Sandy Duncan has informed us that he saw a demo of the Mac version of Game Maker yesterday. Mark Overmars is currently in the process of deciding whether it is beta-worthy, and if so when the beta release date will be.

One thing Sandy does note is that Leopard (OS X 10.5) may be required to run the software when it is released as a beta. This could pose a problem for a lot of Mac users since it’s similar to saying ‘only works on Vista’ for PCs.

For the first time we know of, Sandy also gave a short statement of the possibility of a native Linux version of Game Maker coming out sometime this year. This is likely dependent on how well the Mac version of Game Maker performs, and is unlikely to have a release ready before the Mac version is public.

Tips To Win

A few days ago, Mark Overmars posted an article on his personal blog giving tips to win the current YoYo Games competition.

In short, the tips can be summarized to:

– Make it fun
– Provide clear and to the point instructions/help
– Reduce file size and loading times to a minimum
– Avoid posting beta releases of the game
– Provide several screenshots
– Provide a short but informative description
– Choose a good title and keywords
– Market/advertise your game outside YYG/GMC

You can read a more in depth explanation from Mark here. Keep in mind while these tips were designed to help you win the competition, they are good tips to follow in general to improve your game ratings.

Fishy GM Blog Post

Update: Philip Gamble has issued a statement about the post. According to him, Jinxtengu is actually an authorized writer for the Game Maker blog. However, Jinxtengu (who has only posted once before) decided to make this news article into a strong political statement. Philip, who was unaware of the article said “I would have preferred it if [Jinxtengu] had checked with me first as tuntis has done on several occasions, but I can’t change the past.

Phillip also says he will be implementing measures to try an avoid something like this happening the future, “In my next e-mail to contributors I will ask that any posts of this nature are approved by me first.”

Original Article:

A strange news article appeared on the GameMaker Blog today. According to the about page, the blog has three authors, Philip Gamble, Tuntis, and Grego. This particular post is not written by any of the three, but by a Jinxtengu.

The actual post is entitled “The Mark Overmars Suicide Cult” and goes on to encourage users to commit suicide and sacrifice their soul to the Department of Information and Computing Sciences at the Utrecht University where Mark Overmars is a professor.

The article is quite disturbing, and from the looks of it, there may be a compromise in the blog’s security measures that has allowed this user to gain full access to the blog site. It is unclear whether or not the owner, Philip Gamble, still has any control or Administration status over the blog, however no statement has been issued by Philip yet, nor has the post been removed.

The author of the article, Jinxtengu can be found across the internet. Wikipedia has a short blurb which tells us this user has abused one or more accounts on their system.

Edit: It appears Jinxtengu has stated the post is a ‘joke’ (despite it being of a very serious and disturbing nature) in a comment on the article. We still however do not have any evidence to support that Jinxtengu is an authorized writer for the GameMakerBlog, as the blog’s about page clearly does not confirm this.

It is also interesting to note that the browser title bar reads “best greatest manga” on the page where the article exists.

YYG to Host Online Highscores

Mark Overmars has announced on a recent blog post that YoyoGames will be adding built-in online highscores to Game Maker.

The highscore lists will use the yoyogames.com logins, and games will have the option of displaying the lists on the site. Mark also said that there will probably be several different lists, such as daily, weekly, monthly, all time, etc.