23k Games, 200+ Staff’s Choice

The YYG team announced earlier today that they recently had their 23,000th game posted on the website:

As of today there are 23,000 completed games on the YoYo Games website (not counting the beta games and work in progress).  On average it takes about 3 weeks for 1,000 new games to appear, meaning that we get on average about 50 new completed games per day.

The quality of those games notwithstanding, I want to turn attention to the amount of staff’s choice games listed on the YYG website.

I had lamented earlier about the flood of “staff’s choice” games populating YYG:

The staff’s pick on YYG is a joke – almost 200 games, and the YYG site has been around for a little over a year? That’s what, one staff’s pick every two days?

Compared to the now-defunct staff’s choice section at the GMC, there were about 20 times as many games on YYG, all selected within a quarter of the time.  Obviously, the games at the GMC were selected with a great amount of care, and each was accompanied by a few paragraphs of review.  The staff’s choice on YYG, on the other hand, does not have a staff review for each game (or at least one that is readily viewable).

Currently, there are 224 staff’s choice games listed on the YYG website, an increase of only about 30 more games since I posted my complaint earlier, nearly 5 months ago.  This is an average of one staff’s choice every 5 days, a number that is a bit more reasonable.  Might that thread have influenced YYG’s staff selections?

Probably not, but perhaps in the future a system that shows a little more care and discernment in game selection would be put in place.

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iPlay & GMC get updates

YoYo Games just announced the final release of the Firefox 3 Instant Play add-on that many users have being eagerly anticipating for the past few weeks. It is expected to be available for download tomorrow (July 15th) at around lunch time – GMT.

Although not indicated by the staff, this sudden news on the plug-in is likely the result of recent criticisms that started over an open letter to the Yo Yo Games staff that appeared on Connor Wilkins’ blog yesterday. One of the points brought up in the letter was a distinct lack of progress updates on the Firefox 3 compatible Instant Play plug-in. Until now, Firefox 3 users have been unable to play or download games from the YoYo Games website. This problem has also deterred new visitors from the site who are also unfortunate to be using the browser.

The GMC forum also got an update today. The forum now supports RSS feeds of the five most recent topics in the Announcements and Examples/Tutorials forums.

Also regarding the GMC – anyone who is using the GMC Extension (karma) plug-in, we are currently testing the skinning feature that enables users to choose their own theme/look for the forum. This feature should be available to the public sometime in the near future.

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.

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.

MarkUp 13 & No GM Patches?

MarkUp 13, an ongoing popular Game Maker magazine has just released its 13th (unlucky?) issue.

With 26 pages of comprehensive content, it is a quality magazine worth the read, although not nearly as large as some of it’s competitors.

It comes in 3 formats which can be downloaded here:
High Quality, Low Quality, XPS

An interesting and valid point this issue brings up has to do with YoYo Games’ (and I would say also Mark Overmars’) inability to patch current/previous versions of Game Maker to correct security or performance flaws.

So far YoYo Games has yet to show any evidence of working on a patch for Game Maker 7 that could render the current decompiler tool inoperable or at least help prevent or secure the executables from such exploits.

Two other examples involve Game Maker 6. It was a well known fact that GM6 contained a serious precision bug which caused it to be so imprecise with calculations that for some users, GM5 was the only feasible option. Mark & Xot discovered the reason behind the precision bug while working on Game Maker 7, but never released a patch for version 6 of the program.

The second example is when the final Vista RTM release was made public. It was obvious at that point that Game Maker 6 was not going to run on Vista. To this day however, GM6 has not been patched to work with Vista. Finally, after much demand, a converter to make GM6 executables Vista compatible was released, however it still left GM6 incompatible with the new OS.

What are your thoughts on this? Should YoYo Games change their (non-official) policy of ‘We don’t update Game Maker, you’ll just have to wait for the next release’ to be more accepting of the fact that many users won’t always want to (or be able to) use the latest version of a program?

Hat tip to Xot for providing more information about the precision bug.

YYG Server Upgrade

It’s good to see that YoYo Games (YYG) is upgrading their servers to provide a better quality service to users, however they picked a very inconvenient time for some.

User’s participating in YYG’s own Competition 02 are meant to be submitting their programming masterpieces for judging in just 3-4 days. According to YYG’s official ‘Glog,’ the server upgrade shouldn’t take more than about 48 hours (and that was said to be an estimate on the safe side). However YoYoJim, an Administrator of the GMC notes that the transition between servers is taking longer than expected and there is no word at this point how long it will take before everything is in operation.

YoYoJim did make a statement:

If this ends up being a problem for the competition then of course the deadline will be moved back a bit. I’m not going to change it just yet as there are still four days left to submit games and we still don’t know how long the server upgrade is going to take.

It basically says the competition will not be pushed back unless the downtime interferes with user’s ability to submit their games. For some, the downtime has already interfered with the submission, and Chronic (anotherGMC administrator) said, “I also agree very much that there should be an extension to the submit time due to maintenance” and encouraged users to “email YYG and let them know [about their submission].”

Meanwhile, the ‘Share’ feature on the YYG website (where game creators go to submit and upload their games) is not available until the server upgrade is complete.