Today, the popular 2D development tool GameMaker has announced Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone support. Windows 8 support for Game Maker: Studio will be available on October 26; Windows Phone 8 support will follow when the devices themselves launch, later this year.
That’s just the latest in a raft of improvements that began with the May release of the latest edition of the software, GameMaker: Studio.
“GameMaker’s been around a long time,” says Sandy Duncan, CEO of Yoyo Games, which acquired the tool in 2006. “Really, we didn’t do that much with it for about three years,” he admits.
While some significant indie games have been made with the engine, including the original PC versions of Derek Yu’s Spelunky and Vlambeer’s Super Crate Box, the product was losing steam.
“You look at guys like Derek Yu and Vlambeer, for example,” says Duncan. “Those guys have been disappointed, in a way, that we haven’t kept the technology moving for them.
We’ve caught up with them, in a funny way,” he says.
The Current State of GameMaker
GameMaker: Studio, which works with OS X and Windows, and which builds to those platforms for no additional charge has been bolstered by $199.99 plug-ins which allow it to build to iOS, Android, and, soon, Windows Phone 8. HTML5 costs $99.99.
The company has also recruited DMA Design co-founders Russell Kay and Mike Dailly to head its tech team.
“What I have is a core of a tech team who are guys not just with games industry experience, but they go back to the point when you had to work hard to get a game to work on different device,” says Duncan.
“We now really concentrate and focus on what Studio does.” That’s a “fast,” extensible, 2D-only tool for creating games that even non-coders can use with a mixture of drag-and-drop and scripting.
The affordability of the base tool — which costs $99.99 if you intend to build commercial games on it — is what attracts developers. While the company has only sold 5,000 to 6,000 commercial licenses since Studio was launched in May, Duncan estimates “we’re adding 1,000 or 2,000 a month.”
“Everyone focuses on how to monetize and distribute games,” says Duncan, but they miss another key cost: “If it’s fast development, it’s cheaper.”
And the engine also seamlessly builds both native apps and HTML5 versions, too — “There’s nothing in the HTML5 spec that affects games that the developer is exposed to with GameMaker, and so you write your game, you write it whether it’s running on anything and it works,” he says, sidestepping the issues with the standard (though WebGL is required, meaning its HTML5 games will not work on Internet Explorer.)
The company is now trying to make the tool as simple and transparent as it can for developers, and add options. For example, 11 “dropdown” packages now allow developers to add ads (from various companies) or analytics (from Flurry) to their games.
The Future: “As Big as Unity”
Duncan also promises “better support, more community features, field engineers, tutorials” — “stuff we’ve done a bit of, but not enough of.”
“We’re all about delivering stuff to the devs, because they’ll make our business for us if we use the tech,” says Duncan.
Though Duncan maintains that Studio has taken big steps since May, the engine isn’t quite there yet, so to speak.
Extensions don’t work with mobile games, just yet, for example, because “the way that GameMaker compiles today, you would break the iOS rules,” but the company plans to implement the Apple-favored LLVM compiler late this year to change that, in a change that should otherwise be transparent for its user base.
It also plans to add support for Ubuntu Linux versions of its games “really soon”. Other additions are more airy: “We’re pretty interested in smart TV stuff,” says Duncan, who notes that “it only takes us a few weeks to move to a new platform.”
What won’t come is a focus on anything but 2D game development. “We don’t attempt to be 3D; we never will be. The simplicity of game making is destroyed when you go to 3D,” he says.
Duncan was clearly enthused and optimistic about the rising fortunes of the software package — he teased a new distribution agreement that will make it “the most vitally used tool by Q1 next year.”
By next Christmas, he wagers, “we’d be at least as big as” Unity.