A year in the GameMaker Studio - MCV
GameMaker Studio 2 has had a great first year. We speak to YoYo Games’ general manager, James Cox, about its success, its plans to bring forth a new generation of game developers, and where the engine goes from here

It’s been a year since the launch of GameMaker Studio 2 and over that time the developers at YoYo Games haven’t slowed down for a second. The engine has seen great success and has been updated continuously since GDC 2017, snowballing its popularity among established game developers, hobbyists and students. Years of development work for YoYo Games is paying off and the company has big plans as it continues down the path now clearly laid out before it.

“There’s three years worth of development that led up to the release of GameMaker Studio 2, so that underpins it all,” says James Cox, general manager of YoYo Games. “The product then stepped forward. It was a proper new product, a proper new release. That’s the basis for everything.

“We released last March, just after GDC, and we had a very good launch. The software was popular, the uptake was very good. We saw new people coming across from GameMaker Studio 1, which was great. Then we had our first major update in July time, and that was when GameMaker Studio 2 came to Mac as well. We now have a steady stream of Mac users as well as Windows users.”

YoYo Games' general manager, James Cox

YoYo Games' general manager, James Cox

YoYo Games also brought in special pricing for educational use, re-released Studio 1 as part of a Humble Bundle and partnered with Amazon on a Kindle Fire export option alongside bolstering its mobile features. After that, the studio partnered with Microsoft to allow the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) version of GameMaker Studio 2 to work with the Xbox Live Creator’s Programme.

“That’s very cool, because it opens the door to any developer to come onto a console,” Cox says. “UWP is a big thing in the applications world but maybe less big in the games world. I still think there are a lot of developers who don’t realise this. You can build a UWP game and launch on Xbox. You do not need to be an fully registered Xbox developer, anyone can register for the Xbox Live Creators program and you can start bringing your game across to Xbox. That’s a really cool thing for a lot of aspiring independent developers or students.”

Beyond that, the studio released a Creator Edition for developers on a budget and has just announced fully localised versions of the engine in German, Spanish and French. It’s been a busy year for the company.

“We’re adding three languages,” Cox says. “It’s something we’ve wanted to do for quite a while. We’ve found that with the new deep learning in Google Translate, we can basically automatically translate the manual. We need to have some exception rules and we’ve had to do some work on it, as you might imagine, but we’ve got half a million words on the manual and it changes every single release. Pieces are added, pieces are taken away, pieces are changed. So we needed a machine translation solution to that and the technology is good enough now.

“We’re not saying it’s necessarily going to be perfect first time round. We’re getting the integrated development environment translated by hand, so everyone will be happy with that. We’re going to put the manuals out on Github, so that if people find places where they think ‘actually that’s not quite right, it’s not quite good enough’ then they can make the appropriate changes and we can review. At YoYo Games, we’re very happy to try things out and we think this will work really well.”

GameMaker Studio 2 screenshot 8 or something

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Part of the reasoning behind localising GameMaker Studio 2 is to
make it more accessible to young people who speak German, Spanish and French. Children whose grasp of English is still developing, but who are of an age where they might want to start thinking about making games. This rings true with what Cox describes as the ‘heart and soul’ of the company.

“We’ve been talking a lot about what’s the heart and soul of GameMaker and the company and how can we express that,” Cox explains. “We think the best way to express it is: we are trying to make or develop game makers. We are trying to help people become game developers. And so we absolutely still take into account and have a lot of focus on the hobbyists and students and people new to game development. And we don’t see that going away.”

By focusing on accessibility, YoYo hopes to remove the barriers between aspiring game developers and their first games. Sometimes these creators will cut their teeth on GameMaker Studio and move on to more advanced, 3D engines like Unreal and Unity, but according to the firm that’s no issue at all.

“For some people that is a natural journey and for us that’s fine,” Cox says. “It’s not a problem. We’re quite happy to be part of some people’s journey or to be the whole of some people’s journey. And we find that people sometimes try the other engines first and then they look at GameMaker to have something that is more accessible, and we’re happy to pass on some of those people back to the other engines at the appropriate time.

“Also there are people who discover they love playing games and want to
get into game jams and they can come to us because we can help them make games very quickly. There’s a very fast iteration pipeline with GameMaker and sometimes the focus on 2D is a good thing. Particularly with personal projects.

“We don’t mind being part of that journey for some people because every year there’s another generation. We can be part of their journey as well. And then others, they’ll stay with GameMaker and they’ll build their studios around it and that’s great to see as well.”

The number of studios building popular games in GameMaker feels like it’s growing exponentially. With titles like Hyper Light Drifter, Undertale, Spelunky and Hotline Miami, the engine is developing a strong legacy. It’s no question that it is now a legitimate development platform for studios of all sizes. Especially now YoYo Games has announced Switch support, which will be released soon after its current closed alpha phase.

“We are seeing plenty of games that are both commercially and critically successful and also we’re seeing an increase in anticipation for games that are made with GameMaker,” Cox says. “Sometimes people don’t realise that those games are made with GameMaker as well. The ambition of the games has been increasing. The type and variety of the games has been increasing.

“Maybe two or three years ago GameMaker may have been more associated with pixel artwork and those types of games on Steam. But now people are making high-res games, people are making pixel art, people are making mobile games, people are on Steam, people are on console and of course there is a huge amount of interest in Switch as well. There is a lot more variety of ambition and game genres and art styles and types.”

GameMaker Studio 2 screenshot 2

So what next? After such a busy year, is it time for a rest? No, of course not. Don’t be silly.

“We have another laundry list of features,” Cox says. “Most of it is unfortunately not public yet but we’ve got a few points on our public roadmap on our website. We’ve got a whole bunch of features we’re working on, some of them are more short term, some of them are more long term. We’re looking at this whole GameMaker journey as well; how can we help people start and how can we help them reach the high skill ceiling, to make that really beautiful looking game?

“So we’ve got some more work we’re doing with our tutorials. A few that are more instant – short snappy tutorials that take a look at different simple game genres. Often people will come into the engine and say ‘I want to make a platform game’ or ‘I want to make a little space shooter’. So we’re looking at some very fast and quick tutorials to help people reach that initial ambition.

“Then on top of that we’re looking at the visual editor aspect. We have a lot of visual editors in GameMaker. There’s drag and drop, there’s the level editor, there’s the image editor. We’re looking to see what other visual editors we can build in to get people going faster, that are more easy to understand.”

And, while 2D is very much the company’s focus for now, Cox isn’t ruling out adding full 3D features at some point in the nebulous future.

“We’re concentrating on 2D at the moment,” he says. “We do discuss 3D, as you might imagine, so you can never count it out, but right now we are focused as a 2D game engine. It works very well for our audience and there’s a lot of interest to make 2D games. Some people have made 3D games in GameMaker, it is possible to do, but it’s not the focus of our toolchain at the moment. So come back to us in the future with that one because hey, you never know.”

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