Looking at GameMaker post-acquisition

In January of last year, YoYo Games – the creators behind famed game making tool series GameMaker – was acquired by the web browser company Opera in a $10 million deal. I briefly talked about this a long time ago when the acquisition was still fresh, but at the time, the future of GameMaker under Opera was a big unknown. Since then, a whole bunch of things happened, so I decided to take a closer look at things.

In August of 2021, YoYo Games announced a big change, the type of change that people that hate large media buy-outs would feel justified about. Previously, developers had to pay a one-time license to use GameMaker Studio 2 or develop for specific platforms. However, YoYo Games decided to pivot to one of the nightmare modern day trends: a subscription service.

While people can use the engine for free, they can only export to GXC (more on that later). If you actually want to make a career out of things, you gotta pay a subscription. Just a hobbyist or aiming for a small audience? That’ll be $4.99 a month – which, by the way, wasn’t a plan available when the pricing was first launched. Want to publish to more platforms? You gotta look at the more expensive plans.

While subscriptions are already hell, they are hell in the context of game development. Sure, you could theoretically pay for one month just to get a game out, but if you ever plan on fixing up bugs that pop up, having a subscription becomes an obligation if you want to fix a problem that comes up later. Have console ports? You may as well go fuck yourself if you’re a small developer, because that will be $79.99 a month.

At the time, this justifiably caused a bunch of outrage. In fact, Terry Cavanagh, creator of hit games like VVVVVVV and Dicey Dungeons, protested this and Unity’s whole “working for the US military” thing by running the Stop Waiting for Godot game jam to encourage people to take up learning Godot. Godot is an open-source game making tool that’s steadily rose to prominence in the past few years and is effectively a good alternative to GameMaker Studio 2’s free license.

But say if you’re just a hobbyist that’s just fine with using GameMaker for free. You’d only get to upload to GXC, so you may ask: what is that?

For background, acquiring YoYo Games is just one part of Opera’s grand gamer strategy. Opera also has Opera GX, an alternative web browser dedicated to the gaming audience. You can limit RAM and CPU usage while browsing, you can access a built-in VPN and ad blocker, there’s integrated support for Discord, etc.

I’m sure that all this stuff would be good for the real hardcore gamers, but I honestly don’t see the benefit for me personally because, well, the most intensive thing I play is Final Fantasy XIV, and that still works fine with me playing Youtube videos on Chrome in the background, which is my heavenly ideal. And while that “play video in a pop-window” feature does seem neat, I have multiple screens, so I can just put stuff on one screen while writing on the other. In short: if you’re normal, you probably don’t need to switch to this browser.

But there’s one thing that’s completely, arbitrarily unique to Opera GX, which is the main reason why I installed this browser to begin with. So, let’s finally get to talking about GXC.

GXC is an online game platform exclusively filled with GameMaker games that was launched in October, with the caveat that it can only be accessed through Opera GX. While GameMaker already allowed users to create games that can be played in the browser, GXC seems specifically optimized for these games.

Since they’re all browser games, most of the stuff on GXC is stuff that can be played in short sessions. In general, there’s a higher focus on arcadey, high score games. This is partly enforced by the Challenge of the Month, which started up in March of this year. A different game is highlighted each week of the month, challenging players to get a high score with the top 20 players in a weekly earning points toward a monthly grand total, where the top five players of the month get prizes. What kind of prizes? I dunno, but the terms and services do indicate that the prizes are valuable, at least.

There’s a worry about some game platforms becoming walled gardens, but with GXC, it doesn’t seem that way… at least on the surface. A lot of the biggest games on the platform are already available on places like itch. However, what we have to remember is that if you’re using GameMaker for free, the only place that you actually can upload a game is on GXC. If you’re a poor developer, GXC will become your walled garden. Forget being a hobbyist casually uploading things on itch or getting your stuff played in different internet browsers, Opera GX is your home now, and those users will be your only audience.

While surrounded by progressively worse things, the GameMaker engine itself is still going strong. Last month, YoYo Games had a big presentation video announcing updates that will be coming down the line. A notable addition is the introduction of a “long-term stable” release, which would allow developers to work in a version of GameMaker that won’t get screwed up by a future update disrupting the flow of things. Another particularly big addition is the introduction of rollback multiplayer in the box, which could make implementing online multiplayer far easier.

To me, the multiplayer update could be used to make Opera GX more tempting. Like, imagine somebody making a big multiplayer GameMaker game… then making it exclusive to GXC. Even if it doesn’t have exclusivity, Opera GX could still be a good draw since you could just start a game up in the browser immediately.

But then again, exclusivity isn’t something we should rule out. After all, GameMaker Studio 2 switched its pricing structure under Opera ownership, so it may not be out of the question for Opera to push for GXC exclusive games to get people through the doors. Hell, Opera has an alternate browser exclusively for crypto nerds, that already tells me that they have no morals.

If you’re a hobbyist or a small developer with small ambitions, I do think that – at the moment – GameMaker Studio 2 is still welcoming despite the changes. However, I don’t feel happy with the broader decisions Opera has made for GameMaker, and I do think that they’re going to use GameMaker to further carve out a space in the browser world. I dunno, maybe they’ll pivot and pull a Square-Enix and one day sell YoYo Games to go further in on crypto, who knows.

One comment

  1. After I finish this GMS2 game (that happens to still be a permanent license with no subscription fee) and publish it on Steam I am fucking out. WIll probably move on to Godot.


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