Inside GameMaker’s mission to democratize Steam Greenlight, and find the next Super Crate Box


GameMaker: Studio was among the first non-gaming software to be released on Steam three months ago – a tool for game development across all levels of ability, for ages 0-99. Or at least, from entry-level to wizened professional.

It arrived with the ability to upload your completed game onto the GameMaker portion of the Steam Workshop for others to play and critique, with the eventual goal of developers getting their game into the Steam store. To show the seriousness of their intent, they’re offering a $1000 bounty to the top rated game on the workshop.

GameMaker developers YoYo Games intend their Steam Workshop to become a platform for indie devs to launch games – not just prototypes – to be downloaded for free by Steam users.

Why does this matter? Because GameMaker has form: both Super Crate Box and Spelunky were built using it. And both exploded in popularity when they were released as free downloads, kickstarting the careers of the devs responsible.

CEO Sandy Duncan told PCGamesN that he’d like to see the same happen on Steam Workshop.

“Start with first principles,” said Duncan. “You can make amazing games in GameMaker. The thread we’ve got behind this is not about getting game developers to critique other game developers’ content. YoYo Games has been around for six years allowing people to do that. And actually if you look at the comments on any of the content on Steam, you’ll see that is not game devs doing the critique.

“If you look at the comments on some of the stuff on Steam Workshop, people are going, ‘Wow, just get this into a game for me, I love it’. Even when people are putting up demo levels, the comments aren’t, ‘Hey, love the physics, how did you do the collisions like that’, it’s, ‘This is a great game I’m enjoying playing’.”

At the moment, playing a game via the Workshop isn’t as simple as it could be. Curious Steam users are required to first download and then start up GameMaker’s free version before selecting the option to ‘Play’. But if that process proves too heavy a barrier, YoYo Games are willing to cut out the middleman.

“Time will tell,” said Duncan. “GameMaker’s not a big download – 100 MB, roughly. If that were a barrier, then we actually already have a player ready. It doesn’t quite fit in with the way that Steam Workshop works, that’s the challenge. We’re in a learning period with Steam, and if [the process puts players off], then we will watch and we can adjust very quickly.”

Steam has already had a “profound effect” on GameMaker: Studio’s uptake. While YoYo Games don’t have stats for the free version – Steam only records sales – downloads through the official GameMaker site alone had increased from 3000 a day to around 9000 or 10,000 as of October.

The company hopes to increase their Steam user base further with a new deal, which allows developers using GameMaker 8.1 – a legacy version, still widely used – to upgrade to Steam’s GameMaker: Studio for a reduced price – $25 for the ‘Standard’ version, or $50 for ‘Professional’.

And, of course, there’s that $1000 monthly prize.

“We did a straw poll of people on the GameMaker website, and 80% of them had Steam IDs,” said Duncan. “You get this feeling that there’s this whole big crossover between indie development and the kind of people who play content on Steam. There’s an appreciation of that type of content.”

Jan Willem Nijman, one half of Super Crate Box developers Vlambeer, is sceptical about GameMaker: Studio’s Steam advances. He still uses GameMaker 7, and is pleased to see GameMaker’s audience expand – but worries that Steam Workshop is still “pretty hidden” for most consumers.

“$1000 may seem serious, but if it requires being the best of the best every single month it’s not something you could live off without being famished/overworked as fuck – not that that is the intention,” he added.

Rob Fearon is an indie developer and creator of Death Ray Manta, an arcade arena shooter developed using GameMaker. He’s already used the Workshop to release a demo for his latest game, and is excited about the possibilities it offers new developers.

“$1000 is a lot of money for someone who wouldn’t normally make a single thing on their games, and forget the big number/small number here – it’s money for making a game,” he said.

“Helping the Workshop become a place where people aren’t afraid to punt things up there is important [to keep] this space working for people on Steam. If there’s a bunch of kids or amateur game makers thinking, ‘Hey, I could put it up there and there’s a chance of making some easy cash’ for a while, that’s great. Anything that encourages people to share their stuff en masse.”

YoYo Games’ Duncan admits that these are “small steps and early days” for GameMaker on Steam. But there’s scope for more.

“I think – I hope – from the conversations we’ve had with Steam, they’re super interested in what we might end up doing here. This is not the end play here, this is the start.”