I recently spoke with the creator of DS Game Maker James Garner. DS Game Maker is, as the name suggests, an equivalent of Game Maker which can be used to create games playable on the Nintendo DS console.
Written in Visual Basic .NET 2008 the project has been around for a year and a half and is run by just one person – 15 year old James Garner.
Although YoYo Games’ Game Maker and DS Game Maker are entirely separate projects there are similarities between them. The information James Garner was happy to supply me with is probably as close as is possible to get without planning a midnight raid on the currently non-existent YoYo HQ.
Whereas Game Maker is a stand alone application DS Game Maker is an easy-to-use front end for the devkitPro toolchain and PAlib library. Instead of exporting an .exe of your final project a .nds file can created which can then be transferred to the Nintendo DS console where it can be played.
There are currently 111 built-in actions compared to around 1,000 in Game Maker however PAlib functions can also be used.
There are far more computers in the world than DS consoles so creating games, or other applications, for use on the handheld console is far more specialised and of interest to fewer people. Understandably there not many alternatives for programming for the DS.
Although YoYo Games are, like James, UK-based Game Maker began in The Netherlands. Therefore a high proportion of Game Maker users are Dutch or in English speaking countries around the world. 90% of DS Game Maker sales are from the United States and the website is most popular in USA, Australia and Italy.
James says that the average age of his forum users is 11 which causes a problem YoYo Games also experience – “none of them can buy it. I offer mail order for them (instead of PayPal) but no one has used it”.
Like GM DS Game Maker has both a free and paid-for version. The limitations imposed on the free version are greater than those in Game Maker with audio disabled and a maximum of 3 game rooms permitted unless you upgrade. The upgrade cost at $11.99 for life is less than half the price of Game Maker 7 . In August 62 copies of the Pro Edition were sold with the number of downloads exceeding 6,000.
A download-to-upgrade ratio exceeding 1% appears very impressive but you have to consider that many users upgrading will have been using the software for several months and only just decided that it was worthwhile to pay to lift the restrictions. Also only downloads from the official site are tracked whereas all upgrades go through the site.
Taking the download figures on the YoYo Games Wiki1 if just 1% of the people who downloaded Game Maker in 2006 upgraded their copy revenues of almost $300,000 would have been generated.
Unlike YoYo Games who utilised third-party Softwrap DRM protection, which has proved problematic for some users, the online registration system provided for DS Game Maker is a simple php and MySQL system coded by James. “As a big corporation I guess they [went] for what was industry standard”.
James is quick to admit that DS Game Maker has short-comings when it comes to the provision of resources for potential programmers to make use of. There is no manual which he says is his “biggest flaw” and the online documentation is not yet complete.
There isn’t yet a DS Game Maker equivalent of YoYoGames.com but James is working on one.
As the software development continues and the community grows the number and quality of resources can only grow.
1 – figures were previously on GameMaker.nl and article has been updated by Mark Overmars