It has been two and a half years since I first saw Scirra‘s Construct game making software and compared it to GameMaker in what has turned out to be one of this website’s most popular articles to date.
Since then there have been a lot of developments as both YoYo Games and Scirra have turned their attention away from PC-runnable executable files towards new platforms. Whilst YoYo Games plan to release the HTML5 version of GameMaker and Game Maker Studio the original Construct software has been superseded with a new project, Construct 2, which exports games in HTML5.
Last night I caught up with Ashley and Thomas Gullen from Scirra to find out what they’ve been up to and how they see Construct 2 fitting into the HTML5 game creation software market.
The original Construct, now renamed Construct Classic, has now been downloaded over 330,000 times since its first release in 2007. Development of the drag and drop game builder which creates executable games has now been stopped by Scirra itself.
“We’ve basically handed Construct Classic over to the community who are really enthusiastic and keen to keep it developed” explained Thomas Gullen, “It’s Open Source so anyone can join in. It still has,and for a long time will have a lot more function and use for a lot of people. At the moment we estimate there are around 1,000 regular users per day.”
“The problem with Construct Classic although it was a very useful and popular program is the design is fairly rigid”. “It’s basically not possible to add another exporter to Classic – we wanted to do so ourselves” added lead developer Ashley. “One of the reasons we restarted Construct 2 was because Classic isn’t written in a way that allows it to be extended like that.”
Construct 2 is the closed-source HTML5 game creation tool where Scirra now dedicate their resources.
“When Construct 2 first launched in February it was very bare and thin on features, but it’s got a lot more now and we have a new sort of community site to engage users with. The public beta exports to HTML5 right now and we’re developing it as quickly as possible. We’ll have animations support in Construct 2 shortly, and Firefox 5 and Internet Explorer 9 are running some of the demos very nicely so I think we’re building something that will intruige a lot of current Game Maker users.”
Pricing has not yet been worked out but “there will be a free edition, a basic indie license, and some kind of pro – still working on that. It’ll be cheaper than GM Studio, although GM Studio will initially export to more platforms, but HTML5 is the most important one anyway! It should be noted that the free edition is not planned to be incredibly restrictive as some users fear, we plan on making it very functional and useful to users. In the long term, Construct 2 has a modular exporters system so we can bolt on extra exporters in future too.”
“We aren’t really defining a ‘1.0’ release, we’re just incrementing a number… release 42, 43, 44 etc. Some users have already made the odd game or two – but it’s easy to hit unfinished features right now. I reckon by the end of the year we’ll have something that is practically useful and competitive.”
A simple demo game created using Construct 2 is available to play online, currently it only runs well within Firefox 5 and Internet Explorer 9 as these browsers have good hardware acceleration.
“All browsers are heading towards hardware acceleration, within a year I’m sure that kind of game will be commonplace. Surprisingly IE9 seems to have the best performance over any other browser at the moment. One test we had I ran on my computer in IE9, the performance of HTML5 was directly comparable to the same EXE game made in Construct Classic. HTML5 is still quite a young technology so it will take a little while for browsers to catch up to it, and I’m sure they will.”
“One thing that’s probably quite obvious is that communities attached to particular brands are extremely loyal. This is a negative and a positive depending who you are, for us you might say we are at a disadvantage because of this facing the mountain of competitor’s users, which is why if we want to get anywhere we have to offer something free and miles better to entice them to try other things.
“Me and Ash talked about support a lot about support, it’s something we will focus on heavily when the time comes. One thing I LOVE on a website is when you get answers to support tickets on the same day, or even hour! It’s just amazing and is of so much value to the users, that’s what we want to aim for. Writing good tutorials and having a comprehensive manual is important too.”
“We’re quite excited about the opportunities of the new site, really trying to make it as community driven as possible, it works so well on Stack Overflow, that’s the sort of learning environment we want to have at some point.”
At the moment Scirra comprises of Ashley and Thomas Gullen together with David Clarke who was heavily involved in Construct Classic. Ashley is the “main engine” behind Scirra whilst Tom is involved with the website side of the project.
“At the moment Ashley is pretty much working full time on this as he has just finished University. Hopefully in the future when more time is filled up I can start contributing more to Construct itself and plugin development” said Thomas. “We are extremely fortunate in that both our skills and qualifications seem to compliment each other perfectly for Scirra.”
Scirra’s income model is based solely on Construct 2 licence sales. “We actually thought long and hard about all the ways we could monetise and went through a lot of models. We at some point soon will be offering discount early adopter licenses. We really want Scirra to have a sustainable financial future, freemium – tried and tested, GameMaker and GameSalad do it.”
“If you ask users what the licensing model should be, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that they want everything, and they want it free. I think a lot of people wont even consider a 30 day trial these days, too much good stuff is free – Google, browsers, open source stuff…, so there has to be an always-on free edition.”
“It’s a bit of a sad state of affairs right now” said Ashely, “I’m overdrawn and on an ancient laptop, but I’m still going fulltime in anticipation license sales or some such will bail us out soon! Nobody said startups were easy, anyway!”
“A lot of companies seem to have similar philosophies about where the games industry is heading, we have a very strong belief it is going towards HTML5 and we are in just before it starts picking up a lot of momentum. It looks like there’ll be a Construct 2 vs. GameMaker vs. Gamesalad battle in HTML5 soon (if not now). Our approach is to give the user control – they’re not tied to our arcade or any particular website, and they can upload to any site.”
“GameSalad seem to be leading the way in their marketing and execution. They have branding and PR power we can only dream of.” They have the funding too!
“We don’t see them as a direct competitor though because they seem to have found their niche and are exploiting it really well – Mac users. We don’t have much interest this early on to extend into that domain, and likewise I’m not sure if they would need to/want to/be able to extend into the Windows domain either.”
“GameMaker really is leading the way, they [YoYo Games] appear to be in a really strong position, but hopefully our product and our other efforts will really start to show and we can create a much more competitive environment.”
Having seen the new YoYo Games website Thomas said “I think it’s always difficult doing a new website, it’s a really delicate balance and it’s impossible to make everyone happy if you have more than 10 visitors!” Scirra also recently redesigned their website.
“We’re still a laptops-in-bedrooms startup, but hopefully we can soon upgrade ourselves to an office once we get some licenses on sale, and also upgrade ourselves from ‘ignorable’ to ‘something else out there’.”
“We’re of the opinion browser support in 1-2 years will be excellent – and it will essentially kill flash (at least for what it’s famous for – banner ads, games and gadgets – HTML5 does that better). Flash has an absolutely huge footprint, so it’s going to take ages for that beast to die but the slew of new tools for html5 could speed that up.”
“Classic is a great point to launch from too, the old software brings in visitors so if the big guys are ignoring us, I don’t actually mind. We can work on our stuff and make a splash later on.”
“It would be nice to one day have Construct 2 as the de facto HTML5 game/app editor, that’s the dream.”