Dec 112012

Yesterday, RPG Maker VX Ace came out on Steam. To my knowledge, this is the first time that a PC RPG Maker title has been on sale on a major storefront. As of right now, the program is at spot #7 on the Top Sellers list – since this list is based on revenue, this means that it’s not selling as many copies as the other games in the top 10 (RPG Maker is $70 compared to the $12-$60 that everything else in the top 10 is selling for) but it’s still very impressive. There’s obviously a demand here.

Probably the most common insult indie RPG makers face is the claim that their game looks just like an RPG Maker game. Now there are some very good RPG Maker games like To the Moon and even some cool RPG Maker games that you would probably never know were made in RPG Maker if someone didn’t tell you like Cherry Tree High Comedy Club so why is it that RPG Maker gets such a bad rap? There are a number of reasons but it boils down to this – when you lower the barrier to entry and make something easy for everyone to do, EVERYONE starts to do it, regardless of skill or level of determination. We saw this with the  XBox Live Indie Game service and we see it with RPG Maker – a few gems surrounded by hordes of incomplete, buggy, generic, or downright awful games.

RPG Maker is designed to be a general RPG maker and as such, it’s full of general art assets & general RPG mechanics. If you want to create an RPG with a more unusual setting or with strange and intricate gameplay mechanics, it’s more difficult to do with a general RPG creation tool like RPGMaker. It’s not impossible but at some point, you might start to wonder if you wouldn’t better off just starting from scratch with your own custom created engine rather than trying to modify RPG Maker to do things it wasn’t really intended to do.

That’s not to say that programs like RPG Maker aren’t without their merits. They can prove to be very useful for learning the basics of what goes into making the game and if you’re making the right kind of game, they can save you a lot of time. When I was younger, I got started on programs like RPG Maker (specifically, a program called Verge) and since my 12-year old daughter has expressed in an interest, I think I might pick up RPG Maker for her to mess around with and to gain a greater understanding of the game development process.

I’ve been asked if I think RPG Maker getting such widespread release is a threat to existing indie RPG developers. And to that, my answer is no. I expect we’ll see more RPG Maker games on Steam Greenlight as a result, but there’s no reason to expect that the actual Steam store will get flooded by low quality games. The bar is already set fairly high and it’s just going to get higher – if you start making an RPG now, you’re not going to be competing against the current crop of indie games; you’re going to be competing against the even better selection of indie games that will come out in 2013 or 2014. Programs like RPG Maker can be useful tools but if you want to get on Steam, you still need to make a high quality game and market it appropriately and that takes a level of skill & determination that most aspiring developers don’t have. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up seeing a couple new indie RPG developers rise to promise over the next few years and I’m perfectly fine with that – I can always use more fun RPGs to play!

 Posted by at 10:50 am

  12 Responses to “Thoughts on RPG Maker on Steam”

  1. “but there’s no reason to expect that the actual Steam store will get flooded by low quality games.”

    Too late, nearly every RPG Maker game being developed is getting greenlit because not enough people can visually recognize the standard RPG Maker assets and mistake them for original sprite work.

  2. and this is exactly why I started to learn how to program in C# and XNA. Tho making an RPG is too big for one person so I’ve stopped doing that and moved on to others ideas.

  3. It is actually marked as an Application, since Steam started selling Applications some time ago 🙂 (There’s also stuff like ACDSee)

  4. I’m sure there were a lot of debate as whether or not should a game maker be sold as a “game” on steam. I looked at the RPG Maker VX Ace video preview and i have to admit, it’s seems definitely better than any other game makers i’ve ever seen.

    Still, in my opinion, it should not be categorized as a game and never should have been sold as a game since it is mainly a tool. Another debate about selling games made with a game maker that requires no programming (according to the trailer) is another matter.

    Bottom line, there will always be limitations (in terms of functionality & new features). If bugs are found, they can’t be fixed unless an update of the game maker is released and you’ll have to do update of your own. The next thing you’ll know is that there will be so many games with the same type of gameplay that it will become noticeable and too common. Of course it doesn’t mean they’ll be bad games but the genre may become oversaturated over time.

    Building tools for a RPG and an engine from the ground up is time consuming but it is definitely worth the hard work for anyone with any programming experience, especially with XNA which makes game programming extremely easy compared to other languages and frameworks.

  5. I think that far too many indy game makers are over thinking the reason people are getting this software. It’s not generally for the users to make marketable RPGs so much as to make something for themselves and their friends. Its just another method for the creative gamers out there to express themselves and to tell a story. Also, while I know that not a whole lot of them exist, I would argue that it is perfectly possible to make an interesting and fun to play game using just the included assets and with no scripting.

  6. Bad Rats was released in 2009 and has Strategy First as their publisher, so it was not subject to the Greenlight process (which didn’t exist back then). Publishers that already have agreements can always work out a deal, and the Greenlight process judges popularity, not quality (essentially just like Kickstarter).

    At the end, it’s not going to be better or worse that both Indie and AAA Games are since decades: Some will be amazing, some will be lemons, most will be okay and enjoyable, some sell well while others tank, there will be a million clones of every successful idea, and Word of Mouth will be very important.

  7. “if you want to get on Steam, you still need to make a high quality game and market it appropriately”

    So, how do you explain Revelations 2012 and Bad Rats being on Steam, then?

  8. RPG Maker is actually a lot more robust than people give it credit for. Last summer, about a year before we started work on Produce Wars, I was working on putting together a fan game using only RPGMaker:

    Like Gazillion said, you can’t even tell it was done in RPGMaker (because it looks like a 2D-action game). There are a lot of possibilities if you know how to code in Ruby and use your own graphics. Then again, if you are that good of a coder and have good graphics, you probably don’t need the RPGMaker software to begin with.

    Basically, if you’re going to use the RPGMaker software, you’re going to have to overhaul the code and graphics to make anything unique. So I think there’s definitely a low ceiling using it.

  9. There’s also now a boxed version available on Amazon that has been selling surprisingly well so far. I was surprised by this move on Steam’s part; I wonder how their cloud saves works with it? If it makes it easier to work on a project across multiple computers, i’ll have to see if my key works for it on there.

  10. I’m not quite aware of how the product is used these days, but I used to fiddle with it in the RPG Maker 2000/2003/XP age, perhaps about 7-8 years ago, and this brings back memories. Unless something drastic took place in between, I propose that it’s practically impossible to create a “good” game with it unless you break its constraints and try to do what it’s not meant to do. To the Moon and Comedy Club, for instance, look fairly nonstandard to me. (They are, aren’t they?)

    There are ways to get around this, of course, perhaps with stunning graphics, music, or writing, but I think they can only get you so far. With sticking to the rules, even with a compelling plot and polished graphics I suspect the battles would bore me rather quickly. But for me its biggest appeal is precisely that: games that make you go “How did they make this in RPG Maker?” Its a difficult position because that appeal doesn’t come entirely from the game itself but from your knowledge of the platform’s limitations. I tried to build a Harvest Moon clone back then, which I would have found utterly uninteresting unless if I hadn’t known that RPG Maker isn’t supposed to be used that way.

    So, it’s an odd platform. It’s like Lego; making a small house out of them on a kitchen table is, nice though it might be, completely banal and hopelessly uninteresting. To make it “pop”, you have to be crazy and, like James May, make a real house out of it—but even then, if you don’t know what Lego is, it’s just a strange house.

  11. As a side note I can say confidently that the stuff I’m doing with the maps for Rainslick4 would not be possible to do in RPGMaker. I can’t wait to show everyone! But it’ll have to wait 😉

  12. It’s a question of quality in my opinion. I played around with RPG Maker when I was in high school and I thought it was really cool to be able to create a small RPG with my friends in it.

    When developers take the time to learn the tool and customize their game so they don’t use any of the stock graphics and sound then I can hardly tell the difference. Not to take away from the hardwork you guys have put into BoDVII (can we please get BoDVIII!?) but seeing how it had a pretty limited scope in terms of gameplay you guys could probably have developed the game using the RPG Maker.

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