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!