Are Code-Free Game Development Tools Ready to Shine?
The promise of codeless development is in the name: no coding.
Buildbox and Stencyl—two of the simplest and most successful codeless tools, allow game designers, artists and others (even programmers) to visually lay out behaviors for game characters and objects that would normally require coding. Buildbox has helped over 40 games break into the top 100 charts, while Stencyl, which also allows PC and web exports, has seen dozens of games reach success on multiple platforms.
The standout example of codeless development success in 2016 is Color Switch, a simple casual game that has netted over 75 million downloads. Color Switch was made in Buildbox without writing a single line of code, in one week and by a guy who admits he’s not a real programmer.
But more seasoned developers are often hesitant about codeless development. Can codeless tools ever make games as flexible and complex as standard programming platforms? And can codeless development do any better at solving today’s Herculean challenges of mobile game marketing and monetization?
Improvements for ad integrations and SDKs
Most games built with codeless development tools are free-to-play games, which means they rely on ads and ad SDKs to monetize. Until recently, even though the game itself was made using “codeless” development tools, monetization features—like ad integrations—and SDK installations required some coding.
This posed a major hurdle for non-technical game developers. But codeless development tools are making progress. Adding monetization features is now as simple as a drag-and-drop list on some tools.
“Buildbox makes it really, really easy to integrate ad networks in your game,” says Fabrizio Michels, developer of the casual game, Slip Away. “All you have to do is put your network ID or app secret and you are done.” Stencyl also has a drag-and-drop interface. The basic process involves downloading files to an engine folder and checking a box in Stencyl.
“Most of the popular ad networks are fully baked into the engine,” says Kevin Wolstenholme, who used Buildbox to build arcade puzzler 99 Moons – Space Missions, which was featured on the App Store. Buildbox also offers options for integrating additional SDKs if needed. The same process makes customization of in-app purchases as simple as possible. “You can create in-game, unlock levels, additional worlds and game modes, along with a fully featured character store,” Wolstenholme says. “It’s pretty comprehensive.”
Still a work in progress
Developers report that extensions already exist in both Buildbox and Stencyl for most major networks and services. If there’s an unsupported service, the process gets a bit tricker. “Luckily they are few and far between,” says Simon Crack, of Dead Cool Apps. “For Rebound, the only other SDK we installed ourselves was the cross promotion SDK Tapdaq.”
For Michels, adding an unsupported ad network required “just dragging the SDK to the project and adding a single line of code at the end.” With ad network integration as easy as dragging and dropping, what else do developers want to see from mobile codeless development tools?
“To improve workflow, some kind of project sharing like GitHub would be great for us,” Wolstenholme says. “Some basic analytics integration along with some push message options would be great too, but workflow would be top of the list by a mile.”
Crack is interested in additional gameplay features: “I’d like to see multiplayer support, multiple leaderboards, achievements and custom pop-up messages.”
At the end of the day, additional feature requests will keep some professional developers away from codeless development at this stage. But for developers interested in creating a casual game that can make a few bucks from ads or IAP, codeless development software may be just the ticket.