Mobile Mavens

What do mobile developers think of King's game engine Defold?

What do mobile developers think of King's game engine Defold?

On the face of it, King's free-to-use Defold engine is an extremely developer-friendly endeavour.

When PocketGamer.biz spoke to King evangelist Oleg Pridiuk, he presented a tool developed primarily for internal use - and thus, one that King feels no pressure to monetise.

“We're not selling anything, we're not buying anything," he told PocketGamer.biz. "We're just giving stuff away.”

But is it as simple as this, and is it a message that resonates with mobile games developers? We put it to our Mobile Mavens:

  • What do you think of King's vision for its game engine Defold?
  • Will the promise of help through soft launch be enough to tempt devs away from more established alternatives?
Tony Gowland CEO Ant Workshop

Tony’s career has covered the whole spectrum from AAA console to handheld, mobile and flash titles, working on huge franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and Call of Duty.

In 2015 he founded Ant Workshop to develop his own titles and to offer his experience as a design consultant.

I think a successful team making their tools available for others, for free, is amazing and fantastic for the community and eduction.

A game engine that’s owned by Activision, that doesn’t currently have plans to generate any revenue, and that potentially sucks up the time of their talented staff as they help you launch your game, however?

I’m interested to see the full terms and conditions, but right now I wouldn’t go anywhere near it - I’d trust it a lot more if they were up front about how they will benefit from it.

If a hit game releases with this, I can only see the outcome in terms of a Star Wars quote: “I am altering the deal…"

Sorry to kick this one off with such cynicism!

Patrick Liu Senior Product Owner, Spotify

I'm friends with the guys that made Defold, that King acquired a while back (and also some of the guys that made the CCS mobile engine, for that matter).That said I have no insight into their business plans.

The benefit will be more relevant talent applying to King.
Patrick Liu

But I think one part is that those guys have genuine, altruistic motives; they are just really nice guys.

And I suppose it was part of the deal in a way that they would be able to make it available for more people eventually.

Another reason would be free training for future King talents.

It's like Adobe or Autodesk giving away free educational versions of their tools, and when those people become pros they are already trained in the tools King uses.

In this case, the benefit would be more relevant talent applying to King.

Then, surely, there are more obvious business motivations once we see the terms, like growing their network or upselling cloud and analytics services.

Like Tony, I was suspicious that no business goal was clearly expressed in the announcement. I love selfless initiatives, but they're always harder to believe coming from public companies.

The soft launch and publishing part does make King's motive a little clearer, as it suggests a move to widen the scope of their third-party publishing operations.

Defold promo material, featuring one King game and several indies

Since the announcement hinted at not just help with soft launch, but also full cross-promotion and publishing, I'd expect many devs to jump on the opportunity once it is confirmed and clearer.

Devin Nambiar Head of Product Management, Asia-Pacific Electronic Arts

Like others have said, the true intentions of King with the Defold engine they’re essentially open-sourcing aren’t fully known.

Their stated vision of helping people make better games is probably true.
Devin Nambiar

Their stated vision of helping people make better games is probably true, and is great for the indie gaming community and game development at large - but it may not be the whole story.

That said, there is a precedent for large, public companies making democratisation moves like this - think of Google outsourcing TensorFlow and how small app developers and start-ups are now using it for more sophisticated machine learning on their datasets.

As a public company, just like Google, King’s stock price probably benefits from this type of perceived altruism, and investor confidence increases when a company has an engine so good that they’re comfortable outsourcing it as a toolkit for small developers.

I can also see King’s acquisition of Defold as a move aimed at emulating Supercell, a company King’s studio teams often cite as inspiration.

Defold impacts the development side of things for King and smaller indies alike in the Supercell mode because it allows dev teams to build up working prototypes quickly and iterate through several ideas, throwing some away and keeping others.

King openly admires Supercell's ruthless approach

On the distribution/publishing side, the promise of soft launch help and cross promotion to King’s massive userbase is a major lure for small developers to use the engine.

King is essentially promising a free platform where devs can churn through ideas and get eyeballs on any ideas that show promise. How else are indies going to acquire users cheaply?

That said, if any developer using the platform ends up scaling their product to massive hit status, be prepared to see King’s apparent altruism fade away in lieu of royalties and re-structured terms.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

I think it is a cool move on Activision Blizzard King's (ABK?) part.

It seems like a really nice 2D engine, that is also a fully capable 3D engine. It uses LUA script which a lot of gamers know from making World of Warcraft add-ons and running Apache servers.

It looks like builds xcode projects in the cloud, which is nice for PC devs.

The developer/account owner retains the rights to all code, samples, and art of their project.
Jared Steffes

I just did a quick dive into the Terms of Service for Defold. The ToS usually shows the intentions for most products. Would be way more legit if Jas Purewal dove into them, though!

The developer/account owner retains the rights to all code, samples, and art of their project. The Defold team will only look at a developer's code if they are asked to.

Accounts are not allowed to be transferred or sold, however developers can sell the packaged up games ready for stores to clients.

Not sure about the property rights of any plugins you may make for Defold.

Looks like anonymous data is collected from projects at runtime of the editor - e.g. error logs and how the editor is being used.

Anonymous data through their own analytics tools and third-party Google Analytics can be collected of players and viewed through the owner account, which you can opt out of. Normal dev stuff.

The owner of the account can invite collaborators, and it seems from the wording that the invited collaborators can invite other collaborators without prior consent from the account owner. The owner can then remove the collaborators.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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Michael El Baki CEO & Co-Founder at Clan of the Cloud
Hi there, very interesting to hear what the mavens have to say. I think there is a big misunderstanding though, that needs to be raised. King does not open source its Defold engine. They give it for free (at least for the moment) but nowhere do they state that they open source it. And source code is not accessible from the website. Free and open source are two completely different things which are very often perceived for the same thing. Precisely, if Defold was open source, there would be no string attached or possibility of future terms revision.
As a company which has recently open sourced all our tech, we are very sensitive to this difference :)
Jared Epicpower
Great point Michael!
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