(This is a review of Buildbox software version 1.1)

Let me begin my Buildbox review by first telling you a little back story that really surprised me.

I was sitting at my desk recently when my eight-year old daughter noticed that I was watching a video on my computer (she must have heard the music and voiceover).

She came in about half way through. And as she stood beside me I started to realize something really interesting…

You see, as I glanced over at her, she was completely and totally enthralled by the video. If this were a normal video she’d be storming out of the room in complete disinterest – unless of course it was a talking dog video or some silly cartoon – she’s NEVER interested in what I’m watching.

But this time it was different! Way different! She just stood there. Her mouth open slightly.

She was truly amazed at what she was watching. I couldn’t help but toggle between watching the video presentation – and watching my daughter. My head going back-and-forth as if I were front and center watching a pro tennis match from the stands.

When the video was over, she paused a moment. Looked at me. Looked back at the screen. And finally said to me (as if Christmas were coming and she now knew EXACTLY what she wanted beyond any reasonable doubt) — “Dad, are you going to GET THIS?!?”

Her enthusiasm was contagious. But no sooner had the words come out of her mouth, than my five-year-old son came bounding into the room at his standard 40mph pace…

“What are you guys watching?” He said.

Since I was so intrigued by my daughter’s reaction to the video, I decided it was worth queuing it back up just to see what my son would do.

Playing it once more I decided this time to just sit and observe. This time paying far more attention to THIER reactions than to the video itself. And you know what?

It was amazing. As far as they were concerned there was no difference between watching a video of some guy MAKING a game with Buildbox and actually PLAYING the game. They were having just as much fun either way. Which I think says a lot about the where Buildbox excels and what its strenghts really are…

The truth is, Buildbox is for people who want to build a game without getting bogged down in code.

Have you ever wished (at least on occasion) you could just focus on building levels and adding cool elements to your games rather than figure out how your going to write code for it?

Do you get overwhelmed with code? Do you ever feel like you spend too much time trying to get the code just right?..

…Or does the idea of trying to write, modify, or even look at code cause you to freeze up and forget about ever getting into game development at all?

If so I think you’ll love Buildbox.

My Experience (a review) of Buildbox

I was already interested in giving Buildbox a try, but I was on the fence.

There HAD to be a catch.

But when I witnessed my kids’ reaction, well, I just had to try it out to see.

At the time, there was a free 30-day trial of the software which included a series of emails to help train you and guide you through the process. They called it their Buildbox 30 Day Game Challenge.

I was in. I signed up. I was ready to go…

I downloaded the Buildbox software. It didn’t require an email until you actually installed and opened for the first time, which was kind of nice.

No mental barriers. Just download. Install. Open.

Before I tell you about my experience with it, I’ll just let the Buildbox team show you more about it in this video:

As you can see, it’s pretty cool. My first impression of the video was that the games they were making on the fly were a little hokey. I don’t think I’d put anything that hokey in the app store, so I was a little skeptical about it’s ability to do what it promised. But if you look past the simple art and see how easy it is to set things up, you’ll begin to see its strengths.

All right. So, what’s it like working with the software?

I would liken it to working with legos, or wooden blocks… you just start putting things in a place where you feel like it might be fun.

You can add some behaviors to them if you desire. Maybe an object should move. Maybe it should only move when you touch it or get within a certain distance from it.

You can add audio files to each object if you desire. And they can even be animated. It really is amazing.

It’s just so much fun to sit and create a new game. Creating my first game was actually so much fun, I was actually a little sad that my 30 days were up! Here’s a little bit about my game…

My first Buildbox Game, SWAY

I wanted to create something cool. Not hokey. And I knew I wasn’t going to have enough time to create a bunch of artwork for it. (30 days remember?) So I decided to go with something really simple, with geometric shapes.

It turned out similar to the app, Phases, that Trey Smith (founder of Buildbox) created to demonstrate the software. I didn’t want to just create another Phases, but I loved the look of it, so I used it as inspiration.

Before I tell you how long it took me to create and some of the pitfalls of the software, have a look at my demo video of what I came up with.

And here’s a link to SWAY in the App Store so you can see for yourself how well it works.

Ok, so how long did it take?

I’d estimate about 10 hours total. This includes creating something like 26 different scenes, finding music soundtrack, creating the defeated sound effect, publishing and loading into the app store. It also included going through tutorials, learning the software, and putting together a couple of simple sample games to test some ideas.

If I were to start over and make another game just like it, I’d say it would only take five.

But I should also mention, there WERE SOME LIMITATIONS and some bugs that were really annoying…

Buildbox Limitations (a.k.a. the “Catch”)

Ok. So, there has to be a catch to something this easy, right? I mean, naturally any system that is designed to make it super simple to create something, you’re going to run into limitations. And, yes, there are quite a few…

  1. You can’t build EVERY type of game you’d like. At least not yet.
  2. You can’t have logic… unless it’s built in.
  3. You are limited on physics properties per object.
  4. You can’t put ads where you want them, but there is ability to use ads in several places
  5. There are bugs. More than I’d like to see. But it is early, this thing just came out.
  6. You can export to multiple devices. BUT…. read on…

It’s a little hard to say what you CAN’T do. But I’ll try to address some of the most obvious things here…

It kind of boils down to being able to live within the constraints of the system. It is flexible. But it has definite edges. There are some workaround hacks that I have seen others post on YouTube and I came up with a few to do a some things that aren’t possible out-of-the-box.

For example, I wanted to have piston-like moving objects that moved up and down at a constant rate. Not possible with the sliders and presets. But I managed to create a physics rig with a wheel and a couple of armatures to pull the piston up and down like I wanted. It’s a little rough because both the piston and the walls are physics objects, so it’s not as smooth as I’d like… but it gets the job done.

Also, you can’t change very many physics parameters. At least not in this version. All objects seem to have the same density, restitution, friction, damping and even mass (although mass might be based on the dimensions of the object, I can’t say for sure.)

Regarding logic. There’s no real way to tie that in. If you want red bullets to only kill red monsters, I’m not sure how you’d do that. But if you can live within the boundaries of the built-in logic, and hack the few things that might push the edges a bit, then you can build some pretty fun games to play.

And that’s the point, right? Make games people love to play?

The bugs were a little annoying

There was some glitch with coins and audio, where when you touch the coin, the audio clip might not play all the way through. Maybe I missed something, but I couldn’t get it to work right.

There was some problem with the lights on some devices. On older devices I could not get the lights to show up at all. New devices, no problem.

There was also a big problem when I updated the software to 1.1.1. I was only a day from publishing my app, and decided to check out the new features. Unfortunately, some of the features I was using in 1.1 broke in 1.1.1. Luckily I was able to recover from a backup and reinstall the old version, but not without a brief panic session.

There was also some strange glitch with Playhaven ads. Every time I tried to build a binary using Xcode, it would error out and not compile. Which reminds me of something I should mention about Xcode and other exporting…

The Export to Multiple Platforms half-truth

Here’s where marketing and reality collide. I’ll give it to the Buildbox team, they do have a solution to this problem, but it’s not ideal. More on that in a second.

So, one of the big “Features” of Buildbox is to be able to EXPORT to so many devices. iOS, Android, Mac, Win, Steam, Amazon, and more…

That’s true.

Sort of.

You can export the build files for those platforms.

****BUT****

You cannot export the binaries for those platforms.

And I think this is an important distinction that needs to be addressed. This is probably the only sticking point in my opinion with what is marketed and what the software can actually do.

I think it’s slightly disingenuous to claim to be able to EXPORT to them, when many people don’t realize you’re still going to need the development environments for those platforms in order to compile the final binary.

Ok. Buildbox folks have a solution.

That is, they refer you to what appears to be an unaffiliated offshore development company to compile them for you. For one low price per binary, per app. It’s not huge, $25 per binary, per app, as of the writing of this article. But it’s not ideal, and I do wish they would have spelled this out at least a little bit up front.

That said, if you have all of the dev environments, you can create binaries and publish to your heart’s content. You just have to know how to do that. If you don’t, you’ll have to find someone who can. Bummer. But not the end of the road. Enough said about that.

Support

Marketers will be marketers. Bugs will be bugs. You’re not going to find software out there without some flaws.

So what about support?

Well, I’ve got to give them a solid A on this one. I wasn’t even a paying customer and they were very responsive and helpful.

I should mention though that they work standard hours, so if you’re developing nights and weekends and run into trouble, you’re going to have to be patient. But overall, very good support. Very helpful, friendly staff.

Monetization

(EDIT: I forgot to add this section. Thanks to Mikael for asking to clarify. I’ve included my response to his comment here.)

Monetization is pretty simple with Buildbox.

First, in-app purchases are possible, but a little confusing. I didn’t do too much experimenting, primarily due to my time limitation with the trial version. But what I found was that you could easily monetize a “no ads” purchase. It looks like you can charge for things like coins and powerups and “skip this level” pretty easily, but I wasn’t sure if you could charge for additional levels or different characters. I’ll do some digging and see what I can find out.

Second, placing ads is REALLY simple. And there are quite a few ad network options built in: Revmob, Vungle, Chartboost, Playhaven, Applovin, LeadBolt, Mopub, & AdMob are all available at the moment.

One caveat, though, banners auto-place to the bottom. I don’t sea a way to move them as far as I can tell.

Overall, pretty easy to monetize. When I have time to figure out IAP, I’ll edit this post to report back on what I find out.

My Final Thoughts

Ok. So am I going to bite the bullet and order this thing or what?

Initially, I didn’t plan to. Only because of the cost. I don’t have $2675 in cash lying around.

But. Ooo this is a good one.

They JUST came out with payment plans.

AND… it gets better.

They came out with a tiered approach.

So, if you want to purchase the base software, it’s only $65 per month!

Add in iOS export and it’s another $65 per month! (still doable)

Add in Android export and it’s another $65 per month! (I’m out on this one, but this might be more your cup of tea.)

Long story short.

I’m in. I will be purchasing Buildbox on the payment plan with the iOS export only. (So, Trey and team please don’t jack up the price before I place my order! K? Thanks.) I recently purchased Buildbox… and will be posting more reviews, earnings and updates about it soon!

It’s not going to replace what I’m doing, but I think it’s going to add to what I can get done this year.

I am not abandoning my plans for several Corona SDK games this year. I’ll just be adding in some additional games, and using Buildbox where it makes the most sense. Will it be worth the additional cost? I think so. I’m pretty confident I can at least generate enough to cover the cost on this software.

So stay tuned in to the blog and find out!

———

Aw, heck, they have another trial. This time it’s a 15 day Buildbox FREE TRIAL version. I highly recommend you give it a shot. Highly.

What’s your take? What did I leave out? Leave your comments below and I’ll answer them to the best of my knowledge.