OK, it seems a lot of you are hitting my website because you searched for "GameSalad vs. Stencyl" or "iStencyl vs. GameSalad". As the author of The Unofficial GameSalad Textbook, it seems that my answer to that challenge might be highly biased. Yet, an honest answer can be determined by my actions — or inaction. My GameSalad subscription has expired. I haven't renewed. That's because iStencyl gives me more development power at a cheaper price. Yet, what if you prefer simplicity over power? What works for me might not work for you. That's why I decided to write a guide, to help you decide which drag-and-drop editor is best for you.
I used to be a huge fan of GameSalad. Yet, I grew weary of waiting for basic features. With a name like GameSalad, I'm surprised that full Game Center support is still lacking. Where are the achievements or networking support? That's why I found StencylWorks alluring. A draggable block for Game Center achievements is right there. And while the networking aspects of Game Center are not yet supported in iStencyl, I could use HTTP requests or even add my own custom code.
It's 2012. Where's the GameSalad equivalent of this?
However, after using StencylWorks for months, I still don't have a completed game on my website or published game to the iOS app store. I've been struggling to recreate the games that I've made with GameSalad. While StencylWorks gives me more power, it comes with more responsibility. GameSalad aims to makes things really easy. With StencylWorks, it's a lot easier to break a game.
As a general summary, GameSalad is great for beginners, while StencylWorks is for more advanced developers.
Both applications have their limitations and glitches. Both are fairly responsive at fixing stuff when it breaks. Yet, I have the impression that StencylWorks is moving at a faster development pace. GameSalad has a nice head start though. As an example, StencylWorks is still working on Android support and HTML5 support. GameSalad's lead is being squandered, as Android and HTML5 publishing with GameSalad feels rather unfinished. In GameSalad, HTML5 exporting tethers your game to the gamesalad.com website. Exporting isn't as liberal as Flash exporting is with StencylWorks. As for Android publishing, none of my GameSalad games have made the jump. A nasty sound glitch ruined the fun.
StencylWorks is superb at making Flash games. Yet, Flash is a dying medium. It doesn't run on iOS and HTML5 is starting to chip away at the percentage of browsers with the Flash plugin. And unfortunately, I can't use complex vector artwork. StencylWorks has a drawing feature for lines, circles and squares, but I can't import the fancy stuff from Adobe Illustrator.
Right now, it looks like a race of potential. I think that StencylWorks is more likely to win that race, which is why I have been going through the trouble of learning the software. It's been a grueling process, but that goes back to what I wrote at the beginning. My actions speak honesty. Unless GameSalad can get more competitive with pricing, and faster with the release of new features, StencylWorks is looking like the longterm winner here.
Although, I'm not really cheering for a winner. I actually like the competition. Both applications need dramatic improvement. Considering that thousands — or even millions — of dollars can be made with a good app, I don't see a problem with maintaining two subscriptions. Don't get caught in the Coke vs. Pepsi mindset. A good carpenter doesn't just have one hammer. While both game development applications can perform similar tasks, they're different enough to be used with precision.
GameSalad is better if...
- You want to throw together a quick game in 24-72 hours
- You hate to program — you don't even want to see code
- Need to create quick and simple particle effects
- You're poor — the basic version of iOS publishing with GameSalad is free (with PlayHaven ads on your games)
StencylWorks is better if...
- You want to get more hands-on and create your own custom blocks
- Need more advanced features for your games
- You want Flash publishing
- Don't have access to a Mac
- Need professional iOS publishing features, for less money
(Yearly Subscription fee: GameSalad $499 vs iStencyl $149)
There's one other major factor in deciding which development platform is better for you. That's performance. GameSalad has suffered in this area for a long time — especially with loading times. A major change is underway for GameSalad. Lua is being dropped. This could be a game changer — literally. Supposedly, improved performance is heading toward GameSalad later this year.
And yet, this is ultimately another reason why I'm using StencylWorks today. I've lowered my expectations with GameSalad, because I'm tired of being disappointed. I remember how project "Masala" was supposed to be an amazing improvement to GameSalad. After months of waiting, I was ultimately unimpressed. Masala was the codename for HTML5 publishing — mainly for the GameSalad Arcade. Most of my existing projects didn't work with this new feature. Either my games were too large, not the right ratio or too complex. I could have created games from scratch for this new feature, but I couldn't host the games on Photics.com — even though I was paying for a Professional subscription.
I don't feel like I'm being held hostage when using StencylWorks. I don't feel like StencylWorks is trying to own my games. StencylWorks allows me to publish my game to Flash, without it ever touching the stencyl.com server.
Both applications are free to try. If you're serious about development, it might be a good idea to experience both for yourself. :)