HTML5 Could Be Gaming’s Game-Changer

[Editor's note: Stewart Putney is CEO of Moblyng, a company that specializes in HTML5 development and publishing.]

Zynga’s recent acquisition of HTML5 game engine developer Dextrose AG could be viewed, on the surface, as just another purchase in a slew of buys they’ve made this year. In fact, it’s a clear statement that HTML5 is the future of social game development — particularly for mobile.

Why is this acquisition so important? With the capabilities of HTML5, developers will be able to create richer, higher-quality games that will engage existing users while bringing on new ones. Dextrose AG built a product called the Aves Engine — a scalable HTML5 engine for isometric-view games like Farmville or Café World. Using this engine, Zynga can extend their existing isometric games, or build new titles using HTML5. There are already multiple companies that use HTML5 apps for mobile. But with the potential addition of Zynga isometric titles, we may begin to see all major genres of social games developed in HTML5.

The advantage for developers in using HTML5 is the ability to leverage their code across multiple platforms. All major smartphone platforms support a different type of native code, but the one commonality is HTML5. The iPhone, Android, WebOS, Backberry 6.0, Bada and Nokia’s Symbian and Meego all support HTML5 apps. Even Windows Phone 7 will roll out support in the next year. As smartphones become the largest but also most fragmented market for games, developers must leverage technology that maximizes reach but minimizes cost — HTML5.

And allowing players to take their desktop games to mobile without compromising user experience is a game-changer. We’re talking about more apps, with richer features, on more platforms, ultimately resulting in more engagement and a significant increase in users. Of course, revenues will grow as well.

Right about now you may have some questions:

  • Don’t native apps work better and use more features of the phone? Quite simply, no. All major smartphone platforms allow a developer to build native apps that include a browser instance. At Moblyng we build very thin native app layers that talk to the OS and also use a browser window inside the app. We then build the app in HTML5. The app can talk with the OS through the native layer for full access to OS features. Companies like PhoneGap and Appcelerator provide similar tools, and thousands of apps have been built using this architecture. Developers have the additional benefit of being able to deploy their app directly into the browser when the technology or business case requires it.
  • What about performance? We (and our partners) have benchmarked our apps’ startup and response times against numerous social games and our games perform equal to, or better, than competitor’s products. Using tools like Canvas, CSS animations, local storage and web sockets, developers have all the tools they need to build great titles. HTML5 is mature enough that the main factor in game performance is the quality of the development team, not native vs. HTML5. Check out Playdom’s Sorority Life for Android, Moblyng’s Dungeon Quest and Rovio’s Angry Birds for WebOS and see for yourself.
  • What can’t HTML5 do? Right now, HTML5 is not the best way to build “fast-twitch” 3D games like shooters and many high-fidelity driving games. These games do require a level of fidelity that will not be supported by HTML5, at least until WebGL matures. But as Zynga’s acquisition of Dextrose AG suggests, HTML5 is more than ready for social and casual games.
  • What about Flash? While Flash is an option, the current reality is that Flash does not present the same cross-platform solution as HTML5. On iOS, support is still limited both for technology and business reasons. On Android and WebOS, there are well-documented issues with Flash performance and impact on battery life. Looking forward, as desktop browsers (read: IE9) move towards uniform support of HTML5, we expect to see HTML5 eclipse Flash on all platforms, as developers will be able to build truly cross-platforms games with incredible reach.

It’s important to remember that a huge component of a social game’s success is its reach. You can build the greatest game known to man, but if users don’t have easy access to it, it won’t be a hit. Making users install a Flash plug-in isn’t exactly easy access, and we all know how Flash performs on most mobile phones — it simply doesn’t.

With HTML5, developers can’t do everything just yet, but they have a browser-based technology that allows them to build great games that can reach hundreds of millions of users, with less time and cost. Zynga’s Dextrose AG acquisition is one more signal that developing games in HTML5 is truly a game-changer.

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24 Responses to “HTML5 Could Be Gaming’s Game-Changer”

  1. Kyle Grant says:

    totally agree here. HTML5 will be the standard for social game development.

  2. tom says:

    Angry Bird for WebOS is not done using HTML5 but PDK which uses c/c++, heavy physics based games are not viable yet as of now in HTML5 on mobile devices. Performance is very much a problem on mobile devices! The article is absolutely wrong about that.

  3. andrew says:

    HTML5 is in no way ready for primetime. All your code sits out in plain view on the client, CPU-intensive stuff like 2D physics isn’t possible, graphics-intensive blitting is very slow, etc, etc. You can’t even make Bejeweled Blitz in HTML5, much less something with rich vector animations or any sort of reasonable 3D…

  4. C. Enrique Ortiz says:

    Good analysis Chris.

    Agreed. With HTML5 and the browser (runtime) and fast networks such as HSPA+ we are *finally* getting to the point were webapps will match native app w/ the benefit of cross-platform support.

    Shorter-term, yes hybrid apps (native w/ WebViews) provide an good alternative to the browser runtime w/ full access to all of the device’s capabilities. Hybrid apps may be here to stay for years.

    A number of us have been preaching this for many years and it is great to finally see all this converging, happening. We are not there yet, but coming close…

    ceo

  5. John Dowdell says:

    “While Flash is an option, the current reality is that Flash does not present the same cross-platform solution as HTML5.”

    I think you may benefit from re-examining your assumptions.

    You’re using the term “HTML5″ as a cohesive, single entity. But even a cursory check of current “HTML5″ demos shows significant renderer-specific dependencies… the Microsoft-HTML demos emphasize graphics speed, the Google-HTML demos emphasize JavaScript speed, the Apple-HTML demos emphasize video that won’t play in Firefox or Opera. Just because you can put a single label on multiple things does not make them the same thing.

    Your call, of course. But Flash’s duty is to provide advanced functionality while bridging the gaps between all those different proprietary silos. It may profit you to reexamine the assumptions.

    jd/adobe

  6. Bart says:

    I doublt HTML5 will be the standard for social game development. I have developed applications both with Flash and HTML5 and I still feel that HTML5 is still years behind both in capability and ease of use. (it feels like what flash 4 was) Besides, I willing to bet flash will be pretty much dominate the mobile industry in the matter of a couple years.. UNLESS someone like adobe decides to build a comparable workbench for HTML5 (which is possible however unlikely).

  7. marty says:

    I totally agree, HTML5 is the future of gaming and app development. Although the quality may be far behind native apps, it will advance faster than any other language set and eventually catch up. Why? Because it’s available on every browser/device and EVERYONE will be using it. This means virtually EVERY developer and major internet company (other than the stubborn ones that refuse to adapt, stick with Flash, and fall behind the rest) will contribute to its progress.

  8. Stewart Putney says:

    A few responses to the typical doubts we see in the comments:

    - As for Adobe’s Flash and “assumptions”- we have over 50 SKUs on the Web, iOS, Android, WebOS, Symbian and Facebook. These apps are realities, not assumptions.

    Adobe can discuss the limitations of HTML5 (and they do exist) but it does not make Flash any better for Mobile. Steve Jobs is clear on why he does not like Flash for iOS and even Flash fans know it is not ready for Android:

    http://blog.laptopmag.com/mobile-flash-fail-weak-android-player-proves-jobs-right

    With real-world data in mind, it is unclear what gaps Flash is actually “bridging between proprietary silos”. Sounds good, though…

    - Here is an example of a good Javascript / HTML5 2d physics engine that can be used for apps like Angry Birds:

    http://box2d-js.sourceforge.net/index2.html

    Again, a reality, rather than opinion.

    - As for exposing web-based code: just wrap the web-based code in the native layer and it is just as secure as any other app, and you get access to more OS functions. Just as the article suggests.

  9. Paul Gilbert says:

    Personally I don’t see the technology as the big stumbling block.

    OK, if your looking to render the latest “Halo” clone then your expecting too much, however the canvas element in HTML5 will allow decent “farmville” style games without too many issues.

    The biggest problem is going to be the end user and the time it takes for them to upgrade their browsers to the latest versions.

    Support is already there in the latest versions of Firefox and Opera and you will generally find users of those browsers, having already made the informed decision to use an alternative browser, generally will be very quick to take up any upgrade.

    However Internet Explorer is going to be the issue, having already “come to the party” late in the day how long will it take their users to catch up with IE9.

  10. Iain says:

    Games developers will not enjoy working with HTML5 because of the language and the APIs. Game developers want and need a statically typed, object oriented language such as C++/C#/Java/ActionScript. JavaScript can never be made as fast as a statically typed language.

    And the APIs of “HTML5″ – canvas, SVG, CSS3, etc don’t add up to a coherent whole. Canvas is a black-box without mouse events etc. HTML5 will always be slower than native code and will probably always be slower than Flash. This isn’t just an issue for “twitch” games, it affects path-finding and other routines needed in sim and strategy games.

    Obviously the author of this post has something to sell, and will tell you otherwise.

  11. Bart says:

    I support people making their games with HTML5 or Flash.. totally up to the designer. But I’ll stick with Flash because its just a better TOOL. I can get things done to my satisfaction 10 times faster than I can in HTML5 provided Adobe’s excellent workbench, portability and flexibility.

    Thats reason enough for me to stick with Flash regardless.

  12. Juliette says:

    There’s a lot of hype over HTML5 right now, but as a one-girl dev Flash is more ideal for smaller teams who don’t have time to endlessly test in all the different browsers. As soon as HTML5 is a compile-one-run-anywhere solution, then I’m interested!

    Having said that, HTML5 is a fixed spec isn’t it? How does that work when Flash 11, 12, and so on are out and include stuff far beyond what HTML5 can do? Yes, I know WebGL is coming but again – Unity 3 is out now and that’s awesome. How will that cope with Unity 4, 5 and so on?

    I’m sure HTML5 will fill a great middle ground between reaching users and the higher-end plug-ins, but I seriously dispute that HTML5 is going to give us “higher quality” games as this guy suggests! Simpler, somewhat clunky games, yes. In the meantime the social game audience is maturing and even Zynga’s games are becoming more complex to shift with that demand.

  13. Guillaume says:

    HTML5 is indeed a great opportunity for developers. The company I work for, Spil Games, organized a gamejam on HTML5 and we got some impressive stuff. Have a look: http://www.pocketgamer.biz/r/PG.Biz/SPIL+Games+news/news.asp?c=24289

  14. This Week’s Headlines on Inside Social Games says:

    [...] HTML5 Could Be Gaming’s Game-Changer [...]

  15. Computer Planet says:

    I can see HTML5 being more compatable/usable than Flash, wouldn’t have thought it was ready though just yet.

  16. Raku Basal says:

    It takes time for HTML5 to be the main stream, a smooth transition bridge is needed but I found Social Game Factory (SocialGameFactory.com) maybe give Google good hints – embrace what people like, and transition users for the better w/o their even noticing the changes.

  17. HTML5 could be Gaming’s game-changer | Design Games 2010 says:

    [...] Read more about it HTML5 could be gaming’s game-changer [...]

  18. The State of the Social Gaming Industry, October 2010 | An Ideas Book says:

    [...] all of the mobile operating systems have different code bases, they do share one common feature: compatibility with HTML5. It has been noted that one videogame maker, Uken Games, was able to port a game to the iPad in [...]

  19. Thai says:

    HTML5 will have a tough time trying to produce features that Flash can easily pull off but I’m really excited to see what it’s capable of. I’ve been developing stuff with HTML5 and the hurdles are challenging to say the least.

  20. William Volk says:

    We’ve known this since 2007, when we started publishing HTML5 apps for the iPhone … a year before native apps appeared.

  21. John says:

    Is there any other company developing html/javascript game engines?

  22. 六葉摩卡官方部落格 says:

    [...] Putney的這篇文章開始談起吧,Stewart [...]

  23. waldfalke says:

    Ok. I got it. Happy for Zynga but where the hell I supposed to find a new indie html5 game engine/framework? )

  24. Xander says:

    Well, that sounds all good, but have you ever tried running HTML5 on mobile?
    It runs like **** so although it’s ‘cross-platform’, right now it simply isn’t fast enough to do games on mobile that actually involves animations etc.

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