HTML5 is still a polarizing topic when it comes to games – some are die-hard proponents of native technologies while others see HTML5 as a godsend. One thing is for sure, HTML5 was initially very hyped and didn’t live up to the expectations in the first couple of years. As the technology continues to come into it’s own, it’s good to look at how it has progressed, and what it is capable of today.
Zynga has a reputation for not being very innovative with the content of games, but being extremely innovative with the monetization and distribution of those games. 1 Word is probably Zynga’s most under-the-radar game of 2013, but it’s their most innovative in terms of distribution.
This might be my favorite game on this list – though certainly not in terms of gameplay. It’s probably last on the list for gameplay. What really makes 1 Word special is the distribution through Kik.
One of the major issues with HTML5 to this point has been distribution. Sure, you can have a game that works on any platform, but a lot of tools provide that. Where HTML5 is unique is in the fact that players don’t need to go though app stores to get to a game – they can jump in right away. Now, that’s great and all, but there’s still the problem of getting players to find your game and being able to retain them. Kik provides both.
For those not familiar with Kik, it’s a messaging app for mobile devices – similar to WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, KakaoTalk, etc… What makes it interesting for developers is it's a smartphone messenger with a built-in browser... in other words, it's a new way to discover mobile web apps. Users can send each other “cards”, which are just HTML5 apps/games bundled in a message. These cards can also be discovered through a marketplace for initial distribution (but the key lies in the virality).
Zynga’s 1 Word does a great job at playing to the advantages of the platform and getting users to share the game with friends. Sharing is a requirement to be able to play a game – and this tight integration with Kik makes it one of the best games of 2013.
Bombermine may be the most talked about HTML5 game of the year, and rightfully so because the game definitely has the ‘cool’ factor going for it.
The game is desktop-only, and it probably could have been done with Flash, but the web was the main reason this game had success. It feels very much like a website, because it is… it’s able to have solid integration of various user interface elements in a website format rather than a typical game menu. More importantly, because of the nature of the web and links, this game spread like hot cakes through social media and news outlets.
Treasure Arena is pretty similar to Bombermine as a desktop-only, fast-paced arena game with a multiplayer component. This is a very fun game that is incredibly polished, but it hasn’t quite had the same success Bombermine did. This was a game built by a single developer (like many of the games on this list) and really is a high quality game.
Where it could be improved is on the distribution of the game – having more in place to get players to invite others to join them in their arena battles… so perhaps we’ll see that in 2014.
Zirma isn’t going to win any awards for best design or gameplay when compared to the current slate of native games. The reason it’s on this list is it’s the most advanced mobile web game I can think of that actually performs well in mobile browsers.
Most current mobile web HTML5 games are typical Bejeweled-type games, but Zirma has much more advanced gameplay as an isometric real-time strategy game.
One of the great things about the current state of HTML5 game development is when someone develops an impressive game, they open-source what they used to build the game, turning it into a library anyone can use. The developers of Zirma have done just that with their WADE library. Of course, there still needs to be the right balance where we have a lower number of quality tools instead of a higher number of low-quality tools.
Progressive partnered with TreSensa, an HTML5 game developer, to release a set of HTML5 games alongside some of the promotions they run. In the case of Troubling Times in the Kingdom, the game is in line with a marketing campaign and commercial Progressive ran earlier this year.
The game has so-so gameplay, but that’s not the point… the point of the game is to serve as a solid advergame for Progressive – something that’s fun enough to play for a couple of minutes, and not much more than that.
HTML5 is a fantastic technology for this type of game for a few reasons: the development cycle is relatively quick, the games work on any device, and games can be played instantly (hardly anyone would actually install this game from an app store).
So while this game may not be one you go out and play on your own, it still deserves to be on this list as an impressive game that truly takes advantage of what HTML5 brings to the table.
Where Troubling Times in the Kingdom is a good example of advergaming with HTML5, Battle Fish is a good example of another strong market with HTML5 games – licensing.
At this point in late 2013, I’d say most developers who are earning a living off of HTML5 are doing so through licensing their games to various companies, but primarily game portals. Game portals that have traditionally served Flash games to players are starting to get an influx of organic mobile traffic. Since they can’t serve up Flash games on mobile, they’ll buy non-exclusive rights (typically for $500-$1,000) to display an HTML5 game and earn ad revenue from it.
Battle Fish is a fun, simple game that runs great on mobile devices – and one that publishers have licensed for those reasons.
Super Ubie Land is a fantastic game – possibly the most fun on this list, depending on your tastes. It’s is a gorgeous homage to the platformer games of the 90′s .
Despite that, this game actually serves as an interesting case study of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to HTML5 distribution and commercialization. At an almost unheard of $9.99 price point for a web game, Super Ubie Land wasn’t able to garner much press or sales… The quality of the game is definitely something folks would spend $10 on in an indie bundle, or on Steam, but on the web it’s just not a natural fit.
The developer is working on console versions of the game (both the Wii U and Xbox One support HTML5 games), which might have more success, but the business model of a higher up-front price has proven to be one that doesn’t fit the nature of the web (for now at least).
Another interesting point about this game (which is a pretty complex game) is that it was built without a single line of code using Construct 2. Construct 2 has a lot of the same ideologies of programming where you can create loops, conditional statements, etc… but can be done by someone without a background in programming.
Deconstructeam is a studio from Spain that has been developing HTML5 games for a couple of years now, but Gods Will Be Watching was their first big hit. Contrary to all of the other games listed here, Gods Will Be Watching was a product of a 72-hour hack session for Ludum Dare.
The game is a point-and-click adventure game where you’re forced to do everything it takes to survive. It was covered by just about every large gaming news site you can think of, and the studio raised $25,000 on IndieGogo and partnered up with a publisher to develop a full-fledged version of the game.
Polycraft, by wonderstruck, is an incredibly polished and impressive game that takes advantage of WebGL – the only one on this list that requires WebGL. I’m a huge fan of WebGL, and it’s pretty well supported now on desktops now that IE11 has support – but for mobile devices, support is still a bit lacking (Firefox OS, Firefox/Chrome on Android and BlackBerry 10 support it, but that’s it). As support for WebGL grows, it’s a natural choice for web games because of better performance with use of the GPU.
Where Polycraft is impressive is the polish of the game – it looks and feels like a game you might see featured on Xbox Live Arcade, but runs right away from a browser. It’s somewhat of a nontraditional tower defense game, and definitely worth checking out.
Cut the Rope is the most recognizable name on the list – the game has been downloaded well over 100 million times across many mobile platforms. In 2012 ZeptoLab teamed up with Microsoft to release an HTML5 version of the game, but unfortunately this version had no mobile support. This year however, ZeptoLab worked with Mozilla to release a mobile-friendly HTML5 version of the game, with an initial target of Firefox OS.
For those not familiar with Firefox OS, it’s Mozilla’s mobile operating system that’s built completely on web technologies – making it a very open platform. For the initial launch, Mozilla is going after developing countries who haven’t necessarily had a smartphone before.
ZeptoLab is just scratching the surface right now with Firefox OS, and I see a lot of potential for a game like this to spread within social and messaging apps given that the game can be played right away within a webview.
The above are the top 10 games I have for 2013, but I’m also going to use this stage to talk a bit about a game we just released for the holiday push.
Word Wars is a game we’ve been working on internally at Clay.io. We’ve been able to watch HTML5 evolve within the game space for the past 3 years, and are taking some of what we learned to develop a case study for how to distribute HTML5 games.
The game itself is simple – it has been done before, and done really well for mobile devices as native games. You have two minutes to find as many words as you can in a 4×4 grid of letters. Where we’re more focused on is the distribution of this game, and really taking advantage of what HTML5 brings to the table. This means having links that can be easily shared to challenge others to beat a high score, and having the game fine-tune itself for each platform it’s on. If the game is being played directly from the Facebook app (in a webview), the game uses their built-in sharing mechanic… if it’s played from the web, we can provide more advanced sharing options like linking a Facebook or Twitter account, etc…
One of our main targets for this game, and the place with the best asynchronous multiplayer experience, is Kik. Similar to 1 Word, we think this game works really well when friends are challenging each other to beat their scores on a certain board of letters. With its 90 million users, the hope is that a good chunk of them will enjoy the game and spread it among their friends. Whether or not you’re already a member of Kik, I suggest trying it out – their app distribution model is very unique and something I can see solving some of the problems developers have had with mobile game distribution. My username is austinhallock, so feel free to send me a message or Word Wars challenge!
As more folks start to really understand HTML5′s strengths and weaknesses, and as the technology becomes better supported, we will continue to see large advances each year in the quality of games released. The web and mobile web are too powerful of distribution channels to ignore, and we’re starting to see more developers get serious about their HTML5 approach. At Clay.io our core focus is helping developers with the distribution of their games, and I’m more than happy to help anyone who has questions (my email is email@example.com). I’m really looking forward to seeing games in 2014 improve – especially on the distribution and commercialization ends.
As with most lists like this one, there are bound to be many more games that were left out, so let’s see them in the comments!
Full disclosure: I’m founder of a company that works with HTML5 game developers to help them with distribution and high level tools. If a game on this list is on Clay.io, I link to that, but whether or not a game is on Clay.io did not factor into my decision making.