In order to take on the App Stores and stand a fighting chance of gaining some ground in the mobile gaming market, it's becoming quite clear that as mobile web game developers we need to play to the web's strengths. Many of us wear the combined hats of designer, engineer, artist and tester. A fifth hat that could well become a major skill for the HTML5 game developer is marketing.
Discoverability is a key word here.
Playing to the strengths of the web
As mobile smartphone users continue to increase month on month, year on year, the line between tradtional web users and mobile web users is steadily blurring.
For anyone with a background in optimising web content for search engines the challenge of growing a mobile audience probably wouldn't sound overly daunting. It is essentially the same challenge with different parameters and some key considerations. Not least the presentation of your content for a smaller screen. Ultimately though you're still dealing with web pages; copy, links and images within an HTML document.
By contrast carving out a presence and growing your audience within the app stores seems like trying to hack in to a military installation with a tack hammer.
Sure app developers can use the web and SEO to promote their wares but the end result, their target for conversion if you like, is to then drive the visitor one step further to downloading the app. At this point there is a huge trust factor in the way. Like it or not there is a leap of faith on the part of the user to installing your app. Perhaps more so in Google's Play store.
What's more there is a perception within the app store market that games can cost money. Not much admittedly but there is always the chance that to enjoy the app you've just clicked (or tapped) to explore further you will need to part with some cash.
Right now the perception with HTML5 games is quite different and this is something that we probably should capitalise on.
A respectable alternative to the app stores
I have for a long time held the belief that HTML5 / browser gaming ought to be a respectable alternative to installing games. Firing up a web browser and enjoying the same game experience regardless of the device surely has its merit.
Although exclusivity within the app market seems more like the exception than the rule, you do occasionally see a game or app featuring only on Apple's App Store or Google's Play. I've never seen this gaming app appear on the Apple app store, for example.
With HTML5 games this exclusivity doesn't exist. Write once and play anywhere. At least that's the theory.
Enhancing the perception of HTML5 as a gaming term
Clearly one strength that we do have as HTML5 game developers is the technology itself. Moreover the word, or label, HTML5. This differentiates us from the rest of the gaming scene. Where app developers fall under the broad category of "app", we have the label of "HTML5".
So how is this useful?
For me it's potentially useful in a number of ways.
Our product isn't just on the web, it is the web.
We should fit seamlessly in to the user's workflow. Browser > Search > Product. A direct journey without changing trains!
Sadly the perception of the phrase HTML5 amongst the wider global population is most likely limited to "oh, that sounds like IT mumbo jumbo" or "I've seen that somewhere before and I don't remember where". It's all too easy to dismiss.
This perception must change. At least in its association with gaming. We as HTML5 game developers can achieve this.
How many times have you told somebody that you make games for phones only to be met with awe and the question of what they should be searching for within the app store?
When you tell them that you make games to play in their iPhone's browser their shoulders fall and they've lost interest. Why? Well I'm sure it's largely due to confusion and a perception of lack of quality.
"But you can't play games in the web browser!"
Even as they speak they are unsure as to the validity of their assumption.
In fact in the back of this person's mind they might even have the assumption that you can only play games on your mobile phone by installing something.
The road ahead
As pioneers in mobile web gaming these are our target audience. We must demystify browser gaming by producing quality titles. Our games MUST be of a high standard. A few high profile branded titles have helped us along but there's some way to go.
Ultimately we want "browser gaming", "HTML5 games" and "mobile gaming" to be synonymous with one another such that we have some control over the key phrases being punched in to search engines.
For anyone savvy enough to understand what HTML5 is they may well understand that there is an HTML5 gaming scene out there. What's more they've probably visited one or more of the more well known portals such as m.jeux.com or m.softgames.de.
These guys are our allies. Our champions. We need to leverage their support in spreading the word.
The more we encourage the conversation surrounding HTML5 gaming the more we can do to break down the barriers that the public have. We can use Twitter to achieve this. Not by talking the same gobble-de-gook techno jargon to our tech peers, but by reaching out to the public on a more human level.
With the Playstar Arcade this strategy forms a key part of my mission. I want to present a resource for gaming that looks every bit the gaming site. The intention is to simply present a gaming experience in the mobile browser such that the gamer feels like it "is most probably Flash". I don't terrify the gamer by shouting about HTML5 more I drop hints along the "journey". Occasionally the page may include copy such as "HTML5 games for your mobile phone".
This I believe is the most effective strategy. A kind of gentle, subliminal persuasion that HTML5 games can be a good thing. A positive association between HTML5 and gaming.
Ultimately what we're talking about here is a shift in the browsing habits of the general public that naturally starts with search. As soon as people become aware of the benefits of HTML5 it's quite likely that "HTML5" will appear within game related search phrases with more frequency.
Currently it's probably quite common for somebody looking for mobile games to type "free mobile games" in to Google. What I'd like to see further down the road is "HTML5" (in a gaming context) become synonymous with "free" and "mobile" thus changing the search phrase to "HTML5 games". Huzzah! Overnight we're all returned on the first few pages with maximum relevance.
I may be wrong but I believe that the expectation set by the open and democratic nature of the world wide web is such that most of us expect to be able to take stuff for free. Whether that's advice (courtesy of a community forum), graphics, code or, yes, games. If there's a link to some content on a web page we don't much like to pay for it. We naturally assume that the author is publishing it on their web page to offer to us for nothing. This is of course an enormously strong feature of the web. Nobody owns or controls the web. It is a free market in that sense and we are largely free to publish as and how we see fit.
With our HTML5 games we can benefit from this expectation. Changing it would be a considerable task despite the best efforts of publishers and their love affair with In App Purchasing.
As HTML5 game developers we are also by definition web developers. As web developers we have a powerful vehicle at our disposal for not only promoting our games but also the underlying technology. If we get it right we will have created a formidable market for ourselves within which to trade. The web is powerful and becoming more powerful every year. Soon we will be doing everything in a web browser and that really should include gaming.