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HTML5: Then and Now What a difference six months makes
by Robbert Van Os on 04/01/14 06:52:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


By Robbert van Os, HTML5 Advocate, Spil Games

In 2010, we predicted HTML5 would almost certainly become a primary technology for online and mobile games within the coming year. Do you remember those not-so-distant optimistic years?  It turned out of course that HTML5’s adoption took a bit longer than we initially forecast.  In fact, by 2012, after witnessing the overall quality of HTML5 games in the market, we began to wonder if our crystal ball had an expired warranty! 


Personal example of a short-lived moment of fame back in 2010: I was proud of Bubble Hit despite the screen’s need to redraw, no audio and a lack of solid controls!

The primary problems with HTML5 initially were lack of support on all browsers, lack of quality tools and, last but not least, the new game playing populous which sought games from app stores.  By the end of 2012, the industry had become pretty sceptical as a whole when the subject of HTML5 came up.  It was completely dismissed by some.

On the other hand, developers were struggling with finding success in app stores and they were frustrated by having to create different versions of games for different platforms. In fact, 60 percent of developers were below the “App Poverty Line” earning less than $500 per app per month according to Vision Mobile.

Despite the odds, as an industry, we began to see the light in 2013. We had finally accepted that touch devices were here to stay.  We also knew Flash wasn’t working across all of those devices.

It’s no wonder that HTML5 came back to the forefront of discussion.  By the summer of last year, the tide began to turn.  Game developers began improving issues and developing tools that helped speed up and improve game development.  HTML5 seemed to have gone through a rebirth.

Since then, I have been amazed at the speed of the industry’s about-face with HTML5. 

At Casual Connect last month, the number of developers who declared they were committed to HTML5 was an incredible sight to see.  We’re witnessing a genuine shift in attitude that is driving the quality of games we are able to now produce.

Over at Spil Games as well, we redoubled our efforts and earmarked $5 million for HTML5 developers to not only build games using HTML5 but to share problems and learnings as well as to find solutions so we can all benefit.  In fact, along those same lines, I recently got a new position at the company as HTML5 Advocate.  With so many developers wanting to transition to HTML5, we all need to help each other. Together we can address the obstacles, needs, wish-lists and ambitions.

A game like ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ from Blinzy Studios is clear proof that HTML5 is the wave of the current future.  It has taken advantage of the improved standardizations in HTML5. It also performs well on current devices, comes with a native like experience and the graphics scale properly to devices.

1001 Arabian Nights

The developers at Absolute Hero have made vast improvements in audio and game quality with their ‘Link’ series of games which have proven to be immensely popular across devices. They added the ability to work with audio sprites, which allowed them to place sound effects with lower latency on devices without Web Audio API support. They also used a Grunt (JavaScript automation tool) task to automate the creation of audio sprite files from existing audio assets.

Link series of games from Absolute Hero Games

Subsequently, Absolute Hero Games now has an audio library that provides scalable support across platforms by taking advantage of high-end capabilities where available, and falling back to less rich, but still acceptable functionality, where not. 

Other developers are making similar strides, so as an industry we are all seeing great improvements.

A big next step for all of us is to nail down is more consistent monetization. In-game advertising in HTML5 games can be the right solution.  Ad dollars are moving from TV to online, so as an industry we need to continue to make advertising relevant to our online/mobile players. Creating ad servers that recognize when an ad should be served to a player who is engaged with an HTML5 based game is tricky business, but a challenge worth pursuing.  We’re constantly perfecting the right moments for ads so players are in a receptive mood. 

Next steps are continuous sharing of best practices.  As we watch game developers like Absolute Hero and Blinzy find success with HTML5, the industry can emulate them and make additional forward strides. And other successful developers should tout their learnings so we can all leapfrog forward. 

Those that continue to pray that app stores will feature them--and give them their ten minutes of fame--are great risk takers and I applaud them. 

Truth be told, however, with broad discovery across all devices, the future of all game developers—even those with medium success—helps the industry and gives players a broader range of great titles from which to choose. 

That happy world is much more appealing than trying to win the lottery. The mobile web is the future for games.  We hear it from our kids: “Apps should work on all of my toys!”  And my wife demands that her favorite games are on her tablet and phone with no glitches.


Ads shown at cliffhanger moments

After all of the fits-and-starts in the industry, the tide finally began to turn by the time we reached last summer.

Now we’re watching a huge upward trajectory in the number of quality HTML5 games coming to market.

Robbert van Os, HTML5 Advocate for Spil Games, was previously the CTO.  Van Os has been a senior member of Spil Games' staff for the past decade.  He recently spoke at Casual Connect

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Phil Maxey
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HTML5 games have definitely come no a long way, unfortunately what's holding them back is still incompatibility issues on various devices. It's not possible (as it has been with Flash for 10 years) to make a HTML5 game and be sure it's going to run and display properly on all the devices in can run on. As a developer I really do not want to own let alone test a game on 150 different devices and browser versions, but that's the reality right now for HTML5 game development. For as long as that's the situation HTML5 games will never take off. It could be solved politically by the large publishers all agreeing on a set number (say 5) devices and say 3/4 browser versions which the game needs to work correctly on, and if your game meets those standards then we are good to go, but will the large publishers do that? Nope, because they are worried that somebody somewhere is going to find a device that a game on their portal doesn't run correctly on and kick up a stink which then makes them look bad (it wouldn't but I'm sure that's the fear).

So unless something changes, HTML5 games will never quite reach it's potential.

Craig Robinson
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The problem you're referring to is usually called "fragmentation", and while certainly an issue, it isn't nearly as bad as you make out, nor is it unique to HTML5 games.

We test our games on approximately 10-15 browser/device combinations. Does this ensure the game will run on 100% of devices in market? No, but by testing on a targeted selection of edge case devices (small screens, less powerful CPUs) and popular devices, we get the coverage we need.

Fragmentation impacts all cross-platform/device development, not just HTML5. Android is famously fragmented. Even Flash suffers. The Flash player (or AIR runtime) provides a common set of functionality across devices, but performance and screen size differences mean that developers must test across multiple devices if they want to ensure compatibility everywhere.

Fragmentation is a pain, but it is a tractable problem. With the right abstractions and libraries (some might call them hacks) in place, you can isolate your game code from most platform differences. Add intelligent/targeted testing on top of that and you've largely addressed the issue.

Leonardo Nanfara
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Most of your points are invalid and backwards thinking. As a developer myself i only target the most popular browsers and platforms when developing websites or HTML5 games. Its pretty difficult, and rather insane, to test your games on 150 devices and browser versions. Nor should you concern yourself with devices and browsers that have less than 0.001% market share. And who the hell needs publishers for web based and mobile games? Publishers are good for retail games but for digital games you don't need them...unless your in need of a huge marketing campaign.

"So unless something changes, HTML5 games will never quite reach it's potential."

Your way of thinking needs to change for HTML5 games to reach its full potential.

Robbert Van Os
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@Phil: Thanks for your feedback and as you are well aware, mobile content is becoming a leading medium of communication world-wide. While the numbers of different handset mobile game developers increases in response to demand, fragmentation is once again becoming one of the main challenges of mobile game development. Publishing a game across different devices and platforms, has it quirks and i am not gonna ignore that. Still plugins like Flash, have shown not to be the solution either.

Fragmentation is a major concern for mobile game developers. There is no one set of specifications, having said that more and more standards are emerging to one. Apple had a leg up on its competition in this area. The mobile os is made for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch only. Android, on the other hand, is all over the place. Google has worked with a couple of mobile manufacturers to allow its operating system to run on their devices, which is why Android is the number one platform in the world, even though it can be a pain to develop on them.

However, even Apple is starting to have its own challenges with fragmentation. Last year, they redesigned their popular mobile phone with the release of the iPhone 5/5S – a device that features a larger screen than its predecessors. Native developers encountered a myriad of challenges when they were told they had to update their apps for the new phone. Some of these issues still persist today.

HTML5 development, by its very nature, runs the risk of fragmentation. Creating universal Web applications to run on devices of various sizes, shapes and functionality sounds like it can lead to a number of problems. HTML5 has an advantage in cross-platform deployment costs, update speed and distribution control, available programming expertise, and in solving fragmentation challenges: Both native and HTML5 face serious fragmentation challenges, but of different sorts. Ultimately, it's more likely that HTML5 and its cross-platform potential will win out here. It's a matter of pros and cons that each developer needs to review themselves.