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Will Flash's new 'premium features' drive game developers away?
Will Flash's new 'premium features' drive game developers away? Exclusive
March 29, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

Adobe's recent decision to add "premium features" to Flash 11.2 has caused a bit of a stir within the game development community. With the company planning to charge royalty fees for its new high-end features, some developers are worried the platform is heading in a dangerous direction.

Gamasutra spoke to Canabalt creator Adam Saltsman, Spry Fox's Daniel Cook, and QWOP creator Bennett Foddy, all of whom have plenty of experience working with Flash, and all of whom are concerned about Adobe's decision to charge extra for its more powerful features.

Currently, Adobe only plans to collect royalties from developers who use hardware accelerated rendering in combination with domain memory, and these fees only come into effect after they make more than $50,000. Adobe says these features will likely apply only to developers working with graphically intense games, but Flash veteran Daniel Cook isn't so sure.

"I think it would be a mistake to see this as a move that only affects the high-end developers that want to make 3D extravaganzas," he said. "Platforms like to boil frogs. The definition of 'premium' will no doubt broaden over time and basic tech like Stage3D will end up being essential to how you build modern games in Flash."

And if developers end up relying on these premium features, Cook says Adobe will become just one more revenue sink that funnels money away from the game's creators.

"The more services that take a pieces of [my game's] revenue, the less I'm able to run a sustainable business. These pieces add up. Adobe takes 9 percent, payment providers take 5-40 percent, portals take 30-50 percent. Each middleman proclaims that they are only taking a tiny little sliver of a very big pie. But each slice decreases the value of someone playing my game."

Adam Saltsman echoed the sentiment, noting that regardless of Adobe's current plans, these premium features set a troubling precedent, and incentivize Adobe to seek even more money from Flash developers.

"Even if that is not their plan, that is what this system will do. If your only paying users are 'premium users,' and you like money, then you are going to both favor the premium users and encourage/coerce all non-premium users to switch. This is the natural effect of this system. It's just a matter of how long it takes," he said.

"I'm not about to jump ship or anything... but especially as a platform for [my Actionscript library] Flixel I definitely feel like I have a kind of timeline now; cut dependency on Flash within three years, or else."

Bennett Foddy said that on a certain level, he understands the situation from Adobe's point of view, as at the end of the day, Adobe is a business, and thus needs to make money.

"Adobe doesn't owe anybody a 3D-accelerated, cross-platform Flash client," said Foddy. "Flash isn't a web standard, it's a closed-source, third-party plugin that's widely installed but now in decline. At some point, it won't make sense for Adobe to keep on developing it for free."

In spite of Adobe's business sense, Foddy still has concerns as a developer, as there's no telling how Adobe's business model will evolve.

"I guess from one point of view, it seems unreasonable for Adobe to suddenly start pretending that the Flash player is an app store rather than a ubiquitous web standard. On the other hand, if you look at this as a new 3D platform, rather than as a change in the existing 2D web standard, it's not a terrible deal; provided, that is, that they don't alter the deal, Darth Vader style."

Regardless of what Adobe ends up doing, Foddy suspects that the company might be facing a losing battle. Native mobile app stores are becoming more prevalent by the day, and he thinks that market could eventually eclipse Flash altogether.

"This development will almost certainly drive a lot of developers to seek other alternatives for delivering both 2D and 3D games," he said. "In a year or two, the biggest gaming market won't be computers with Flash installed anymore, it will presumably be tablets and phones which have their own vendor-owned app stores. And this may be the kind of change that nudges the migration process along a little faster."

Gamasutra also spoke with Adobe for its take on the situation, and the company said that the addition of premium features doesn't mean that Flash is changing altogether. Just like before, Adobe still plans to add new royalty-free features with every release.

"Adobe plans to develop new premium capabilities, as well as the core platform features," said an Adobe spokesperson. "However, not all developers are expected to need premium capabilities to deliver great games and experiences on the web."

Unity Technologies, Adobe's most recent business partner, also offered its input, and said that Adobe's premium offerings just make sense as a business decision.

Company CEO David Helgason explained, "Every company needs to charge for their work, and Adobe has decided that this is how they want to monetize the Flash platform going forward."

"Adobe has picked a flexible model, where most of the Flash runtime won't be monetized. We all know that for any business model, there are customers that can't or won't participate, but we think that the value add that Adobe Flash brings in terms of distribution power is worth it for most developers."

Helgason added that Unity itself has no plans to dip into its customers' revenue, but he suspects developers will warm up to Adobe's decision the longer the new business model stays in place.

"While it's been valuable to developers be able to use the Adobe Flash runtime, the fact that it's always been free means that it's hard to adjust one's thinking and forget one's previous 'price anchor' that it is (and therefore should be) free."

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GameViewPoint Developer
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It's difficult to see how this ends up being a good idea, unless it's just a first move in a plan to charge for more things, but as it is this will probably speed up developers switching to HTML5/WebGL to deliver games. Right now I think AIR is more important than the web Flash player becasue of it's ability to export to iOS/Android.

Joe McGinn
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Yeah this is going to kill Flash dead in it's tracks.

I'm sorry but a development tool is not a game platform. Yeah, you invest billions in building me a marketplace like iOS or Amazon or Facebook, a royalty is perfectly reasonable - you have literally built the market I'm selling to, after all.

But for a development tool? One for which there are many alternatives, and not even an established market yet? That is so not on. This cliche is used too often but it really fits the situation: epic fail Adobe, epic fail.

Chris Melby
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@ Joe,

Why are you thinking this is about their tools? This is about the Flash dekstop plug-in, which is a platform.

Adobe is not charging a percentage on their development tools. They're charging a percentage for a particular situation for those targeting the desktop Flash plug-in and who have made over $50k.

Adobe keeps the plug-in up to date and fresh while making sure it maintains market penetration. Meanwhile, companies like Zynga and others, like FaceBook, are making billions off Adobe's plug-in(platform).

Dead in its tracks and I guess this is because you said so... Not when these changes only effect a very small percentage of devs and the overly hyped so-called alternatives like HTML 5 are way to premature and limited -- while still being hindered by the DOM and JavaScript -- to be a viable replacement; and there's the fact that video is still predominantly handled by Flash on the web and this is not changing anytime soon for obvious reasons.

Ben Colwell
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I don't think there's anything wrong with Zynga (or any other company) making lots of money on products that they developed using Flash. They hired the developers, developed the games, advertised and acquired users, and ran the servers. Nothing wrong with that, and Adobe shouldn't feel entitled to a piece of that. This is why, presumably, Zynga licenses dozens (hundreds?) of copies of Flash Pro-- so they can create that content.

The only reason why I can understand this move is because, again presumably, the people using Alchemy and Stage3D aren't necessarily interested in Adobe's tools. Maybe they use Visual Studio and Unity and simply cross-compile in Alchemy.

I can see why people would be wary of this. It makes me wonder why they didn't just charge a one-time license to buy the Alchemy compiler or create a "premium developer" program with a $99 yearly fee like Apple did.

Nooh Ha
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Adobe are hardly the first tool/middleware company to do this. Epic and Unreal Engine 3? Most MMOG tool/middleware companies etc. If the tech is important enough to developers to justify a % royalty-based fee, its not entirely surprising they will try it given the commercial upside potential. The big question is whether these features are important enough...

Kurt Reiser
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Sorry but that is complete failure of logic what you said. So Adobe having over 90% installation of their adobe flash player in all browsers is not a "market" they created?
You welcome if you'd like to hire programmers and create your own game engine that works in a browser and get everyone to install it to play your game.

linus Schrewe
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@Chris Melby && Kurt Reiser Yeah and that makes it like paying to develop for Windows or Macs. They created a market too. I don't pay for any Windows functions. I only pay for tools.

Chris Melby
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@ linus,

I see your point and I do agree to some degree, but on the flip side -- pirates aside -- anyone that has bought a PC or Mac has paid for a copy of the OS -- or in Apple's case their hardware and OS.

Flash is a free download to the consumer and Adobe keeps it maintained.

MS and Apple charge for major OS updates, where as Flash updates are free to the end user.

And prior to this new percentage, when it comes to developing for the Flash plug-in, we could do so without even buying Adobe's tools, or paying them any kind of developer fee.

So when I look at it that way, Flash is free to the end user and we as developers don't even need Adobe's tools to create content for it, so what does Adobe get out of it in this situations?

Even if I don't use MS's tools to build an application for Windows, I've still paid for a copy of their OS and for the most part that will hold true for anyone that is viewing my content on their PC.

Now for AIR mobile, the only real option to develop for it is via Adobe's tools and in this case they don't take a cut.

Joe McGinn
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"This is about the Flash dekstop plug-in, which is a platform."

No it isn't. A royalty-worth platform today is a *content delivery* platform, front to back: You are paying for the dedicated user base that there is a specific channel to market to, you are paying for the platform holder having investing in the most challenging problems like international monetization payment systems in all relevant countries. Flash is no more "a platform" than is DirectX or HTML 5,

Come back in 12 months. Adobe will have backpedaled furiously after shedding developers because of this idiotic move.

Chris Melby
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How does Adobe make money from developers that target the Flash plug-in, but don't buy their tools?

What incentive does Adobe have to maintain the Flash plug-in, if we all switch to other IDEs, or Unity and not give them a cent?

In 12 months I'm more inclined to look back and see how some people have overreacted to this decision. But who knows, since I can no more predict the future than you can.

Mike Kasprzak
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The timing of the news couldn't be more... perfect? convenient? I like Adobe, but I'm having a hard time finding the right word.

I run an event called Ludum Dare, which is one of the largest game jams in the world (largest online jam). Our next big event is coming up April 20th weekend, and we're expecting to break 1000 games created over that weekend. For the past 10 years of the event, Flash has been one of our most popular development tools of choice. We've watched Unity and Java rise and fall (respectfully), but for the longest time Flash was one of the biggest constants. In wake of the news, I can't say I heard anything positive or excited coming from anyone in our community.

With a whole 3 weeks to go, I am expecting to see several more developers than usual switching to non-Flash web development tools. Historically, Ludum Dare has been a good event for many to try learning a new development tool, and surely many will see this as good a catalyst as any.

That said, I do like Adobe. Me personally, as a developer coming from a console background, the upcoming Alchemy combined with Stage 3D sounds fantastic. But I can't help but find fault in how Adobe has presented the recent series of announcements regarding the Flash platform. Last time, everyone was convinced Flash was dead on mobile, where what actually happened was they discontinued in-browser support (they instead were switching mobile focus entirely to Air). This time, it came across as "Adobe wants royalties". This is true, but the conditions are very specific. It's hard for any small developer to see this as anything but being punished for success.

Perhaps there was simply no way to not panic the community.

Gregory Booth
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This ^^

Exactly Mike. It's how it was presented.
I have to admit we had an initial knee-jerk reaction and ran to the forums only to find out that mobile AIR3.2 and Stage3D + Alchemy and bundled was unaffected.
At least for now ;)

Thanks for the balanced perspective.

+2 common sense


Wyatt Epp
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I think there would be a lot less controversy if the Alchemy opcodes hadn't been around and in-use for the last four years AND they weren't the only way to get adequate memory performance in Flash.

Nicolas Cannasse (haXe; MotionTwin) calls this an "Adobe Speed Tax" that _all_ 3D games will have to look out for, and I'm inclined to agree-- AVM2's memory manipulation performance without flash.Memory approaches godawful.

raigan burns
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Who in Adobe is in charge of communicating things to the public/users?! Cause they don't seem to understand how to convey things in a clear and simple-to-understand way.

Chris Melby
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Lee Brimelow from Adobe has a good FAQ on this;

Pushing their PR handling of Flash Mobile and Flex aside -- which were downright poor, I'm seeing more of the confusion coming from outside of Adobe this time around.

Duong Nguyen
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Where did they come up with the idea of 9%? It's an odd number which sticks in peoples minds. Either way it will definitely drive people toward HTML5.. Flash finally getting 3D after 15 years after 3D was introduce on PC isn't something to be congratulated. 3D been around, it's not new and people won't be "wowed" by it as much as Adobe thinks. Proprietary plugins like Unity and WildTangent have been doing 3d for years.

The problem with promising PC level 3D content from web is that that content is gigabytes of texture as well as animation data, unless all your users are on high speed connections, only a subset will enjoy that level of quality, most will experience either streaming artifacts or low res versions.

Thirdly Adobes entire tool chain is still 2D so it won't be their base which develops this 3D content it will be indie developers and maybe occasional game house willing to take a risk and there still is the problem of monitization other than advertisement of flash content..

Tore Slinning
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"Currently, Adobe only plans to collect royalties from developers who use hardware accelerated rendering in combination with domain memory, and these fees only come into effect after they make more than $50,000. Adobe says these features will likely apply only to developers working with graphically intense games, but Flash veteran Daniel Cook isn't so sure."

Well...I don't think its realtime games is the keyword here...
Seems like they are going for the animation studios.

Marc Schaerer
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And for basically every flash driven game that uses Stage 3D and earns enough to pay the team required to develop it

Lars Doucet
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It's just a perplexing, weird move. It just doesn't quite seem to make any sort of sense.

* Unity, UDK, etc, all charge for premium stuff, but those come with advanced tools.
* Facebook, Kongregate, Apple, etc, charge a tax, but they're providing their own audiences.
* Portals charge a tax, but they're providing distribution, and again, audience.

Adobe is basically charging for the right to use an API. It's not totally without precedent, but the value to me as a developer is.... not high. You're not getting a set of super fancy tools (that I know of), and you're not getting any more players - you still have to chase them down yourself.

Jeremy Glazman
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All good points, but you are greatly underestimating the value of developing for a platform that has a pre-installed plugin on people's computers. A very large number of users (I've seen numbers anywhere from 30-70%) simply won't play your game if it requires installing any software (e.g. Unity's plugin). This is exactly why Unity has partnered with Flash and has worked so hard on the Unity Flash exporter.

Lars Doucet
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I am incredibly aware of this value, it's responsible for 90% of the revenues of my last game. That said, I don't like them slowly "boiling the frog" and making this platform less valuable to me over the long term.

For the record, I would much rather pay thousands of dollars for tools, than for any % tax on my revenues just for using an API, pre or post tax.

Marc Schaerer
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I think there are two things that totally mix up in the article especially the quote:

1. Nobody has anything against proper dev monetizing. Thats what we all want, being payed for our work and thats what everyone would happily provide Adobe with once they offer something for the money.

2. But the problem is that monetizing if you don't offer anything but a promise of developing more premium features, with a clear track in the past indicating the exact opposite (no interest in even developing performant, quality software or an API at all), just does not work out, even less when the share you want is totally unrealistic for your offering and when you pretty much state that there will be no tools offered to target Stage 3D ever (or you wouldn't partner up with one of the few who can easily kick any of your tools ass quality and performance wise with its tool aka Unity Technology).
Its bad enough that Adobe totally missed the point at which they should have invested into 3D acceleration years ago instead of happily lazyride the monopoly wave, but now that they finally brought some hope back that Flash might become a reasonable, halfway modern platform again and after making this hope grow for a year, they have the nerve to come around and backstab any 'idiot' stupid enough investing hard money and time to create tools and libraries for it by showing them that they intend to do their best to cut a major part of the potential userbase with this scheme and the statements along it.

I'm also not sure what David meant that Flash always was free. Wouldn't it be for community powered products like FlashDevelop, HaXe and alike, Flash would still cost the same small nothing of a thousand bucks to develop for it at all which it always did.

It is also as correctly realized in different places, no open standard and as such there is very little incentive and drive to make it grow beyond Adobes own desires and interest (which in the past was very bad on the flash end).

Andrew Grapsas
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So, who wants to write an open source plug-in with me? And, uh, who wants to bundle it in every friggin' OS and browser across the land?

Hmm... for some reason that doesn't seem feasible. Let's just write a piece of garbage standard for JavaScri... oh... wait. Right.

All sarcasm aside, yes. Flash was previously very free -- you don't even have to buy Adobe's IDE or development tools. Now, though, what will developers end up being forced into? And, will developers continue to choose Flash if it becomes precipitously more expensive?

Timothy Tryzbiak
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I don't have an issue with paying for value. The fact that Flash is nearly everywhere and it lowers the barrier to entry is good. My beef is the ever increasing desire for service and product providers to take a percentage of the pie vs. a standard fee or tiered fee.

We've only got 100%... 30% to Facebook, 9% to Adobe, 3% to payment providers, 35% to taxes...

For a start-ups perspective, you can see more on our blog.

Lars Doucet
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The really frustrating thing is the drive by companies to extract an economic rent from the backs of the people using their platform. It is this that is seen as unreasonable by us developers.

Of course, I'm a Georgist (

Lars Doucet
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You're putting words in my mouth.

I'm not arguing that Flash was "found in nature", nor am I making a direct analogy between land and something like a software platform.

I'm saying that extracting economic rents is a bad thing.

Nathan Champion
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Interesting read, Lars.

Mike Motschy
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9% to use a runtime. It doesn't make any sense, imagine if Microsoft charged a royalty for using .NET Framework?! This is a huge joke, my only guess is it must be for April fools.

Vikram N
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If you were Adobe, which would u prefer -
Limiting everyone to develop only thru their IDE
Open the Platform and let people use any free tools, etc and get a 9% above 50K$

Hint: U don't have a time machine

Beeeeeeeep: Wrong Answer.
Wait till a kickass studio makes an awesome IDE for WebGL

Andrew Grapsas
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You don't have to use Adobe's IDE to develop Flash applications. In fact, FlashDevelop is, in my humble opinion, far superior to FlashBuilder (that'll start a holy war).

Jeremy Glazman
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"Helgason added that Unity itself has no plans to dip into its customers' revenue"

Um, except that Unity already offers features that require revenue sharing in their terms of use:
What is the Unity caching product and how can we license it?
We offer a special extension of the Unity webplayer which can cache asset bundles locally. This is licensed on a revenue-share model

Mathieu Rouleau
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"Flash isn't a web standard, it's a closed-source, third-party plugin that's widely installed but now in decline. ..."

That's funny, how is it in decline? This statement is so erroneous, why add it to your article? It only makes the whole thing weaker for it.

Felipe Budinich
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It's is not a monopoly anymore, now you've got options:

zed zeek
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Decline as in a few years ago it was on >95% of web devices in the US now its on <85% of webdevices in the US

Duong Nguyen
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Mobile now makes up nearly 10% of web traffic, no Flash there..Adobe has abandon Flash for mobile, which in most peoples mind is a decline. With the advent of HTML5, WebGL, etc.. Flash is on its last legs. HTML 5 isn't a "plugin" people have to download it comes with the browser, every new generation of web browser will have better and better support for HTML 5.. And web browers now have auto-update, users don't even have to download it.. This includes mobile web browsers. Can Flash stay relevant? Hmmm.. for the next 5 years sure.. after that probably not..

Joshua Dallman
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I see this as an attempt to move software as a service from purely consumer facing to more business to business opportunities. The problem is that a lot of indies will get captured in that low $50k net. They should have set it at $100k or $250k to more aptly distinguish an individual from a commercial license. And if they are trying to move Flash to more of a B2B SAAS offering, they sure as hell better start offering some actual service as part of that hefty 9% price tag, and they better be services that are sorely needed for developers to succeed on par with Apple's ability to bring your game to an already-monetizing audience.

Jonathan Murphy
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Flash is garbage. The majority of computer tech problems I get are almost all flash related. Fix your software! This feels like middlemen grabbing more cash.

Terry Matthes
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How is this any different from Unity's cash grab for "premium" features like dynamic lighting and Occlusion Culling?

Felipe Budinich
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The ROI.

I would gladly pay for anything, if the ROI is good enough.

Duong Nguyen
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@ Felipe, you might but a large team working on AAA content can't afford to give away 9% of their profits.. That's the difference between doing well and going bankrupt.

Hays Clark
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Pretty stupid idea on Adobe part, just another nail in the coffin for the Flash Player. I guess Adobe must be under hard times that they would risk jeopardizing the platform even more. I would be more open to this if Adobe actively took feedback about updating their tools. But in honesty, the Flash IDE and Flash Player are just rats nests of legacy code hacked together so that Adobe can try to pump out a new version of the CS Suite every year. For most of us that have used Stage3D and have done actual 3D game you'll know there nothing 'premium' about the Flash Players 3D rendering. Plus, to even utilize it you need a non-Adobe 3D modeling too, a real AS3 IDE (FlashDevelop) and most likely a 3D party API. Unless Adobe does a complete re-write focusing on performance and multi-treading then I think the platform is doomed.

Ben Colwell
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Flash is getting multi-threading and also a major re-write later this year, as Adobe stated in their roadmap for the platform. Also, it sounds like they have two seperate VMs in Flash player, one for the legacy stuff, and one for the newer AS3 stuff.

I don't think Flash is dead for games or is even on that path, IMHO, but one thing is for sure: Adobe needs to stop making terrible press releases that give more ammunition to the Flash-hater crowd. The percent issue totally overshadowed what improvements they also made to the platform...

Montana Payne
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This after Microsoft has stated that they would not support WebGL for all the [valid] security concerns...