Will Flash's new 'premium features' drive game developers away?
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."