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Instant-access games that live everywhere -- the real pull of HTML5?
Instant-access games that live everywhere -- the real pull of HTML5? Exclusive
July 12, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

Most developers are attracted to HTML5 because of its portability across platforms, but for startup NonStop Games, co-founded by former Wooga head of studio Henric Suuronen, it's because "HTML5 is the glue that brings the internet together."

When you hear most developers talk about the advantages of HTML5, they trumpet the fact that it's a standard that lives across multiple platforms. That's not why NonStop Games is interested in it.

"Other companies are talking about cross-platform; we're talking about instant accessibility," says co-founder Henric Suuronen.

For NonStop Games, the key to HTML5 is that games can be accessed by direct, simple URLs. "What this means is that you can share this link wherever. Is it on Facebook status, Twitter, Pinterest? ... there is no installation, there is short loading, there is no App Store page," says Suuronen.

Suuronen, who was German Facebook developer Wooga's head of studio, co-founded NonStop with Juha Paananen, who worked at Nokia during its salad days as the world's biggest and most successful handset provider. The two serve as president and CEO, respectively.

Suuronen left Wooga after it climbed to number three Facebook developer under his watch (it's currently number four, in the wake of EA's acquisition of PopCap.) His new startup, which is about to make the move to a new San Francisco HQ, is focused on trying to break down the walls between games and the web, and web apps and games.

You can even play the company's first title, city-builder Dollar Isle, from within the Twitter app on iOS devices when you click on a link from a tweet.

"This has proven to be a really good viral source for us," says Suuronen. "And that's, for us, the biggest benefit of HTML5."

The top city on Dollar Isle's ranking has had 32,000 unique visitors. "This is obviously not possible on Facebook, because it's just your friends," says Suuronen. Moreover, he says that this traffic, while incentivized by NonStop, is more organic than Facebook virality. Players are "spreading the game, not spamming the game," he says.

"I think it's a lot friendlier way than what you've seen on Facebook," says Suuronen.

"In the end, not so many of your friends play the same games you do," says Paananen. NonStop's hope is that "you can find new friends, and then take those friends to new games."

Moreover, the company's games will feature one-way following, like Twitter, so it's less intrusive. If you like someone's Dollar Isle city, you can send them a message and tell them so, and you can even gather resources from their city. But you don't need to form a bi-directional friendship if you don't want to.

While Dollar Isle (pictured) looks a bit primitive compared to the latest and greatest Flash Facebook apps, Suuronen is confident the company is on the right track for casual users.

The company's second game, Paint Stars, is admittedly based on Zynga and OMGPOP's Draw Something -- mixed with Instagram.

"We thought Draw Something was very cool, but it lacked something -- if I do a picture I want to share it. You had to take a screenshot. The other thing was that there was no community," says Suuronen.

In Paint Stars, players are given more robust drawing tools than with Draw Something, and their paintings then become puzzles for other players to solve at any time. Artists can post galleries of their work, which become game menus for those who want to guess, and simple showcases for those who don't.

You might find the game by "looking for cool pictures on Pinterest -- and then, hey, there's a nice drawing done in Paint Stars," says Suuronen. And then, when you click on the link, "You get directly into the game," says Paananen.

"HTML5 is the glue that brings the internet together; you can exist in multiple places," Paananen says. "When you really do games that live out of that logic, I think you can do pretty exciting stuff."

But why would someone who had "an amazing ride" with Wooga, walk away from that success, and the Facebook platform?

"People are using Facebook now on mobile platforms, and you don't play Flash games on mobile platforms," says Suuronen.

"Facebook is a really good platform for the companies who are really strong in there," says Paananen, "but I think there's a wider web outside of Facebook, and you shouldn't limit yourself."

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Andrew Grapsas
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When will the HTML5 propaganda stop? All you have to do is try the technology and you'll see how large of a joke it is. You use a subpar language (JavaScript) usually paired with a weird library (jQuery) and end up using HTML4 because HTML5 chugs on mobile browsers. You end up having a tangled mess of CSS and JavaScript that's a ticking time bomb.

HTML5 wasn't built for games. Let's stop trying to force it to be a tool for making games.

People will stop talking about HTML 5, I guess, when VC's stop funding companies that work exclusively with it. How many start ups have died now, carrying away millions in VC funding, trying to launch HTML5 games?

Joe Wreschnig
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HTML5 propaganda will stop when someone figures out non-HTML5 deployment and sharing in a safe, consistent, cross-platform, user-friendly way. (My guess? The first instance will be if/when Apple decides to link the Mac and iOS App Stores.)

HTML5 is an absolute pain, but all that pain lands on the developers. The model, when it works, is exactly what players want.

Gregory Kinneman
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What are the languages that you would consider better than JS for the web? I would use JS over Actionscript or ObjectiveC any day.

Also, jQuery is to JS what Boost is to C++: an essential part of the developer's toolkit created because the language standard attempts to avoid bloat. Considering the growing popularity of Node and other server-side JS libraries, I think it's the right decision.

K Gadd
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Gregory: Well, C and C# seem to be popular choices given the number of people who are using them in Native Client right now, along with the people using C# in Unity and Silverlight. Why? Here are a few simple reasons:

C and C# both have actual type systems with well defined behavior, so that if you want to do things like, say, truncate a floating-point value to an integer, or convert values to and from bytes, you can do those things. Right now, even things that simple are difficult or impossible to do in JavaScript (depending on how modern the user's browser is, you can do some of them by abusing APIs like Typed Array).

They also let you write an app that runs on as many platforms as an HTML5 app does, while providing a development and debugging experience that is miles ahead of that provided by even the best JavaScript development tools on the market.

Oh, and also, they're way way way less slow.

Of course, given that the web is the kingdom of Worse is Better, nothing is likely to ever replace JavaScript. But don't let that fool you into thinking it's the best language for... basically anything. It's not. There's not really anything it's great at. It's just the language we have.

Trent Tait
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Was starting to think I was alone in my pure hatred of the martyrism of html 5 going on recently. C#, Silverlight, Unity. This is how apps across the web should be made, not this javascript/html5 abomination.

Stateless apps should have died before 2000.

Chris Melby
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What is the model and who are these players?

When has the model worked?

James Hofmann
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I've fallen into agreement with the "anti" HTML5 camp.

I positioned myself a long while ago to be able to jump from Flash to HTML5...but the day hasn't yet come where I feel like I'm missing out, and now I'm more inclined to go towards desktop and mobile instead, which I can do with little additional pain(thanks Haxe). The rationale I had when I first evaluated HTML5 (highest potential compatibility, combined with the rapid advance of browser capabilities) is currently overwhelmed by three forces:

-Flash remaining good enough; Stage3D in particular eliminates the old rendering bottlenecks, which were Flash's biggest problem as a platform.
-Plenty of remaining maturity issues
-Marketplace is most amenable to F2P models, but my biases as a dev are a much better fit for the downloadable space(moddability, niche/experimental ideas, tendency to push tech)

The last one is the real killer. If you're aiming for something F2P you can make some case for going this route, given lower tech requirements - but if your goal is Steam or app stores, the benefits just aren't there.

Duong Nguyen
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HTML5 isn't instant access you still have to pull data from the network and I don't know about how much data caching is allowed by the browser for a single page. A modern game can have over 5 gigs worth of data, but I'm sure you won't be playing Drakes Fortune in HTML5 anytime soon. Personally If your going web browser gaming, something like Gaikai or Onlive is much better, that's real instant access and no compromise, the only condition is you need a fast and wide enough connection. If were just talking about thin games like Farmville or the like then yeah no problem, those type of games have been around forever in Flash form..

Vin St John
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"Other companies are talking about cross-platform; we're talking about instant accessibility," says co-founder Henric Suuronen.

"What this means is that you can share this link wherever. Is it on Facebook status, Twitter, Pinterest? ... there is no installation, there is short loading, there is no App Store page," says Suuronen.

In other words, you can access it no matter what platform you are currently using. "Cross-platform."

Rik Spruitenburg
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I think you are missing the point he was trying to make. Cross platform means you don't have to recode the program for different systems -- That you can run the program on both the iphone and the desktop PC for example. He's saying that's the tip of the iceberg. Part of that bigger iceberg is that you can launch the game with a casual whim without even knowing what this is. "Hey Bob, this reminds me of when we used to play RPGs together :) LINK" and boom, you are looking at your friends Secret Base inside a game. Maybe you close it right away, or maybe you click on something, and then next thing you know you are playing a game. Cross platform is a requirement to pull this off, sure. But it's time to dig deeper.

Ben Chong
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this is not HTML5 propoganda. It's telling you what's possible and what NonStopGames have done.

If you really think about it, why wouldn't you want to access a game from any device, without any other barriers. It's hard enough to constantly be redirected to app stores, needing to authenticate, download, and launch.

If I get a game link, which I can type into (or click on from a twitter/fb feed), and load within 10 seconds, i'm sold.

The only issue now is quality. Give it more time, and you'll get super content-rich games playable from anywhere.

Trent Tait
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This is assuming you are already browsing when you feel like playing a game. Why would I want to bother opening my web browser on my phone to navigate to a site to play a game when I can just click the icon on my desktop? Why do I want a browswer interface messing with the interface to my game?

Marcos N
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@Trent, absurd point man, come back to the future. 90% of gamer population do play through browsers. Lets not argue for the joy of it.

Marcos N
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Nice article. Html5 is good, it needs time to get more quality, as has been said already.

I can't understand why people based on subjective approaches, as in "I dont like javascript", or "some start ups have failed" (... jeez! how many thousands of other startups have gone bad using other techs?), are trying to criticize facts, told by someone who is *not telling you to use it, they are telling us their direct experience with it*... which oppossed to hatred compulsive posting here, is a really good story about sucess using html5.

And for the record, no, Im not feeling worried about "oh poor VCs".

Chris Melby
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HTML portability is truth. HTML being the glue, as in the foundation of the internet is truth.

Now applying that to the "hype" that is HTML5 is nothing more than a farce. Its portability is a false promise perpetuated by ignorance.

HTML5 -- via the 'browser' -- outside of the desktop( primarily Chrome ) does NOT work as we'd all like. It will never be allowed to reach its full potential on Apple and Microsoft's locked-down system and even Google is lagging; they want us to go through their app-stores to state the obvious.

When something built in HTML5 requires Flash to handle audio, recommends viewing in only "one" desktop browser/system, and does not work at all on any mobile device, it's NOT portable.

When HTML5 does work on mobiles, its performance is atrocious/lack-luster; it's very limited. Even when it's wrapped in an application to extend its capability outside of the browser sandbox, it suffers from noticeable latency and struggles to provide an experience that's noting more than a glorified-web-page at best.

Even if HTML5 ever does reach its full "promised" stride -- which would be great IMO, but better if this were 10 years ago -- it will still fall way short of what plug-ins have offered for years and it won't even be on the same page as anything native..

And for any of us that have worked in other languages than JavaScript -- which of course is not HTML5 -- Kevin Gadd's comment nails it. JS is going to need a huge update and the browser DOM is going to need to be overhauled -- and all of this fully adopted -- before it truly can get better.

+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++

Comments like this from Suuronen sound logical, but they don't factor everything in and don't fit with the reality of things;

"'People are using Facebook now on mobile platforms, and you don't play Flash games on mobile platforms,' says Suuronen."

Once again, HTML5 does not work as promised on mobiles, especially not for anything even remotely complex like a game. Even when it's wrapped in an app it falls flat on its face when compared to anything built natively/compiled.

On the other hand, Flash does work on mobiles. It's called AIR and its performance is with in a discernible reach of native for 'some' types of games with the latest builds from Adobe.

Even though the mobile plug-in is a no go for the long haul -- as mobile OS's don't want us circumventing their app store, the later releases under Android and on RIM's PlayBook when it comes to performance are quite good; substantially better than even a simple HTML5 demo.

+++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++ +++

I like the idea of what HTML5 represents. I especially like Apple's Canvas tag. I like that anyone with access to hosting space, can use tools they probably already have on their desktop to start building something in it; something that can be uploaded for everyone to see.

What I don't like, is the reality of it. I've been building webpage/site since 1995, so it was easy to see that HTML5 would not live up to the promise when Apple was first using it as a disruptive tactic. It still suffers from the same basic problems that have always plagued HTML; HyperText Markup Language is NOT a gaming platform...

Henric Suuronen
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Thanks for all the comments guys, very good conversation.
I try to address some of the comments.

- I totally agree that in its current state HTML5 is not good for many game types and I even doubt it will ever be the best choice for a FPS or very animation heavy games. The truth of the matter though is that not all games have to be full of animation, there are even right now in the Apple AppStore some top grossing games that are HTML or HTML5 based inside a wrapper.

- In the interview we are not saying that HTML5 is the best thing in the world, we are saying that we have identified some benefits that we think improves a players user experience and accessibility of the game. But equally there are many disadvantages when compared to for example native games development. There are many things that need to be solved like for example payments, lag, sounds and distribution channels. But the way to solve these is to work on them instead of dooming them before trying.

- It is true that not all people want to play games when they browse around but in the same time what Facebook did was that it created a huge market of so called "accidental gamers" - people who do not go and buy a console with the sole intent of playing but still play and enjoy games when they are put in front of them like what happens on Facebook. We see that HTML5 can enable a much nicer way to expose games to internet users than just pure spamming that plagued many Facebook games and still does to some extent.

- I also agree with the comment that HTML5 was not built for games and forcing every game on it is not a successful tactic. We see already some bigger established companies abandoning HTML5 when they discover that their Flash Facebook counterpart they tried to convert to HTML5 does not work with the new technology. Like with any new platform you must find out how to leverage the platform's advantages and how to tackle the disadvantages - a simple adaptation will not work.

We hope that the discussion continues around HTML5 in a healthy manner. The hype and craze we saw last year was too optimistic and now we are on a much healthier level. This is actually a lot better sentiment for us developers and we at NonStop Games are really just trying to make good games for people to enjoy.

Thanks again for the comments,