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Startup backs HTML5 devs with new platform - and a whole bunch of card games
Startup backs HTML5 devs with new platform - and a whole bunch of card games
August 16, 2012 | By Kris Graft

[UPDATE: Goko has run into issues, and returned the service back to beta. See the full note at the bottom of the story.]

A startup wants to ignite the HTML5 game development scene with the introduction of a new platform that looks to help game makers develop, distribute and monetize their games.

The twist is that a key part of this young company's strategy is the acquisition of a whole bunch of licenses for board and card games.

The name of the company is Redwood City, CA-based Goko, which will serve both as a consumer-facing site for HTML5 games, as well as a development platform. It's been operating in stealth mode for months, but is making its official debut today.

Goko's hook is an appeal to the smaller developer who has limited resources. Goko will offer these developers the means to create, launch, and monetize their games, while taking a cut of the sales.

"The idea is that we want to give the tools to the independent, smaller developers so they can actually build the kinds of games that the bigger developers make," CEO Ted Griggs told Gamasutra. "Places like Zynga and [Electronic Arts] have really powerful internal services and tools that they use for their games, but the smaller developers don't typically have that.

"To get people to move to HTML5, you need a good set of services and capabilities, but you also need the right kind of business models around it, and that's what we're trying to do," Griggs said. "People forget that game developers need to eat."

Goko's SDK is available today. The platform includes leaderboards, achievements, game hosting, virtual goods, virtual stores and other features.

HTML5 skepticism

The draw of HTML5 is the potential to create a game using a single code base, and easily port a game to multiple platforms. But there's still plenty of skepticism around HTML5's capabilities in terms of performance (just look at how major social game dev Wooga dropped HTML5 earlier this year).

Griggs is aware of that skepticism. "If you're looking at HTML5 to do 3D WebGL-enabled games on every platform, then you're going to be very disappointed," he laughed. "If you're going to pick games that fit HTML5's cross-platform capabilities -- that's why we have focused initially on card and board games -- you won't have any problem at all."

In order to back that up, Goko launched the open beta for an HTML5 version of the card game Dominion, playable across Facebook, Google+ and The developer also has an MMO, Catan World, in beta. Showing Dominion at trade shows on an iPad, people mistook it for a native app, said Griggs.

In total, Goko and its partners are working on 15 games slated to launch this fall. The company, which has raised $8 million in series A funding, also said it has acquired rights to 150 games from card and board game license-holders including Mayfair Games, Rio Grande Games and Reiner Knizia. The developer is looking for partners to bring more licensed card and board games to HTML5 using Goko. (Goko also uses key components from Ludei's game development platform.)

Brian Howell, VP of marketing made sure to stress that even though a game is HTML5-based, it can still be released on popular storefronts. The company is taking Dominion, putting it in an HTML5 wrapper, and is also releasing it on Apple's App Store and on Google Play. The key selling points again -- flexibility and a broader addressable market.

"You can have an HTML5 game, but you don't have to ignore where the players actually are," said Howell.

[UPDATE: Goko told Gamasutra a couple days after launch that the platform's debut did not go well. "As you probably know by now, the first 48 hours of Goko’s public life didn't go well," a rep for the Goko team wrote. "As we moved out of beta and into the live world, we learned that we had problems with our backend and weren’t able to scale fast enough to support the load. As a result, we experienced numerous problems and created a really bad experience for the fans trying to access our games or even get on our website.

"We sincerely apologize to the fans trying to play our games and to the broader tech and HTML5 communities that showed so much support for our vision at launch. We've made the decision to roll our games and game site back into beta for testing. We will go live again when it's ready. That might be in a few days or a few weeks, we're not sure yet.

"If you want to help us test the games before they go live again, or test future games from Goko, please give us your email. Everyone will eventually get in and we’ll add people as quickly as we can."]

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E McNeill
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Well, they've got just about everything covered, don't they? Still a little skeptical, but they address that too. I'm pretty impressed.

Zaphod Plumbo
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But aren't HTML5 games going to essentially be distributed as source code? Sure, you can do some stuff back on the server, but then you lose many/most of the advantages of executing your game in HTML in the first place. And yet, by streaming all of your source code to a browser, you are essentially giving away all of your code for the world to view, lift, rip and steal.

Seems like that would provide a bit of disincentive to anyone wanting to publish anything other than the most BASIC-esque games in HTML.

Robert Schmidt
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There would still be a substancial amount of server side code for managing mutliplayer. You want the art assets on the client and some of the mechanics but the hard work is in managing state for multiple players. Besides, ideas are a dime a dozen, the only time someone is going to steal your ideas is if you are already making millions, in that case you can afford a lawyer.

Wylie Garvin
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How is that different from Flash? Flash uses a bytecode format that executes in a VM, it might as well be source code.

Chris Nash
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Javascript can be obfuscated so that its as hard to disassemble as machine language. Weave some server calls into the code to check its validity and you have some pretty secure code.

R. Hunter Gough
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and their flagship game Dominion is in private beta. I think this article may have jumped the gun. :|

I'm looking forward to playing an official Dominion port on FB and Android and iOS, though!

R. Hunter Gough
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lolwut? I was just saying this article was directing people to their site before it seemed like all the features of their site were ready to go.

Thank you for defending the honor and integrity of Gamasutra, though! I'm sure people who like video games will think twice before posting comments with you on patrol! :)

Zaphod Plumbo
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Ideas may be a dime a dozen, but good ones not so much so - think Papi-Jump. But it's the code I'm wondering about. Spending 6 months writing algorithms just to have to hang them up on the wall for everyone to parse isn't my idea of a dev-friendly platform.

Still, I do love the HTML5 canvas as much as the next nerd and it's better than bad seeing this kind of stuff percolating in its universe.

Matt Robb
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Well, going back to the kinds of games they're doing, anyone can buy a card or board game and make copies of the instructions. Doesn't make it magically sync the board or deck with someone else's at a different location.

Anatoly Ropotov
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HTML5 is not a concern in case of turn based card games and I could applaud to anyone saying "wrapping HTML5 for mobile" instead of claiming they've mastered running crappy canvas inside crappy outdated webkits on 2.3 Androids. CocoonJS is a nice tech and relevant for these types of games, however usability of turn-based games, even simple ones such as Uno, requires vibrant animation effects, great user interaction (especially with clunky mobile connection), dynamic hint system, dynamic AI replacement system in case player drops out for the turn..
As most devs target "mobile first" with HTML5, they tend to forget about plenty of UX interaction states, such as hovers and interactive tooltips adapted for bigger screens and mouse controls, leaving players feeling "crappy". Let's wait and see if you'll match at least some native mobile "with friends" games from Zynga or mobile Uno.

What worries me in this whole concept is the session length for classic board games and lack of monetization options unless it's a subscription for a truly classic title or a TCG-like monetization with boosters.

Also, a lot of these longer synchronous game sessions on mobile will get disrupted by phone calls and incoming sms, so I wonder how this will be handled. XBLA fans were really excited about dozens of board games coming there, but reality proved that very few loyal players were ready to play full game sessions even on a home console, as hardcore players tend to play even longer sessions, requiring true dedication.

As for the platform... There are too many of these nowadays. They are trivial and a commodity. You could build this in few days with modern out-of-the-box frameworks for PHP and Python, spending few hours on custom JavaScript widgets. It takes few hours to plug in payment solutions like PaymentWall and auth systems, so this holds little value by itself, unless a Kong-like infrastructure will really have tens of thousands of concurrent players playing mediocre quality games constrained by HTML5 limitations. Which I highly doubt, unless it's a unique/exclusive implementation of a licensed IP or you'll enjoy pouring all your raised capital into marketing with little to no return.

Matt Robb
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Most of these types of games are played asynchronously, due to the problems you describe. I actually end up playing them on my phone more often than my 360, since for whatever reason the 360 versions are all synchronous-only. Saves them from having to write a server I suppose.

Alexander Bednyakov
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The browsers' support of HTML5 becomes better with every day. The recent versions of Chrome, for example, are very stable comparing with a half year old ones.

Look at the C & C: Tiberium Alliances - I didn't notice any difference with Flash games in speed. Our own games work quite well, too.

Personally, I think most of today's HTML5 problems will be solved in less than one year.

Anatoly Ropotov
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Great point, Matt. Yeah, I've spent too many years developing for XBLA and there was no way to easily communicate with server without this:
Which was never implemented back then due to complex logistics (publishers are scared of extra servers for consoles!), cost & support reasons.

We've implemented cool drop in-drop out options in some of the games, replacing player temporarily with AI bot and still having a chance to reconnect and take back spot, though.

Jose Striedinger
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As a aspiring game developer this seems like a great platform. I've been programming with HTML5 for quite sometime now and a platform the somehow integrates all that so my code works in any mobile OS seems awesome!

Kristijan Lujanovic
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Just to stop little bit of harsh bad criticism. html5 is to be released in 2014. people often forget that. so considering its one year of hard work to alpha and its still duck-taped together all of this is really amazing.

also I just finished Game of Thrones and everything I read sounds spoken in angry drunk mid battle Irish. That takes the edge off a little bit.

But seriously. After torturing me-self with flash what we do now with html5, even in this pre fetus post 4am drunken dancing faze is incredible. it is truly great platform embedded with clean code and optimism.

Kristijan Lujanovic
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It was sort of a metaphor... I tried to say to communicate at what stage is html5. and that is very, very early.

also no. whatwg doesn't manages anything. they mostly build documentation and suggest features.

from their own faq:

If browsers don't widely implement a feature, or if authors don't use a feature, or if the uses of the feature are inconsequential or fundamentally wrong or damaging, then, after due consideration, features will be removed.

they don't have final word on what is standard. you see usually every browser would fight for them self. this is only apple, firefox and opera joining strength. but without microsoft, google and couple important people. so no...

they are just one more group suggesting stuff. and I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss google and microsoft as unimportant when it comes to web standards development. personally I try to stay near google and chrome. with their web app store they have invested the most in this tech. and I dont like safari and firefox on pc or mobile. firefox became insanely bloated and slow in the last builds.

Kristijan Lujanovic
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Im sorry and believe me I am not trying to play smart or start a fight. Im just saying information that I possess.

first thing first. I say html5 is in early stage because people are attacking it to much. I started with flash and comparing it to current state flash, as unfair as it is, it is at early stage. sound is still not properly implemented, a lot about temporarily saving data without cookies, cross domain stuff...

I love the thing. Well, not the parts we stitch together with java, but pure html5.

second. fact is google and microsoft ARE NOT part of WHATWG.

from wiki itself:

The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) is a community of people interested in evolving HTML and related technologies. The WHATWG was founded by individuals from Apple, the Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software in 2004.[1] Since then, the editor of the WHATWG specifications, Ian Hickson, has moved to Google. Chris Wilson of Microsoft was invited but did not join, citing the lack of a patent policy to ensure all specifications can be implemented on a royalty-free basis.[2]

feel free to correct me when I am wrong with links and quotes. I've got nothing against learning.