[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.
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 Goko.com. 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."]