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New Game 2011: Zynga Urges Developers To Embrace The HTML5 'Pain Machine'
New Game 2011: Zynga Urges Developers To Embrace The HTML5 'Pain Machine'
November 2, 2011 | By Tom Curtis

At the Gamasutra-attended New Game Conference in San Francisco, Zynga's Paul Bakaus, who heads up HTML5 and JavaScript initiatives at Zynga Germany, pointed out HTML5's biggest technical shortcomings, but urged developers to work past these issues to make the web a better platform for games.

Despite noting that he loves working on web games with HTML5, Bakaus was frank about the platform's biggest flaw: "Audio is still broken -- and we need audio to create rich interactive games."

He said currently, there doesn't exist an audio codec that works across all platforms. "In addition, there are all kinds of issues with certain devices," he added. "For instance, the iPhone can only play one sound at a time."

The second shortcoming to HTML5 is its distinct lack of APIs for specific hardware, meaning developers aren't guaranteed access to cameras and other device-specific mobile features.

On iOS 5, for instance, Bakaus said that only about 20 APIs exist for Safari and HTML5 developers, while more than 1500 are available to native app developers. "This is a really significant problem I'm seeing, and we need to fix that," he said. If this imbalance persists, he added, game developers will continue to choose native development over HTML5.

Another problem is that developers aren't taking full advantage of WebGL when making 3D games for the web. "I have high hopes for WebGL, but if you look at the demo scene today, it reminds me of the Flash demos in the '90s," Bakaus said.

"WebGL has another problem, and that problem applies to web developers, because you have to learn a new language, you can't just work with Javascript," Bakaus explained.

After outlining these issues, Bakaus likened HTML5 to a device he dubbed the "Pain Machine," an electrified Pong cabinet that shocks anyone who loses a match. Bakaus explained that, like the machine, HTML5 is fun and interesting to work with, yet its problems are undeniable.

Upgrading The Web

Despite all of his frustrations with HTML5, Bakaus is optimistic that web development offers a great opportunity for game creators. But in order to make HTML5 a success, he says, developers need to find ways to "upgrade the web."

This means that developers need to get newer, and more robust browsers onto users' devices, and Bakaus said the best way to do so is to create quality content that doesn't support older releases.

"People are scared to abandon users at less than Internet Explorer 9," he said. "But sometimes, giving people what they want isn't helpful, since nothing will change. Try to come up with great new stuff that only works in modern browsers, and that will create incentive to upgrade."

Of course, in order to create this content, more developers will have to dive into HTML5 development itself, and Bakaus admits that doing so with come with its fair share of limitations.

"I love working in HTML5, but as much as I love doing it, it hurts," he said. "When talking of HTML5, it's like we're back in the dark ages of gaming."

One reason HTML5 is stuck in these "dark ages" is because "web developers are seldom good game developers, and vice versa. There's just a clash of development practices."

This dichotomy between web and game developers exists in part because, as Bakaus put it, "HTML5 was not created with games in mind," and the working group behind the specification has historically had no members from game companies.

To help ease the gap between web and game development, Bakaus said game developers should commit to HTML5 and introduce new, high quality content that will help the platform come to fruition.

"What we need are AAA and social game makers to commit to making full scale and beautiful games in HTML5, and not just porting something over."

As part of Zynga's own efforts to improve HTML5 for game development, Bakaus explained that since the company joined the World Wide Web Consortium in February, it has committed to a number of open source projects for developers, all of which are available on Zynga's website.

Bakaus encouraged other developers to take advantage of HTML5's open platform in similar ways. As long as this sort of cooperation happens, HTML5 can continue to grow and better support game developers.

He concluded, "I think we're really getting closer to making HTML5 gaming a reality. I donít think were completely there yet, but we're really close."

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Jen Bauer
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Audio is what scares me the most with HTML 5. It may be that I haven't found enough literature/great code examples yet, but those instances where there's only one sound playing at a time... they sound intimidating, especially if your goal is to go in guns blazing, hoping to make a real great audio system.

Dylan Tan
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Very true. Audio plays important part in gaming experience. You could have best graphics and all, but if the sound or music of the game are bad, it very easy for the player to be turned off.

Chris Melby
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Maybe eventually, but not for years and years. Building complicated apps in HTML is not worth the pain, as it's still really the same vomit that has plagued HTML in the past.

As long as JavaScript is the put-put-engine that makes HTML5 go, I'll pass. Outside of accessing the browser DOM, which I've always been grateful for, JS is a miserable language to work in. At least with plug-ins like Flash, I can build a game in an environment that's similar to building a desktop and now mobile app and not have to spend a ton of time with the limited-mess that is HTML(Flavor of the decade)+JS+CSS -- they're just for support. And on top of a better development environment, the end result is superior.

There needs to be a major update to JS which if anything, just fixes some of its stupidity. And if a future version of JS allows it to really match a better language and if and when they fix some of the glaring issues with HTML5 as a whole -- well HTML as whole -- I'm pretty sure the closed off platforms will not fully embrace it. And on this, I doubt that the really advanced areas of HTML5 will ever make it on to any platform that already limits their browser, so it will always need a desktop and the "latest" browser(Of one flavor) to really show what it can do.

Anyways, it's good to see that every HTML5 article posted by Gamasutra in the past week have been from the perspective of developers that actually have a clue. At least when they show optimism, it's not backed by sure BS like many of the editors that gush over it. HTML5 has potential, but as is, it makes plug-ins look like gold and to those of us that weren't indoctrinated by a CEO's self-serving-rage, it's never been a magic bullet.

Kamil Trebunia
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You may find it interesting that Rich Hilleman during that conference said that he sees modern browsers to be Playstation2-grade platform already.

Open Web (part of which is HTML5) has also some enormous advantages over any other technology, like distribution, speed of delivery.

So you may not like JavaScript or CSS or HTML (last two have very little to do with building modern html5 games anyway), but I would advice being less religious about HTML5 being stupid and plain bad.

And keep in mind: nobody in their right mind will try to build triple-A game as we know it today with HTML5 yet (or next year), but it can work great for less complex games.

Andrew Grapsas
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JavaScript is in the hands of the individual browser providers to implement, as is HTML5. As such, these technologies were stifled out of the box. The hype is all marketing/business people. I have yet to meet a serious tech person that's interested -- myself included.

Andrew Sega
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HTML5 = terrible language (JS) + terrible audio support + a group of people in charge who don't understand the performance needs of gaming + constant infighting among browser manufacturers.

Why Zynga would risk their money on following this path is beyond me. Maybe they just really hate Adobe that much?

"Try to come up with great new stuff that only works in modern browsers, and that will create incentive to upgrade." <- This statement is especially ironic, considering their entire business model is based on monetizing people *after* they start playing a game. If this is your model, then why would you then present such a huge barrier to entry, i.e. not supporting IE?

Roy Smith
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HTML5 is the only viable solution to get app control out of the hands of device manufacturers. Which distribution model works better for developers? The Internet or XBOX/Sony/Apple?

appMobi has created a solution for several of the problems in HTML5 that Paul mentioned. We call it "DirectCanvas". Recognizing that the business of rendering typical HTML5 pages has a lot of complexity that is meaningless when rendering game play, DirectCanvas takes HTML5 canvas and audio functions and "pipelines" them directly to the device's hardware. This yields a 5-10X frame rate rendering improvement on iOs devices.

It also enables multi-channel sound. We have also accelerated Box2D calculations which drastically improves performance in physics-based games. HTML5 games built using appMobi can be deployed as iOS native apps (example: Private Joe) or as Web apps, using our newly announced mobiUs browser add-on (which sports full DirectCanvas). There are demo videos on our YouTube channel ( showing directcanvas acceleration

Here's a blog post specifically addressing multi-channel audio -