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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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