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Will HTML5 Change the Way Games are Made?
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Will HTML5 Change the Way Games are Made?


August 29, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

Mobile Support

HTML5 games work very well on the desktop, but transitioning them to mobile is not trivial. Claims that HTML5 games built for the desktop will transition with minimal effort to mobile platforms are generally exaggerations. You need to be prepared for a weaker class of CPU (meaning slower JavaScript execution) and GPU (meaning reduced vertex and fragment throughput if you are targeting 3D).

Screen resolutions can vary wildly, and developing your game in HTML5 will not magically enable controls that work well on both the desktop and mobile. WebGL support on mobile platforms is fairly embryonic at the moment, although the landscape should look very different six months from now.

In the meantime, there are some options worth investigating. Technologies such as PhoneGap, AppMobi, and CocoonJS can wrap up HTML5 games in a native wrapper that yields better performance. A limitation at this time is that none of these technologies include workable WebGL support, but it is likely that some middleware developers are already building a solution.

Ease of Development

In the scheme of things, developing HTML5 games is very easy. The browser makes for an incredibly solid development platform, particularly when compared to the tools provided by some hardware vendors.

The tools themselves are free and largely integrated into the browser itself and there is no compilation step when coding. The dynamic nature of JavaScript allows for a powerful edit-and-continue type development, and an ever-present console is very handy. Everything about web development is geared towards fast iteration times and simplicity.

APIs are clean and straightforward, and because of the huge community of web developers there is plenty of sample code and live tutorials.

Accessibility

If there is one pretty much universally understood paradigm in computing, it is navigating to a web address in a browser and consuming the content located there. Be that as it may, gamers are an impatient bunch (apologies for the sweeping generalization). Make them download or install something, and you will definitely lose a significant chunk of your clientele at the first hurdle. And not all of them will be inclined or able to install a proprietary browser plugin in order to run a game.

HTML5 games require no install or permissions to run, and contrary to what some believe, they can be permanently cached to a device after an initial download of resources. Obviously, this can facilitate offline play if your game does not require an internet connection.

So if your game is delivered as a reasonably fast, seamless page load, you will have happy users that actually make it into Level 1.

Finding an Audience

As of Google I/O 2012, Google Chrome has accumulated 310M active users all by itself, a number significantly larger than the total number of current gen game consoles out in the wild today. When you then go on to consider other HTML5 capable browsers, we are looking at a potentially vast audience.

Just because your game sits on a URL and is visible to the world does not mean people are going to find it. Discovery plays an important role too. App Stores have a notoriously narrow "shop window" and it's easy for games to be lost in the crowd. HTML5 games are no different, but have some key advantages over native applications.

As web pages, they are indexable by search engines for organic discovery. Also, there are multiple game portals and stores, including the Chrome Web Store, where you can make your game known. But you are not restricted to web distribution alone. As an example, you can sell your HTML5 game on the Mac App Store by packaging it as native application with an embedded WebView component.

It is important to reach as many users as possible, and HTML5 allows you to combine many distribution channels, rather than any single one.

Getting Noticed

Like it or not, building a game atop a bleeding edge, "hot" technology will only result in better coverage. If you code two identical games, one with C++ and one with HTML5, it is fairly obvious which one is more likely to be picked up on by the media. It is not necessarily fair, but that is simply how things are with HTML5 right now -- people are excited to see what developers can do with it and there a lots of opportunities to be a pioneer.

Rethinking Game Development with HTML5

Hopefully you are now in a better position to determine whether HTML5 can work for the games that you want to make. But here's where I think the debate has fallen short. HTML5 is not merely a set of standards to power the innards of video games and should not be judged solely on that basis.

It is powering a new generation of productivity apps that is stoking a trend for moving our digital lives into the cloud. The potential that this trend has to shake up the tools and workflows that we use in order to make video games is astonishing and we have not yet begun to scratch the surface.

A Window To The Cloud

Today, we think nothing of using cloud apps. Web mail is by far the most popular example, and where we might have once been wary about storing our personal correspondence on a remote server, we have now become very relaxed about it. There are now productivity apps of just about every type that exist in cloud app form: word processors, image editors, code editors and so on.

The cloud brings a lot of benefits in the context of games. There is nothing to install since the web app is delivered to the browser from the server (or the browser's cache). The tools always stay seamlessly up to date, which ensures that users remain in sync with each other and are always using the latest and greatest release. User data is always safely backed up and trivially restorable. A user's OS or browser can even crash and work will have already been saved to the server.

These are all really useful features when it comes to development, and to give users a view onto a cloud-based system, you are going to need a browser. And the best way to build the interface in the browser? In my opinion, it's HTML5. Although it is possible to use Flash, Java, or write a custom plugin to implement a game tool, when it comes to writing a complex web app, HTML5 is the most scalable solution. The case for this is only becoming stronger with the ongoing evolution of easy-to-use web app frameworks such as ExtJS, Google Closure, and SproutCore to name but a few.


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