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Interview: On GameMaker's HTML5 Expansion Plans

Interview: On GameMaker's HTML5 Expansion Plans Exclusive

October 7, 2011 | By Mike Rose

Last month, YoYo Games launched the HTML5 version of its popular GameMaker tools, allowing users to develop games playable in any HTML5 compatible browser on any platform.

It was a huge step for the company, and came about as a result of YoYo Games keeping a close eye on the shift away from Flash.

Indeed, at this year's Casual Connect Europe conference, the shift from a focus on Flash titles to more HTML5-centric talks made it clear to YoYo Games CEO Sandy Duncan that HTML5 is the way forward.

"The two core streams were social and mobile gaming - Flash was hardly mentioned at all," Duncan explained to Gamasutra. "Listening to several talks, it became clear to me that the next defining technology for both social and mobile platforms would be HTML5."

"Paul Bakaus (CTO of Zynga Germany) in particular made a very convincing case in favour of HTML5 as the only platform for all future social and mobile game development."

With the conference fresh in his mind, Duncan said "the timing felt right" for YoYo to push for HTML5 support as quickly as possible.

"Initially we were thinking of getting things ready for mid-2012, but a couple of follow up conversations we had with key players, like ngMoco and Zynga at GDC in March, meant we decided to put a lot more of our development effort behind getting HTML5 support before the end of 2011," he noted.

First Port of Call: Facebook

With its new HTML5 tools in place, YoYo is now setting its sights on Facebook's rumored HTML5 platform plans. If Facebook pushes HTML5 compatible content as is expected with 'Project Spartan', it would mean GameMaker developers could finally bring their titles to Facebook's 800M users.

Would YoYo consider setting up its own Facebook publishing label then?

"Yes, absolutely," Duncan told us. "We see Facebook evolving from 'Social Network' to being a significant content distribution platform. It dwarfs even Apple's App Store in terms of potential traffic, and Facebook coins make micro-transactions potentially more granular than iOS'."

YoYo isn't just waiting around for Facebook to move, though -- it already launched its first Facebook title, They Need to be Fed, earlier this week. In fact, by the end of the year, it will be putting every game that it publishes on Facebook, as well as re-publishing past games such as Karoshi and Pollushot.

Storming the App Store Battlefield

YoYo Games doesn't just have its sights set on Facebook - the App Store is also an area in which it would like to indulge more often, especially given that the upcoming iOS 5 is set to increase the speed of HTML5 functionality tenfold.

If and when HTML5 fully takes off, Duncan sees a "three tier experience" falling into place.

"Firstly, the top-tier premium experience will continue to be the App Store," he suggested. "Apple does enough testing to ensure that there should be a good consumer experience with most apps that get published via its official channel."

"However, the downside of the App Store is that the economy only works if you have a credit card, which excludes a lot of potential customers - including some major emerging markets such as China where credit cards usage is not so widespread."

He continued, "Another limiting factor is the 'in-app purchase' restriction, where the lowest possible payment is still $1. We see this as quite limiting for some types of games where micro-transactions are important and monetisation options below the $1 cut-off would be hugely beneficial. Overall though, we still expect the Apple App Store to guarantee the best consumer experience on an IOS device for the foreseeable future."

Duncan's proposed second tier is, in fact, Facebook, which he believes will be seen as an alternative to the App Store on iOS, rather than a challenge.

"Facebook still retains 30 percent of your revenue, so from a developer perspective the advantage comes from the huge reach of over 800 million people, but also Facebook Credits, which have payment methods across multiple platforms and a finer level of granularity for in-game purchases, so new opportunities become obvious," he explained.

Finally, the third tier is where HTML5 falls into the mix. Duncan noted that, while it's not 100 percent clear at this moment in time, the enhanced HTML5 performance on iOS devices could provide an alternate method for developers to publish titles on iPhone and iPad.

"Excellent HTML5 performance in iOS would, in theory, provide an alternative to publishing through Apple's official channels by allowing games of the same standard to be played through the phone's browser," he noted.

However, Duncan says it's not really that simple. "While the barrier to entry will be non-existent - as little as hosting an HTML5 game on a web page - it will be difficult for both consumers and developers to find the right places to buy and sell external apps," he admitted.

"We do, however, believe that over time some significant brands will emerge in this off-store, off-Facebook space. They may be re-purposed Flash portals, NetOps, digital distribution services like Steam, or something new entirely, but all of these guys will be looking to make money somewhere and this third tier won't be the 'free ride' utopia that many people are suggesting."

"Also, eager developers who think they'll be able to set up their own independent website and distribution mechanism and get revenues rolling in will undoubtedly find out that the discovery process is not a freebie and it can take a lot of unexpected work and financial cost to gain decent visibility," he finished.

Today: Social Networks. Tomorrow: The World!

Apart from Facebook and enhanced iOS support, YoYo Games is also looking for other areas to expand the GameMaker brand. The company is currently working hard on GameMaker: Studio Edition, which will allow developers to export their projects to iOS, Android, HTML5, Windows, Mac, Symbian and PSN with "almost no code revisions."

"We've been using this tool internally to publish successfully for iOS, HTML5, Android and the PlayStation Network and we should also start publishing for Symbian later this month," he told us. "GameMaker: Studio also supports native Windows and Mac outputs, though we haven't done much to publish games on those platforms."

Duncan is clearly very excited about the prospects that the Studio Edition will provide, and is already watching every possible platform for future reference.

"Mobile and web content developers won't need to worry about HTML5 versus native apps because, with GameMaker, they'll be able to make that choice after their game is developed. If there are other devices that would benefit from native support we can add them into the export pipeline in about 4 to 6 weeks."

He concluded, "We're watching Smart TV very closely and we would add Windows Phone 7 to the list of native device export options tomorrow if Microsoft would release the NDK to us!"

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