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New Game 2011: Richard Hilleman's Checklist For HTML5 Success

New Game 2011: Richard Hilleman's Checklist For HTML5 Success

November 1, 2011 | By Tom Curtis

At the Gamasutra-attended New Game Conference in San Francisco, industry veteran and EA creative director Richard Hilleman detailed the key challenges facing HTML5, and outlined what it will take to make the platform an attractive venue for games.

Before diving into its weaknesses, Hilleman pointed out one of HTML5's greatest strengths: Quick and easy access to games. "Increasingly, the thing we're looking for from a customer isn't their money -- it's their time. People only give us their attention when we give them their time effectively," he said.

As long as HTML5 can provide players with instant access to games, HTML5 is on the right track, Hilleman said.

HTML5's performance, however, has proven to be a distinct challenge for Hilleman and his team at EA. During the keynote, he showcased a 3D animation running within a browser, which he said was running on a second-generation Macbook Air.

"On my own computer, which runs on an i7, I couldn't get more than a few frames per second [from this same demo], Hilleman said. He explained that "high performance Javascript is obtuse at best," so it's hard to predict how a given app will run on a given hardware specification.

"I don't know how to explain that to a customer. That's a big big problem," he added.

Another lacking area for HTML5 games is audio. "One thing that didn't go well for us was sound. We still tend to falter with sound on HTML5, and we have to resolve that... I have some hopes the next iterations of the browser will address that but it's another big problem."

Going forward, Hilleman encouraged developers to look toward the future of HTML5 as a platform, and outlined several key things the platform will need to provide.

Clear Performance Standards

First, HTML5 developers need to establish a certification process to ensure app quality and compliance with a range of devices. By doing so, developers can create a minimum quality threshold for games on the platform, and ensure that games will run on current (and hopefully future) hardware.

Given that HTML5 is an open platform, establishing these standards will prove to be a challenge, but Hilleman said "we need to find a new way to serve that goal."

"In addition, we need standards for not only how [a game] runs, but how it's delivered. Bad experience on the delivery will kill the platform as fast as anything. Maybe even faster," he noted.

Distribution, Monetization

The second key thing HTML5 developers should strive for is widespread distribution of their apps, which will help maximize audiences and allow developers to make use of alternative payment models.

"We don't get paid at the door [with HTML5 apps]. I don't get money like when someone buys an app or installs a client... When I'm trying to get paid in-app, the more ways I can distribute that app, the better," he explained.

When it comes to establishing a payment model for HTML5 apps, Hilleman said, "fundamentally, we need a way to do commerce in game that customers can trust."

He pointed out that in the TV cable industry, large companies bring in more than half their revenue from customers via cash or cash-equivalents, which poses a significant problem for HTML5 apps and other digital-only games.

To solve this discrepancy, Hilleman says developers should look at alternative payment models to reach out to those who don't (or can't) pay electronically.

"Sometimes, customers want to pay you in content, by creating things you can sell to others," he said, pointing to just one way customers can pay for content without actually pulling out their credit card.

He also noted that in-game advertisements were a functional alternative, but warned that banner ads are so maligned by customers that developers should look for smarter ways to incorporate ads.

Communicating Quality

Next, Hilleman noted that developers will need a vehicle to communicate to consumers the quality of individual titles.

"An under-appreciated thing in the console space is that console manufactures highlight what they think are the best products on the platform. For us to do this, it will require us to listen more carefully than we'd otherwise do."

Killer App, With A Bit Of Magic

Finally, he said that the platform needs both a killer app and what he defined as some form of "magic." He explained that customers need both a key reason to play on the platform and an experience that compels them to show their game to their friends.

As he mentioned at the opening of his talk, Hilleman believes that the platform's inherent "magic" is time. "With HTML5, you can be where you want to be, and instantly present that game to me," he explained. "Going forward, we're going to fight with other gaming consoles and platforms for users' time."

Hilleman concluded by pointing out that time isn't the only way in which HTML5 will compete with traditional gaming platforms. He said that as the platform continues to evolve, he hopes to develop the sorts of games EA has always been known for.

He said, "My ambition isn't to make Facebook games, my ambition is to make the same kinds of games I've always made. These are the types of games have a real high impact on people."

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