Tobold's Blog
Friday, July 05, 2013
How good will HTML5 games run?

Rugus asked me to cover the topic of HTML5 games, as he was very impressed with Runescape 3. As I previously wrote, I do believe that making Flash games is a mistake. Companies that exclusively rely on Flash games like Zynga, and Facebook which offers a platform for those Flash games, are both being financially hurt by the trend of people moving away from PCs and onto iOS or Android tablets. So you end up with a game which from its content is close to optimal for playing on a tablet, but which due to being written in Flash isn't playable on a tablet. There are a few "Flash Browser" apps for tablets, but they don't run all games, and if they do they run them sluggishly.

Now I am not a programmer, and I don't know how hard it is to write games in HTML5 instead of Flash. But it appears obvious to me that there is a business opportunity here. Game companies design browser games because of the convenience they offer to players to not be shackled to a specific PC on which the game is installed. It is exactly that sort of game which would also be highly playable on a tablet, as opposed to some PC-to-tablet ports with unwieldy virtual joystick controls. And even if it is harder to make in HTML5, you probably end up saving time by not having to port the game to iOS and Android later.

I managed to run Card Hunter on my iPad in spite of it being a Flash game by using an app called Splashtop, which basically turns my iPad into a remote control for my PC. So I know that from a point of view of the controls, Card Hunter would be very playable on a tablet. But as Splashtop only works on my home WiFi network when the game I want to play is running on my PC, that is far from an ideal solution. If Card Hunter was written in HTML5 instead, it would be much more convenient to anybody with a tablet. And as "anybody with a tablet" is trending towards "most of us", using Flash increasingly looks like a bad strategy.

Right now the number of HTML5 games compared to Flash games is still small, but that could quickly change. It all depends on how well HTML5 games will run on various platforms. If the same game that is difficult to play on an iPad with some Flash browser can be made to run smoothly in HTML5 on the same device, Flash will soon look like Betamax.

Hint at how to port Flash to Mobile: its called Adobe Air and is a wrapper for iOS to run Flash games directly.

Nearly all Playfish & games use this.

HTML5 runs quite fast nowadays, but is still a pain in some regards as different browsers use different sound formats and have other inconsistencies. It's getting better, though.

Personally I'm coding in Monkey these days. I can write the same program and have it compile to HTML5, Flash, native Android or iOS, or PC desktop. It's not the only multi-targeting option either, and with the explosion of systems, I think a lot of developers should be using some kind of multi-targeting option.

Does anyone know what "Verdun Game Beta" is written in? it is a full multiplayer FPS game that runs in a browser and it looks pretty impressive to me (for a browser game).

I tried running it on my (Androd) tablet and it doesn't seem to work however so I guess not HTML 5.
"Hint at how to port Flash to Mobile: its called Adobe Air and is a wrapper for iOS to run Flash games directly."

Not to mention you can target the exact same ActionScript 3 code to BOTH iOS and Android. It's a travesty of Adobe marketing that they don't push this angle harder.
If you have Firefox, you can try out the HTML5 Epic Citadel demo. If there was a Firefox for iOS, you could do an apples-to-apples comparison against the native version.
I think HTML5 still has some problems. Like with video and sound content, the specification does not list "standard" codecs that should be supported. Every browser seems to support a different set of codecs, not always overlapping. Until the browser vendors can agree on those standards, HTML5 games can not take off.

Also, it might depend on OS companies to include the appropriate codecs with every copy of their OS. From what I have read, there is a mess of patents around these codecs. Companies try to avoid that as much as possible.
I keep getting surprised about how many good (recent) games get published in Flash.

From some technically-speaking rather simple ones ( to very complex (Card Hunter), I feel that they're missing out on a substantial part of the market.

Pre-iPhone, there wasn't 'much' money to be made with indie-games, a few exceptions aside. But nowadays, a well-done indie-title can really take off long as it's in the app store.
For programmer Flash is easier and much more consistent then HTML5. No browser differences, no version updates breaking things, write once - run anywhere (where Flash runs). If it suddenly becomes big hit rewrite is always an option.

Plus there are more programmers with actual experience making games using Flash then HTML5 - since Flash games were web game platform of choice for years before mobile HTML5 took off.
Currently if you want to target everything you're better off with flash or unity. It will be quite a while before webgl (needed for 3d) makes its way onto mobile (especially iOS). Unity at the moment is really the best solution for write once run anywhere. That said its pretty cool what run escape is trying. Hopefully they do well with it. Anything is an upgrade from the java plugin.
Anything with a plugin is "consistent", be it Flash or Unity (or the accursed Java). The only difference is Flash claims 90%+ market penetration.

Flash games have a noticeable performance impact on my Macbook pro, so Apple wisely banned it on iOS.

HTML5 is an open standard and it seems all browsers are supporting it well nowadays, so there's no reason NOT to go for HTML5.
"Flash games have a noticeable performance impact on my Macbook pro, so Apple wisely banned it on iOS."

You can't play the games you want because the makers of your PC decided that even though they work, they show up the limitations of their hardware - and you are happy with that?
I am a flash developer with a core in adver-games, and when my last contract finished I spent a couple of months learning javascript, creating a few html5 games as learning projects.

What I found was that there are huge limitations creating html5 games as compared to flash. This is the case even if you are targeting webgl enabled desktop. If you are targeting mobile it can be a nightmare of different specs, performances and bugs.

A previous commenter mentioned King and their current strategy is for flash desktop versions coupled with native apps for mobile. In the future html5 on mobile should get their act together but until then this is probably the easiest and best way to develop.
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