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Why HTML5 will succeed for gaming
by Austin Hallock on 07/15/12 05:28:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Most people in the tech space already believe that HTML5 will replace flash when it comes to online video and UI. What's more of a toss-up is whether it will replace Flash when it comes to online gaming.

Apple, Microsoft, Google, Mozilla - four of the largest tech companies are actively pushing HTML5 in all areas, including gaming. More importantly, their products account for 97% of browser usage.

Here's why the competition & the collaboration of these companies will lead to HTML5 overtaking Flash for browser-based gaming (and who knows, maybe PC gaming in general, but let's not get ahead of ourselves). 

Each Company is Constantly Improving the Technology

Apple

Apple has done wonders with HTML5 and Canvas on mobile devices. If you take a look at the results of recent performance data, you'll see Mobile Safari performs much better than other mobile browsers in canvas framerate.

They've been very vocal about their strong dislike of Flash as they have not included it in Mobile Safari, instead opting to aggressively push HTML5 as an alternative.

Microsoft

IE9 and IE10 surprisingly aren't terrible. When it comes to 2d 

With Windows 8, Microsoft is demonstrating their support of HTML5 by allowing developers to create native application in HTML5 and JavaScript.

They partnered with zeptolab for their port of the popular game, Cut the Rope.

They're also behind Build New Games, a blog focused on HTML5 games

Google

Google's V8 engine has done amazing things for HTML5 games - making them completely viable (and getting the competition to speed up their JavaScript engines as well)

They manage HTML5 Rocks, a resource/enthusiast site for all things HTML5.

They partnered with Rovio to port Angry Birds to HTML5, and are now working with EA are on a new HTML5 game that looks pretty impressive, utilizing a phone as a controller.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56gR5HpvUKA

Mozilla

Mozilla is in the process of releasing the Mozilla Marketplace, which, similar to Windows 8, allows HTML5 apps and games to seem native (it 'installs' it to the desktop and shows up alongside all of your other programs)

Their new Mobile OS is HTML5 based (and I'm sure they'll be tying in the Mozilla Marketplace)

Last but not least, they are the team behind BrowserQuest, a very impressive MMO available for anyone to play, right from their browser. 

Competition is GOOD

In the past few years, competition among these 4 tech companies has caused a huge boost in performance in JavaScript engines, as each companytries to make theirs the quickest. I ran SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark in Chrome 21.0.1180.41 as well as in Firefox 3.0 from June 2008. The latest version of Chrome is 12.5 times faster than a browser from 4 years ago (166.4ms vs 2073.5ms)!

Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla have also all given plenty of demos using HTML5 to help showcase the technology. (If you're curious: AppleMicrosoftGoogleMozilla)

The flip side of things: Adobe

Adobe is a pretty awesome company, don't get me wrong. They've developed a bunch of great software: Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc.

You could definitely say as of right now, the top HTML5 game development environments are at best on par with Adobe. However, you could have also said the same thing about Internet Explorer in the early 2000's. HTML5 is on an upward trend in adoption, browser support and availability of games thanks to the support of great companies that have been working hard  to improve both the development process and actual gameplay.

Here are just a few of those companies:

  • Scirra and GameSalad both develop easy-to-use "drag and drop" editors for HTML5 games 
  • Game Closure and Spaceport have exporters that convert JavaScript games to native code on other platforms
  • ImpactJS is a really impressive JavaScript game engine
  • onGameStart is an upcoming HTML5 game conference backed by Mozilla

There are countless others as well, including us (Clay.io) -- we're making it easier to implement features like leaderboards, achievements, analytics, social integration, payment processing, etc into HTML5 games (check out our developer info page)

It's Open!

Adobe has moved more towards open source in recent years, which is great, but Flash Player is still closed source -- Adobe is the sole company responsible for its further development.

iOS is much more strict with their apps with an approval process and chunk taken out of all revenue. We (Clay.io) also have this model, we take a 20% cut on paid games in our marketplace. The beautiful part is, however, that developers are more than welcome to try and sell it on their own with no cut taken. If they feel we're not worth 20%, they aren't forced to use us.

HTML5 is completely open - developers can choose where to put there games or just sell directly, and the advancement of the technology doesn't rest solely on one company. You see this with PC games - sure, a lot go to Steam since that's where the audience is, but games like Minecraft have done quite well. 

Mobile Technologies

With the recent announcement that Flash is no longer integrated on Android, Flash is dead on mobile (in web browsers that is). One thing these four companies have that Adobe doesn't is a mobile operating system, and I'm sure they would all rather see an open technology become the standard rather than one controlled by a single company (as has been proved so far).

Unfortunately, one of the most underappreciated (by game developers) abilities of HTML5 is the fact that it works with relatively few changes on mobile devices. Sure, Flash works, but you're restricted to each platforms App Store. With the mobile web you don't have to worry about app store fees on any income you generate. I would really love to see more HTML5 games take advantage of this capability instead of just developing for traditional browsers.

Drawbacks

One issue with having so many large companies backing a technology is egos can get in the way. This has shown up in a few instances, notably:

WebGL Everyone but Microsoft is in agreement that WebGL is the way to go for 3d graphics in a browser. 

Audio - The audio tag is supported in all modern browsers, they're just not in agreement on the codec to use

 

Even if you're still not convinced, either way you look at it, HTML5 is a good thing. Either a) It will provide some much needed competition to Flash, or b) Take over Flash and be all-around better because of the many companies supporting it.

It's always good to hear both sides of the story, so for those who think Adobe can continue to have the success its had with Flash for gaming, make your voice heard here.


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Comments


Tony Downey
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Will the technologies we use change? Yes, of course. Will our workflow be nearly identical to what it is now? Yes to that too.

I think it's fascinating to track this evolution in browser-based gaming, but ultimately whatever the delivery platform is, I'll be using the Adobe suite of applications to build, design and deploy it for the foreseeable future.

Martin Wells
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Well said, and great info Austin.

I think I'd add that if we're talking about the reasons why HTML5 will succeed for gaming, it worth comparing HTML5 development to Flash in a more direct way. HTML5/Javascript has a few longer term advantages:

1. Strong browser vendor support that doesn't seem to be falling off (through competition).
2. HTML5 is a part of the document, not a bridged plugin. It's flexible and more integrated.
3. Standards provide a strong base and reduced risk for development (versus something proprietary), which will generate a strong ecosystem over time.

Couple of companies left out worth mentioning: Ludei for game acceleration and Playcraft (plug) for game engines.

Ben Chong
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it's interesting to see how far game engines have gone. Monetization is playing a bit of catch up but we're getting very very close.

Rob Lockhart
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Great article. This will be useful propaganda for my HTML5 game studio. I don't mean anything negative by propaganda, by the way.

Andrew W
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"One issue with having so many large companies backing a technology is egos can get in the way. This has shown up in a few instances, notably:

WebGL - Everyone but Microsoft is in agreement that WebGL is the way to go for 3d graphics in a browser."

Hrmmm, let me see... Why would a company that makes operating systems be concerned about creating a direct linkage between the most unstable kernel-mode driver and the least trusted computing environment currently available...
It's not just ego, I think. If graphics drivers are so easy to break when people *aren't* trying to exploit them, what happens when we start using them in an environment as hostile as a browser?

Jeffery Wilson
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All of this is interesting information. But Im a bit tiried of hearing how this is so much better than Flash, (Im not a Flash fan btw). Having seperate components, WebGL, httpsockets, web audio is ok for a game that looks and plays like they are from 1988 (When I worked on my first game), it is not in any way a solution for making modern games. The browser groups at Google, Microsoft etc, need to work in the various Game Divisions of their companies before designed "solutions" that do not match the quality of games we develop NOW.
Maybe in 10 years when processors are 1000X faster and internet connections outside of the big cities and countries approach the speeds large cities have now this type of tech will actually work. Even lowly Class A or B games are written in C/C++ (Some good work has been done in Java and C#) for a reason, all of these technologies have to tightly interact; network messages trigger music events, etc....

This is why we (Game Developers) used Plugins (and Flash) it was the closest we could get to a native game, now just when game companies are bending to making top teir browser based games, the entire process is removed. And replaced with a set of technologies that allow you to make 20 year old quality.

Where is UDP? This is the key technology "REQUIRED" to make any sort of shooter game.

Nothing developed in HTML 5 so far will succeed for gaming, maybe in the future but not in the forsee-able future.
There are pass-able work being done for cell phones, but not in the top tier games.

Alex Alex
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Dont get me wrong guys but I cant wait the day HTML will die. It is a bicycle constantly improved to become a racing car. It is a Monstrosity!

Demetri Y
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"HTML5 on par with Flash for gaming" is a very tall order. We have been spending a great deal of time researching the capabilities of HTML5 vs Flash and can't find a solid reason to switch "AT THE MOMENT". Production time for one is a MASSIVE issue! I can`t see this happening for at least another 5 years and by then I`m sure there will be another new kid on the block.

Flash is doing some seriously amazing stuff for gaming.

Nicole Powell
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While it is too early to say about near future, ultimately I think I think it is HTML5 which will be the new standard, I base this hunch on the fact most of the trend-setter like Apple, Google, MS are either making HTML5 their main area of thrust or alternatively making it one of their priorities. Which is why I think we will have mature, stable and fast platform for HTML5.

With Regards..
Nicole from HTML/HTML5 Development

Chris Parkinson
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You can still make some awesome games with Flash and package with AIR. You can even use GPU acceleration with frameworks like Starling and Stage 3-D. I can see that HTML5 is looking the way to go if you build browser games, but it is still very clunky in my opinion.

Do folks really play browser games on mobile devices? Or do they download an app from the app store? I would argue that they download one from the store, and when they do, I would bet that the app built with flash and packaged with AIR would smoke any HTML 5 game out there right now.

HTML5 needs to grow up a little bit before I consider using it for a "real" game. Right now it's like coding in AS1 :(

Dreaded Semi
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I doubt flash will disappear any time soon. html 5 is very powerful and availability of many tools for development of games and 2d/3d using html5 is really promising and game changer. But flash is still very powerful in the traditional not-for-mobile browser. and has sense of stability as browsers still not universally support every bit of html5. Adobe could make flash easily ported to html5 that way can keep flash alive. but sometime in the future (several years), probably flash will start to feels like Java an old annoying program that bugs you to update.

I myself developed html5 parody game using Construct 2 from Scirra, Here: http://gamesfreesite.com/games/human-invaders/

Dreaded Semi
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I doubt flash will disappear any time soon. html 5 is very powerful and availability of many tools for development of games and 2d/3d using html5 is really promising and game changer. But flash is still very powerful in the traditional not-for-mobile browser. and has sense of stability as browsers still not universally support every bit of html5. Adobe could make flash easily ported to html5 that way can keep flash alive. but sometime in the future (several years), probably flash will start to feels like Java an old annoying program that bugs you to update.

I myself developed html5 parody game using Construct 2 from Scirra, Here: http://gamesfreesite.com/games/human-invaders/

Clifford Alvin
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The issues with drivers can be and are being mitigated. The question is will Microsoft support WebGL once drivers are secure? I still doubt it, for the business reasons. Speech help uk

Simon Walklate
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It's virtually a year on and HTML5 is still no closer to being the Flash killer it's been sold as. The only people I see singing it's praises are people with a vested interest in seeing it succeed. The majority of game developers that have made the move seem to have done it out of a feeling theyre being forced to and acknowledge it's a far inferior platform and currently a total mess.

I think it speaks volumes that the example screenshots look absolutely terrible (like a throwback to Java games from over a decade ago). If this is the future of browser game development, then count me out.

To say most modern browsers are ready is a tad disingenuous, conveniently forgetting the fact that there's still a huge percentage of desktop users that have an outdated browser installed that's not compatible with HTML5. So you're essentially sacrificing a big slice of the desktop market for the mobile market (which may be the right decision in some cases, but not all).

HTML5 is actually more of a resource hog than Flash (when comparing like for like) on desktop computers (we'll never be able to make the comparison on modern mobile devices now). As mobile device hardware has progressed I feel if it wasn't written off and Adobe forced to abandon Flash for mobiles due to lack of adoption, at this point Flash-Lite could have easily evolved into full Flash compatibility on mobiles. Totally avoiding the current situation where Flash doesnt exist in mobile browsers, but neither does a viable replacement. As it stands we're being forced into using a far inferior (and fundamentally flawed) platform in order to cater for what is still a minority audience.

Then there's the monetisation issues. The Flash gaming market is built around the ease of packing (into a single file) and distribution. Obviously, this isn't possible with HTML5 and there's no solution on the horizon. Cutting off the primary monetisation channels, along with the fact that HTML5 games are considerably more time consuming and expensive to build, is not a good combination.

What people seem to be forgetting as well, is with mobile compatibility comes limited touch screen controls and forcing desktop games to use compatible controls. This is very bad for desktop gaming. Not everyone wants to play Cut the Rope or Angry Birds type games. What happens to games that need more sophisticated controls provided by say keyboard and mouse? Do we stop making those for desktop computers, just because they won't work with mobile touch screens?

If the question was "Will HTML5 destroy browser games as we know them?", then if we carry on down this path, who knows, it's a definite possibility. But HTML5 replacing Flash for browser games? Not a chance.


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