Mobile Mavens

The PG.biz Mobile Gaming Mavens on the potential of HTML5, WebGL and Project Spartan

The PG.biz Mobile Gaming Mavens on the potential of HTML5, WebGL and Project Spartan

Following the news Facebook's HTML 5-based app platform Project Spartan is getting help from Applein moving over to iOS, we asked the Mobile Gaming Mavens;

Do you think the rise of technologies such as HTML5, WebGL and Facebook's Project Spartan means web apps have the potential to overtake native mobile apps?

Having poked around the innards of HTML5, Dave Castelnuovo of Bolt Creative was skeptical.

"HTML5 and WebGL doesn't have the authoring environment to allow them to truly stand up to even the interactive capabilities of Flash," he said. He accepted it would work for video and very simple games, but was concerned at the system's inefficiency and lack of security.

"Ajax is a good place to look if you want to project the future of HTML5 gaming," he added. "Sure, some Ajax websites are pretty slick, but overall they still don't have the same kind of interactivity as a site that pushes the limits of Flash."

Early doors

Having brought products to market using both WebGL and HTML5, Kevin Dent of Tiswas was also wary.

"The simple truth and dirty little secret is that both of them are far from ready for the big time," he said.

One problem is framerate, which doesn't go above 28 fps, meaning only turn-based titles work: triple-A seems to be out of the question. "If there's a remote possibility the users' experience is degraded because the game must be online to play, then it is not worth developing for." Dent concluded.

Volker Hirsch of Scoreloop (now part of RIM), didn't disagree, but did want to point out that the minimal increase in cost developing across multiple platforms meant simpler programs, such as card games, would move to HTML 5.

"They can be built with enough gloss and polish to look and play reasonably well (including limited caching), and the cost saving in being able to deploy across different platforms without the need for multiple builds might well outstrip the relatively lower overall performance," he commented.

Similarly, he thought the majority of non-gaming applications are less complex and resource-intensive so could move to HTML5.

Spread far if lightly

Tap.Me's Jared Steffes agreed, suggesting HTML5 would take over from some native apps, as already happens to some degree.

"Plenty of websites on the iPhone can already create fantastic-looking icons when the user bookmarks the page and gets a native-like experience. The best two that come to my mind are the 37signals' Basecamp and TestFlight."

Instead, the biggest problem he predicted for web apps was monetisation. "Most web-based applications tend to be subscription or pay to play models. While the pay to play model has worked in American and European markets, the model has been proven to not do well in Asian markets."

However, Wen Chen of Coconut Studios thought people where being pessimistic. His experience of streaming gaming technologies convinced him this approach would work for mobile devices too.

"I've played Dead Space 2 on OnLive, and I have to say its effects are unbelievable, amazing. There's no difference between OnLive version and console version."

No connection

Yet there are some hardwired limitations. Mills from ustwo pointed out HTML5 was useless without an internet connection.

"I play the majority of my games either on the duggan (WC) or on the London tube so I need native," he said. He also felt people wouldn't take well to web games or games embedded in another system.

"Bottom line is apps are sexy; they are tiny parcels of neatly and tightly packaged perfection, and more importantly, Apple tells the paying public this so they understand that apps = the way to consume quality games."

Christopher Kassulke of Handygames, Matt Meads of Herocraft, and Brian Baglow of Revolver PR didn't think the question mattered as long as gamers kept playing.

Kassulke didn't really care what games or platforms he developed for. "Fact is consumers always want to play and that's our market, so it's up to all of us how to attract those different target groups and provide them the best fun they can have, because only happy consumers are paying consumers in the long run."

Meads agreed. "If I release my casual games both natively on devices and via the browsers, I really don't care who plays which version more, as long as they're playing my game and not someone else's."

Universal player

Baglow argued strongly HTML5's advantage was cross-platform gaming.

"As devices proliferate and gaming becomes more ubiquitous, players will want to use their chosen apps across the board. If you're on the tube, in a plane, or at home on your browser, it's the developer's problem to make things work," he said.

"Cross-platform gaming, universal progress and achievements and some sort of consistent experience is going to be expected by consumers very, very shortly. You're all going to stop being mobile developers pretty soon."

This prompted Kassulke to call out Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick, who's reportedly said mobile gaming isn't currently financially viable for his company.

"He's still trying to use the same business model and logic for the mobile market as he has for console. That is his logical misunderstanding in my personal opinion and that's why most of the big PC and console publishers have a hard time with our industry."

Broken scene

An interesting point came from Thomas Nielsen of Progressive Media. "We'll be seeing a number of people predicting and expecting the demise of handset fragmentation," he himself predicted.

"And they will be sorely disappointed when they realise that fragmentation (on all fronts, technical as well as commercial) is here to stay - and grow - and that there's a continued strong push for fragmentation in great parts of the ecosystem(s)."

Kassulke took great pleasure in the increased market from this fragmentation. "I LOVE OUR INDUSTRY and I love to be part in that current great times - never saw so many great chances for great brains and great teams," he enthused, caps locks on.

Hirsch quipped, "Gosh, aren't we all a happy bunch in wonderful harmony?"

It was left to Michael Schade of Fishlabs to break this HTML 5-induced euphoria. "I don't believe in web-based games on mobile, regardless of the technology it is built on," he concluded.

He felt the convenience of Apple's App Store, with its quick throughput, built-in monetisation, and free native casual games, trumps any web experience. "I have seen two year-olds all the way to 70-year olds navigating and playing games on an iPad because it is as intuitive and casual as it can get," Schade said.

"Using a web browser on a mobile is only the last resort if anything else (apps) fails or misses. Oh man, where did all the harmony go?"


A backroom operator, Dan works behind the scenes to source and proof content for PG.biz; if you notice Dan's work, then something has
gone wrong. Dan's background is in writing about politics, tech and the games industry, and he's addicted to social networking and board
games. His favourite mobile games are Carcassone, Neuroshima Hex and Catan
(though he laments its lack of online multiplayer).

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