Is Unreal Engine 3's support for Flash 11 the final nail in the coffin for native apps over web apps long-term?
Taking a logical approach, Mobile Pie's Will Luton broke the question down into its constituent parts; "Firstly, is the web superior to the app? Secondly, will there be a better business model for web over app at some point?"
Answering the first part, Joony Koo of mSonar argued HTML5 has an edge as it's universal on almost all devices, though he admitted it wasn't the best for developing complicated applications, such as games.
Mavens newcomer Andreas Vahsen of Machineworks was positive about the future however. "Flash 11 is going to go very far, very quickly, although with respect to 3D, HTML5/WebGL is still very immature and limiting. This will change."
He also pointed to potential production savings.
"Staying native with our internal cross-platform tools makes the most sense for the games we do at the moment. However, if you are a 2D shop, HTML5 will make a new group of programmers available for running a cost-efficient studio. The same is true for Flash 11.
"This is a huge, underrated point and something that we are taking into serious consideration."
If not now, when?
Luton was keen to answer his own question too.
"For ease of development, cost and capability, right now, the app is the best option for the majority of game developers," he argued.
"HTML5 is limiting, hard work and still requires customisation, to some level, for multiple devices. It is not the multi-platform panacea people have hailed it as."
Still, Mobile Pie is working on internal technology to support it in the assumption it will become a viable high-end 3D platform in an era of widespread 4G and the cloud.
"My expectation is we will see a combination of native apps, cloud and HTML5 operating through the paradigm of the app, which will be indistinguishable for the end user," Luton predicted.
"This already happens: HTML5 YouTube's homescreen bookmark appears as an app and functions better than its native counterpart. The OnLive app looks and functions like an app, but is in fact cloud-based, rendering high-end 3D games better than the device is natively capable of."
Chain of command
The other element of the discussion focused on issues such as distribution and monetisation.
"It's not just a matter of native and web: the technology is nothing without a strong store to distribute your game. iOS is nothing without the App Store," argued Bulkypix's Vincent Dondaine.
"From what I see [web] will be an additional way to bring your content to more digital spaces, but you will have to keep to native apps if you want to make a return of investment."
Joony Koo questioned the assumption that web apps would be better than native in terms of ease of distribution.
"Whether having an application or content that sits on a universal platform like the web has nothing to do with the distribution. It is equally difficult to promote an app as it is difficult to promote HTML5 content," he stated.
Will Luton looked to the current incumbents for future trends.
"We will still need a solid platform for distribution, billing and handling transactions: Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook are all established in those spaces and I can't see their dominance being disrupted," he said.
"The only one that isn't in the native app game is Facebook: it could be a great HTML5 distribution platform."
However, that didn't negate opportunities for other players. "I would welcome Apple, Microsoft and Google moving to wrap their in-app billing around HTML5 apps, either from the store (already possible) or bookmarked from the web," Luton ended.
You and me
As is often the way in competitive business, the mention of one middleware company induced comment from another.
Unity boss David Helgason chipped in correct our initial question.
"Neither Unreal nor Unity currently support Flash 11, but both engines have been demonstrated running on top of Flash, and at very decent performance and with good looking graphical capabilities," he pointed out.
"At Unity, we think that native applications will remain central (or at least important) on mobile for the foreseeable future, both for technical reasons and because of the excellent user experience of buying apps," he continued.
"3D web games are coming fast however, and we will be central in enabling hundreds of thousands of developers to create them."
Not an Android fan, Bolt Creative's Dave Castelnuovo took the opportunity to have some fun.
"In order to get a stranglehold on the world's app economy, all Adobe needs to do is release yet another Android marketplace app that caters to Flash 11 apps," he said, using the '/endsarcasm' tag with great effect.
Tiswaz's Kevin Dent was also in ironic mood.
"This is perhaps my shortest post ever. I am just writing it to say that I urge all of you to develop HTML5 games," he said, after questioning whether the like of Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and Apple had made billions of dollars though web or native games.
"It really is not about what we believe we can get away with, but rather that in which the consumer deserves," Dent added, rather more seriously.
And this was a thought built on by HandyGames' Christopher Kassulke.
"Developers and publishers will support the platforms consumers use and pay for," he said. "No matter if it's native, Flash, HTML5 or whatever. Most consumers don't even know what they are downloading - it's [just] content."
Ever the optimist, he thought this was good news for developers, also disputing our question that Flash 11 would be final nail in the coffin for native apps.
"It will open up new markets and new consumers. We will see new companies joining the developer space so fresh blood and new concepts; same as iOS and Android did for the mobile game space," Kassulke enthused.
"As long as a company stays flexible, they will find ways to reach the consumers and make good revenues."