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Will HTML5 Really Take Over Web Gaming?

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The buzz around HTML5 has been understandably big in the game development community: the technology has received high praise from some of the gaming industry's leaders including Electronic Arts and Zynga.  But Mike Arcuri at develop-online.net is quick to point out that not everyone is chomping at the bit to get on board with HTML5 game development.  Sure, larger game developers currently have groups working on multiple technologies and are simply waiting to see who wins out, but smaller game developers want to settle on one technology.

Many developers are already focusing their efforts on HTML5, working off the assumption that therein lies the future of multi platform gaming.  Kevin Moore of Pixel Lab says, "What I really love about HTML5 is you can write your code to degrade gracefully on other browsers."  However, Moore is quick to admit that the same gameplay degradation would likely be unacceptable were Pixel Lab focussed on consumer game development.

With regards to the gameplay degradation Moore discussed, Acuri ran a simple test using Google's recently released Flocking Geese, "a small app that implements a classic flocking algorithm in both JavaScript and C++ and measures the number of simulation ticks per second."  Acuri found that the native code demo ran between 4 and 9 times the speed of the HTML5 demo.

Other developers are taking the 'wait and see' approach, hoping to get a better idea of the direction the market is headed in before investing heavily.  Responding to a question about the state of gaming with HTML5, Grant Goodale of Massively FunFlagship says, "Do we have a killer app yet? No. Are we all working to put the technology underpinnings in place so that killer app can be made? Yes."

So the potential for HTML5 to become a leader in web gaming is there, but at this point it remains just that: potential.  Years of work are likely necessary before all of the bugs are worked out and before the majority of small game developers are willing to put all their eggs in the HTML5 basket.  It's not just competition with Google's emerging Native Client, but also Adobe's Flash platform, which still has more to offer online game makers in terms of DRM management (important if you want to make money) and certain graphics.

Acuri condenses his findings down to this:

Game studios big and small are excited by the potential of HTML5 and [are] starting to work on some HTML5 games, but native apps for mobile and Flash titles for Facebook and PC web still dominate the charts and the investment.  For specific target platforms (like Facebook on PCs and Macs) and specific, current browser versions, it may already be a viable alternative to Flash for less technically demanding games.

However, there are all kinds of missing APIs, security issues, and performance limitations that are vexing the largest game developers and keeping developers from enjoying the benefits of [HTML5] they've been hoping for.

Acuri also offers three alternatives to the gaming issues currently facing HTML5: porting games to different platforms as they reach certain levels of popularity, using Native Client in the web browser to run the game in its original language, and even using middleware solutions and mutli-device development platforms, though some are designed exclusively for use with mobile devices.

Sure, these are all (somewhat) viable options for developers, but do any of them truly make it worth using HTML5 in the first place?  As of now, the answer to that question is still maybe.  It will likely require more browsers to offer Native Client along with vast improvements in middleware and platform implementation, which is much more likely to take years, as opposed to months.  And so the gaming community continues to wait for the final verdict on HTML5.

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