Programming
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By Jarred Draney

HTML5 and the Future of Online Games

By Jarred Draney

The Golden Child: Flash Games

For several years now Adobe Flash has been the dominate technology used to create online games. It is so popular in fact that the term “flash games” has almost become synonymous with browser based games in general. Take a look at all of the major gaming portals; with a few exceptions, practically all of the games they offer are flash games.

What’s so wrong with Flash you ask? Well nothing really. It was an amazing technology that was used to add all sorts of functionality to browsers. Through the use of a plug-in developers could now include all sorts of interactivity and animated graphics to their web pages. However things are changing, and Flash may no longer be the best fit for many online applications.

Browsers are a lot smarter now and they are only going to continue to get smarter. Rather than relying upon plug-ins to display interactive and graphically intense pages modern browsers can do it all by themselves. Utilizing the W3C, the specification for HTML5, browser makers are including all sorts of functionality into their products that web developers can now use to make graphically intensive and interactive websites. This has special implications for online game designers. Soon (hopefully) designers will no longer be forced to choose from a select few proprietary technologies that not only are expensive, but also obligate their end users to download, install, and regularly update the respective plug-ins.

The New Kid on the Block: HTML5 Games

Traditionally the role of HTML has been used primarily to define and layout the text on web pages. Over the years, however, its role has slowly evolved to be more interactive. The new HTML5 spec furthers this evolution by including definitions for several additional elements aimed at interactivity, multimedia, and graphics.

Combinethese new HTML5 elements with the faster and enhanced JavaScript engines available in modern browsers and you now have a set of tools perfectly suited for online game development.

Some advantages of HTML5 for Games

Not only are the HTML5 technologies well suited for creating browser based games, they offer several advantages over proprietary options. HTML5 is an open technology. It doesn’t cost anything and technically only requires a simple text editor to code in. Never underestimate the power of free. Flash and other proprietary technologies all cost the developer. While this certainly isn’t the only factor that a game developer would consider, it certainly does play a role, and for the small time indie developer it might be a very big factor. Compatibility is another huge advantage HTML5 has. HTML is the lowest common denominator for all web based devices. By using HTML5 you can target a wider array of devices and gadgets without having to specifically port your game to each different platform. Another often forgotten advantage is ease of use. For the technically savvy, downloading, installing, and updating plug-ins is only a minor hassle. However, for less technically savvy users this can be quite a hurdle and just may turn away users altogether.

Some Interesting Charts

Above you will find some charts from Google Trends for the search term “flash games” and then also the term “html5 games”. It is easy to see that searches for “flash games” have been in steady decline for over the past 5 years while searches for HTML5 games have seen some pretty impressive growth in the past 3 years. While this really doesn’t prove anything, it is an interesting metric to help gauge the popularity trends of the two different technologies. It is important to note that these charts show only relative search volume and not overall volume. Per the Google Adwords tool, the monthly global search volume for “flash games” is 11,100,000 compared to a measly 49,500 for “html5 games”.

The Future of online Games

Will HTML5 be the end of plug-in based games? If it is, it is pretty safe to say that it won’t be happening anytime soon. It is estimated that the HTML5 spec will not be fully implemented until 2022. Despite this long time-frame, browser makers are already racing to include all the HTML5 functionality that they can. Game developers have taken advantage of this and created numerous quality games that easily compete with their flash counterparts. Take a look at all these HTML5 games to see some excellent
examples of what is already possible with the new technology.

Given the current search trends and the several advantages HTML5 has over Flash, the future for HTML5 games looks bright. While it is not certain if HTML5 will eventually win out to become the gaming technology of choice, one thing is for certain: the love of online casual gaming has captured the interest of millions and as long as that interest exists developers will continue to create fun and exciting games.

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