REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — Mark Zuckerberg took a dump on HTML5 two years ago. And while it and its tools have evolved, developers are still dealing with that stigma.
But now might be the dawn of the next generation of HTML5.
During a breakout session Tuesday at GamesBeat 2013, representatives from Nvidia, Goo Technologies, Ludei, and Stealth led an often passionate discussion on the state of HTML5 for mobile game development. While native development is still king for mobile games — the access to app stores remains of paramount importance to many developers — tools such as Web GL and so-called “wrappers” that help make HTML5 games look and feel like native apps are making the language more attractive to developers.
“Web GL has changed it. The Facebook train wreck — it was too early to create a truly portable app,” said Nvidia vice president of mobile content Neil Trevett (that’s the division that makes Tegra chips for smartphones and tablets). “It’s a big task to create a platform to run everything everywhere. Adobe was trying to do it with Flash — and it made the business decision that it was too much for any one company to do it. You need all vendors to pull together. We’re all the threshold where we have enough momentum behind the platform to enable developers to publish anywhere.”
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Goo Technologies chairman Marcus Krüger sees Web GL as a major development for HTML5. “I first thought, ‘Jesus, this is the first big leap in the evolution of the browser. It changes what you expect in a browser.”
Krüger went on to note that in some benchmarks, Web GL turned in 20 times to 30 times better graphical performance. “I think Web GL gives you lots of potential for 2D and 2.5D [development].”
Iker’s company, Ludei, makes tools to help developers use HTML5 to run like native apps on other platforms. It’s important for HTML5 developers to not use plugins — Krüger said he’s seen stats where only 20 percent of players install games that require plugins, like Unity’s multiplatform game engine.
“It’s why [Goo Technologies] is working with Ludei,” Krüger said. “It runs games natively on Android and iOS. It’s a perfect combo — really advanced stuff.
“You go to Iker, want in app store, violà — be on web, Facebook, and be confident on being on an app store.”
And that’s important because those app stores are where players are trained to not only find games but also pay for in-game apps. The panelists talked about a future where the browsers themselves — including Mozilla’s Firefox — sell their games in stores and handle all in-app transactions. Right now, the market only really has two app stores — Apple’s and Google’s. And that, the panelists agreed, needs to change.
“Two stores is a crazy idea. Like a town, you have more than two stores. Shopping should be spread across multiple stores,” Krüger said.
“Competition is good,” Trevett said.
HTML5 is not there yet — as audience members pointed out as the discussion got more animated.
Even with limitations, the potential of HTML5 is clear. Krüger says iOS native developers number between 100,000 and 200,000 and 300,000 and 400,000 for Android. But the number of web devs out there is in the millions — more than 8 million, Krüger claims. “[Browsers] have fundamentally a different dev base, and that’s what I find truly exciting.”
But when an audience member asked about a flagship app, the first response from the panel was … Google Maps.
So while HTML5 is becoming a more attractive option for game developers, it still needs a “killer app” to help launch it into everyday use.