As an evolving standard, HTML5 will be good for lots of different things. Hybrid mobile calendar apps? Great. Social apps pulling content from the Web? Sure thing. Mobile games? Maybe … not so much.
For all the work that developers put in to make HTML5 a more dependable standard, it is not up to the specifications of game developers. Mobile games test the limits of a device and performance is often heavily tied to the components of a smartphone or a tablet. That is not a strength of HTML5. Will HTML5 ever live up to its promise? Can it create state of the art games enjoyed by millions? It has not happened yet. We decided to run that question and several others through the outspoken Todd Hooper, CEO of Zipline games to determine whether the hype around HTML5 really does match the reality.
Zipline, Moai and HTML5
Hooper and Zipline Games are about ready to release Moai 1.0, the company’s “backend-as-a-service” designed specifically for the needs of gamers. It is optimized to give game developers the right experience for their apps where both the front end of and app and the cloud it is tied to can be written in Lua, a popular code for game developers. While other mobile cloud service providers like Kinvey can run Lua through their REST APIs, Moai is specifically designed for the challenges game developers face.
ReadWriteMobile readers will recognize Hooper as a frequent commenter to the site as well as the “HTML5: Hype vs. Reality” infographic we published earlier this week. While he does not fundamentally believe that HTML5 will ever be a standard for top end mobile games, he does think it can provide a lot of utility for app developers at large. Hooper is not anti-HTML5, he is just looking at the reality of the ecosystem and his particular niche of it.
Below is a transcript of our conversation with Hooper touching on HTML5 issues, Moai’s advantages, Facebook and mobile Web app deployments.
Hooper vs. ReadWriteMobile
ReadWriteMobile: HTML5 — Not ready for games or will it never be the standard that games are created with for mobile?
The other angle is that it is great for corporate apps but not for games. What I keep hearing is, apart from those two topics, are people doing and end-run around the App Store. I think that is a little bit out of their mind, honestly. We have this great app economy, a multi-billion dollar economy that is built on the cellphone manufacturers, the carriers and the Apple and Google. I don’t see why HTML5 will disrupt that. There is the tiniest evidence to the contrary because consumers are already well-trained in the ways of apps and there is just credible evidence that anybody is going to be able to disrupt that economy. If there is any disruption starting then you have, you know, vested interest. If you want to pitch HTML5 as a technical solution to some of the problems for developing cross-platform apps, that is fine. Probably not optimal for games and definitely not going to see any disruption of app economies or distribution channels. That is out there with, ‘I’m going to build open source phones’ and that whole HTML5 thing from Mozilla. It is just a pie in the sky, I think.
RWMobile: What about Facebook? It is big enough, it has enough mobile market depth to create an HTML5 app store, could they pull it off? Or will Facebook end up just being social games that people kind of play, kind of don’t but not the higher end games that people have come to expect on the iPad?
Hooper: I think that is exactly it. You can create simple games with HTML5. When you put those games into a browser as opposed to into an app, then you have the whole monetization problem. Anybody that does mobile apps or does mobile games will tell you, every additional step that you make the user jump through when they are in the game, you are going to lose a percentage of your users. You look at a company like Moblyng, which recently just closed their doors, formally they were known as one of the primary HTML5 game developers, went out of business because they couldn’t monetize their users. There is sort of a core problem there that no one seems to be addressing which is that we have all these great systems to monetize apps in native environments but there aren’t any systems to monetize apps in HTML5. There is no incentive for Apple or Google to develop systems to monetize players on mobile. I don’t understand, there really is no magic that can be created to solve that problem but you do have people in the ecosystem that are vested in solving this problem.
I think Facebook’s launch of Project Spartan last year, you have played Facebook games on mobile, right?
Hooper: It is terrible, frankly. I have not seen any numbers published for any of those games but I do know that one if not two of those companies that published those games are out of business since the launch of Project Spartan. The reality is that people will go to the App Store to look for games that are state of the art. There was a comment from David Bluhm, CEO of Z2Live, up here in Seattle, I think it was a couple of weeks ago during GDC but it was an event up here in Seattle and they started talking about HTML5 and he said that it will basically never catch up with what is state of the art in cross-platform game development and he said that he is seeing nobody using it whatsoever. I think that once people get interested in the technology, in terms of game developers, they get into and go, you know what? This doesn’t really solve the problems we need to solve. It just introduces a different set of problems. It doesn’t let me deliver the performance and visual punch that game players are looking for.
Next Page: Hooper on the best utilities for game development, the nature of Adobe, PhoneGap and advice to build your mobile games.