It’s an early wintery morning at Spil Games HQ in Hilversum, Netherlands.
Although it’s a Saturday, and the weather is surprisingly bright and welcoming outside, the casual games developer/publisher’s new offices are bustling with around 40 coders hard at work on new game ideas.
Crunch time? Perhaps the final push before a new launch?
Nope, these people are here out of choice – and they don’t even work for Spil. They are young coders on site to attend the Google Game Jam, sponsored by the eponymous web giant.
For the uninitiated, Game Jams bring together developers both professional and amateur to develop game ideas during intense sessions – usually 48 hours – with few stopping to sleep. The IGDA has run its ‘Global Game Jam’ for a few years years, encouraging universities and studios around the world to hold two-day sessions of sprint-paced coding that champions original, quirky, off-beat ideas that wouldn’t normally see the light of day.
Spil’s Game Jam is specifically focused on HTML5, the upcoming new standard for web development that brings audio, video and a deeper coding environment closer to browsers. Essentially, it allows for the creation of rich apps including games that run in the browser – Google is banking on this being a success for its Chrome App Store.
HTML5 upgrades many of the things people take for granted about the web. While concepts like multiplayer, digital distribution, cloud storage, apps, even easily-mocked phrases like ‘gamification’ and ‘transmedia’ are all now ingrained in games deeply – the idea of high-end titles being made quickly and run in a browser is still in the grip of plug-ins and third-party software.
As an open standard, HTML5 changes all
There is something else too, which explains why a Game Jam focusing on a specific platform makes sense – and why HTML5 is that platform. It’s clear that the new web environment speaks to the new breed of indie developers rising to prominence in the games industry.
For ‘developers’, the skill set is rapidly evolving.
It always was, of course – but back when Steve Ballmer famously sputtered ‘developers, developers, developers’ we all know he was talking enterprise developers, nerdy older brother of the cool web developer, and estranged cousin of core games developers.
But times are changing, and the skill set and knowledge required from developers has evolved greatly. Tomorrow’s generation of stars acknowledge that it’s no longer enough to consider yourself just a ‘graphics programmer’ or ‘web developer’ – everyone’s a developer.
“I don’t define myself as a games developer – I’m studying computer sciences, but I play on Xbox, I play on Facebook, I use Foursquare,” says one of the young developers at the Game Jam.
“I bet there’s something to say about what the developers of those have in common rather than what makes them different. It’s hard to know just yet if I’ll try game development as an actual career, as I know there’s better money in other fields. But making games, and tinkering with that stuff will always be a passion. It’s all part of one big mass of coding knowledge in my head.”
It seems to be a mindset shared by the Google reps on hand – they don’t say ‘coding’ or ‘developing’, they call the Jam’s activity ‘hacking’. It’s not just a semantic difference – it’s a different mindset.
“I don’t know if the game I make here will be any good – but I’ll learn from the experiments,” says another of the attendant developers.
Of course it helps that the Dutch have a history in hacking and game demos – a spirit and energy and lives on today, and one which HTML5’s current scrappy-but-compelling form speaks a lot to.
It’s still early days for HTML5, but an exciting time. It allows for a much richer web experience, and the potential is huge.
Over the next two pages, we talk to two firms, one from inside games and one from outside it, leading the push towards HTML5’s bright future.