[Michael Walker began his career working at multi-award winning developer Jagex on the studio’s flagship product: RuneScape. Since then he has gone on to form Aphelio, a HTML5 cross-platform game development studio.]
This article is going to be about all the things you never hear from a studio when they select a technology to develop with or a platform to develop for.
In most articles, blogs and social media you always hear about the technical side of things. What is the graphical performance of the platform like and what are the issues with it? How high is the ceiling of the platform’s potential technically? What genres of games will work well on the platform and what features can said games have?
I’m going to take a different look at things. I’m going to look critically at HTML5 from a business angle, rather than a technical one, and examine what the advantages and disadvantages of going truly cross-platform are.
You can run at low costs
The operative word in that title is ‘can’. If you’re clever about it you can forgo existing engines, tools and plugins and build your own from scratch – if you can work fast, cover the labour cost and do it for cheaper than buying an engine.
The best HTML5 engines are not too expensive, but they still need additional technologies to run multiplayer. Picking up an engine, even for free, then having to bolt on all your own tools and make them compatible can run up hidden costs in terms of not just money but time as well.
Furthermore, once you start releasing your games, you don’t have to spend months of time and thousands in costs to port your game to other platforms. It will already work on pretty much anything which can connect to the internet so you will have saved yourself some costs there too.
With HTML5 you can be on everyone’s device – at once. Browser, desktop, mobile, it all works and can all be connected instantly for multiplayer. This means that firstly if you don’t have a marketing budget and can’t dominate a particular platform, you simply launch on all the various platforms available.
Even if you can only get a thousand downloads on each platform, across the ten or so HTML5 compatible platforms (the likes of Windows, iOS, Android, Facebook etc), that’s ten thousand downloads. So launching a HTML5 game cross platform can get you many more downloads than focusing on a single platform can.
This also spreads the risk of releasing your game, as you’re not relying on one platform featuring you. Also, you can sit back and see which platforms your product takes off on the most, so if you see that your product is most popular on Android, you can focus more of your marketing and community management on that platform.
Have something for everyone
The biggest problem games have is finding an audience to play them. Barriers come in the form of genre, i.e. some people only like first person shooters, demographics, i.e. some games are designed for children or adults only, but most importantly platform i.e. not everyone has a PS3, an iPhone, a particular browser etc.
The first two barriers mentioned are to do with game design, but the third is to do with your business strategy. Why would you discriminate against some platforms and therefore customers by not making the game available to them?
Well the simple answer is certain games only run on certain platforms. Are you going to see Halo 4 running in a browser on a mobile phone? Probably not. But you can do something to address that problem now, by making your game available to as many different customers as possible. More players means more variety, which means more types of gamers to design for and more sales to boot.
Be more flexible
What happened to the game industry when the iPhone launched? Not that much for the first few months, but as soon as people realised customers were paying for games on the platform, developers swamped it.
The first to jump on it were the small studios followed by the big boys, as the small studios were much more flexible. Now what’s happened? The iOS market is flooded, and most of us missed the gold rush. My point? If you pigeon-hole yourself to one platform, you’ll find it more difficult to respond to profitable market opportunities on other platforms.
You want to be ready when the next big thing explodes onto the games market, and HTML5 games give you the best chance of doing that. It could be smart TVs, it could be Ouya, it could be anything. Just be ready for it.
Distribute and market your game easier
Once you’ve built your game in HTML5 you can put it pretty much everywhere. This makes your game’s route to market a lot easier.
Consumers have more chance of finding your game easily as it will be on all the major platform’s download stores. This means more chance of getting featured than if you target a few stores, and also means that when people refer your game to a friend, they won’t go "Oh I don’t have an iPhone, I have Android", or "I only play Facebook games".
Also, when you do your marketing or promotion, people will try your game much more readily if they see it’s an open rather than exclusive product. Not only this, but if you invest time or money in marketing, the sales per hour of time spent or sales per pound/dollar spent will be much higher. In this way, HTML5 makes your marketing more efficient too.
The business downsides
As with anything, when something has several really positive upsides, there are bound to be some drawbacks.
The first being you still have to upload your game to every platform. This takes time, is annoying, and needs constant revision as platform holders guidelines change regularly.
It also means that you have to do this for every update. Ten times as many platforms means ten times as many updates. Even if you don’t have to change the code much, you still have to go through the formal process of updating for that platform every time.
It also takes longer to build a cross-platform HTML5 engine, than one for just a single platform, for obvious reasons. Getting the technology to play nice with pretty much every store, every browser, every phone, tablet and desktop can become a minor nightmare.
Monetisation can also be difficult. Android monetises differently to iOS, Facebook has its own currency, and who knows what Windows Store users want yet – pay up front for bigger games perhaps? Considering all this in your game’s design can prove to be a bit of a headache.
Some people might also consider HTML5 games to be simply less appealing on mobile, desktop and browser than graphics focused app games like Infinity Blade or browser games which need the Unity plugin such as Battlestar Gallactica.
This problem leans more on the technical side, and includes HTML5’s notorious sound issues, but really this is affects the business strategy too. If your product is on the same platform as technically superior products, this is going to affect the pricing and promotion strategy of your game.