April 02, 2013

HTML5 and Unreal Engine 4: Big Opportunities, Big Dangers

Recently, two major names in gaming–Mark Rein and Tim Sweeney of Epic Games–talked about the combination of Unreal Engine 4 and HTML5. Since Unreal Engine 4 will soon come with support for HTML5, it opens up a series of new and rather exciting possibilities for the gaming public and for game companies in general. But the possibilities don’t come only in the positive flavor, as there are potentially some very big dangers for game companies afoot as well.

When talking about the upcoming changes to Unreal Engine 4, Sweeney and Rein had quite a bit to say about this new technological shift, and about the potential impact such a move would have. The clear point of advantage here, especially for developers, is that with Unreal Engine 4 support for HTML5, it becomes possible for developers to make top-notch, high-end gaming that can run on nothing more than a standard Web browser. That opens up a wider playing field, and some significant possibilities for gaming in the future. The duo also noted advantages involved in "avoiding legacy issues" as well as a "quirky language like Javascript," both of which will likely prove welcome for developers.

But, as Sweeney described, there’s one significant problem associated with this new openness: impact to the traditional publishing model of gaming. While indeed, high-end games can be launched at the browser level thanks to Unreal Engine 4 support for HTML5 that sheer possibilities casts a patina of doubt on the traditional console model of gaming. Sweeney called it "a big area of future tension," but it may well be better described as the means by which the console wars are ultimately ended.

One of the great draws of console titles are exclusive games, a game that can only be had on a certain breed of console. With HTML5 becoming a standard in wider use, that removes the kind of impact that exclusive games can have. Concerns about performance may be in decline–Rein describes how the PC has a lot more power than commonly goes used, and that most people have significantly more computing power than is needed to play most "Web games"–and ease of use might well be on the rise to match. There are also some concerns about the games’ overall appearance, though–Rein describes how console gaming often delivers a big experience, how developers "work really hard to make those games push into every crevice of performance for the platform…"–which may restrain the trend a bit.

The projections offered by Sweeney and Rein suggest one critical point: the possibility of major-scale gaming moving to Web browsers is there, but it will likely take a while to make the fullest jump as the user base will want the full console experience as part of the move. That won’t be easy to provide, but if and when it happens, it could represent a serious change in the way people play games.

Edited by Brooke Neuman


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