July 24, 2013

DevCon5 HTML5 & Mobile App Developers Event Starts with Call to Action

The opening feature speaker at the two-day DevCon5 HTML5 Developers & Designers Conference taking place at the Kimmel Center on the New York University campus, went from zero to 60 in a hurry. Nate Altschul, Director of Game Development at Nickelodeon kicked things off with some strong messages for the packed hall of developers.  At a high level, in themes that are being highlighted throughout the program he notes that:

  • Mobile is the future;
  • HTML5 is mobility friendly;
  • The opportunity is huge for HTML5-based games and other apps to compete effectively against native apps;
  • A hybrid approach — putting HTML5 app in a native wrapper so it can be monetized in an app store — is the  best approach at the moment; and
  • HTML5 still has some maturation issues to overcome which need to be and in many cases are being addressed.

The intensity of interest and what amounted to a progress report on HTML5 clearly belies remarks from various quarters with vested interest in maintaining the closed ecosystems of today’s status quo that HTML5’s long-term success is problematic. As Altschul explained, yes challenges remain, but the opportunity is enormous — including the all-important part of making money.

Four key attributes of HTML5

Speaking from Nickelodeon’s perspective of wanting to gamify/generate new revenues streams from as much of its intellectual property/content as feasible, Altschul set the context for why HTML5 can be a major — if not the preferred way — people play games on their personal devices in the future. And, by extension, he gave a bit of a pep talk on why all HTML5 content developers should be of great faith and hang in there.  

He highlighted four distinct advantages going forward for HTML5 games, which he admitted, “is not quite where it needs to be but we are very close.” He also provided the necessary cautionary notes about remaining challenges. The four areas are:


Benefits:  575 million iOS users, 900 million Android (NewsAlert) users, 1.4 billion HTML5 friendly mobile browsers, along with 75 percent of desktop browsers, and the ability to address things like Tizen, Firefox OS, smart TVs, automobiles, etc.  

Challenge: “BUT, are the HTML5 users monetizable?”

Ease of Development

Benefits: HUGE developer community, VERY easy to learn, great language for creating webpages, and cross-platform (w/o ObjC, Java, C#, AS3).

Challenge: “BUT, is it (Java) a good language for games?”

Flash Replacement in Mobile Browsers

Benefits:  Adobe (NewsAlert) won’t be updating Flash Player, Flash Player not supported on mobile, Flash Player has limited support in Win 8, HTML5 should work where Flash used to.

Challenge: Turning “should” into “does.”

Quick iteration in mobile app stores

Benefits: Native apps updates require store approval , they slows down iteration and are hard make agile whereas hybrid apps can be updated instantly which means better content and problems can be resolved quickly.

Challenge: Trying to move out of hybrid being the long-term solution. The goal is still “write once, play anywhere on anything with a great user experience.”

Amplifying his opening remarks about games using HTML5 being almost there, Anschuls cited three remaining high-level challenges:

  • Content creation : Viable, not mature
  • Distribution : Hard without hybrid
  • Monetization : Hard without hybrid

His perspective comes as not just an employee of Nickelodeon but also as Founder, HTML5 Games Meetup NYC and an Advisory Board Member, Startup Box (NewsAlert) Game Incubator. The challenges are not insurmountable; hybrid is a way to establish a beachhead in the market to solve the reach and monetization issues, and the technology for animation rendering and support of various codecs, along with workarounds for JavaScripting issues, are in the works. 

In fact, Alschulz enthusiastically showed the crowd work Nickelodeon has in progress with a neat video game of its own (see below), and provided a detailed list of suggestions on how developers (kind of like Super Mario which helped launched the Gameboy years ago) could get up and running, including an extensive list of deal breakers.

The call to action here was simple. Despite an observation from Oliver Marsh of Tresensa who has stated that, “There are more HTML5 game engines than HTML5 games," the opportunity numbers don’t lie. People like to use their personal devices for gaming, and the “Angry Birds” hit that helps make the market is on the way. His demo, which had some cool animation ended with “Game Over” but it really has just begun.

Edited by Rich Steeves


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