We are Aphelio, a developer and publisher who is currently developing a cross-platform HTML5 games engine called 'Marv'. The first game using the Marv engine will be released in Q1 of next year, and from there on subsequent games of many different genres and styles will be released across browser, desktop and mobile platforms over the coming years.
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This article is going to be about all the things you never hear from a studio (whether indie or otherwise) 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 platforms 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.
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 100 downloads on each platform, across the 10 or so HTML5 compatible platforms (the likes of Windows, iOS, Android, Facebook etc), that's 1000 downloads. So roughly speaking, launching a HTML5 game cross platform can get you around ten times 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, focus more of your marketing and community management on that platform.
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 firefox 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 for a while yet. 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.
What happened to the games 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 we 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 iPhone 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.
Once you've built your game in HTML5 you can put it pretty much everywhere. This makes your games route to market a lot easier. Customers 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.
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 very 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 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.
Well, that's about it for Aphelio's insight into the business aspects of HTML5, a topic which needs to receive more attention if you ask us. As we've said before, we want to be amongst the forerunners of the HTML5 community, and this blog is just the first step towards reaching that goal. Please post, comment and join the discussion and feel free to ask any questions about HTML5 or Aphelio that you wish.
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