HTML5 games are the latest and, many would argue, greatest iteration of online games. Where previous generations of online games required players to download extra plugins and applications, HTML5 games are entirely self-contained and work directly inside an internet browser. With just a mouse click or a screen tap, players are immediately immersed in the world of their chosen game.
But instant access is not the only reason why the gaming industry is embracing HTML games. The other big advantage of the technology is its cross-platform functionality. Designed as a programming language with interoperability, HTML5 makes it possible for developers to write one source code for a game that can then be enjoyed on any screen or device.
This device-agnosticism has of late become one of the chief selling points of HTML5 games, given the rapid growth of mobile usage and the demand from players to be able to move seamlessly between platforms including desktop and console.
The benefits of HTML games do not stop there. A big part of why these games are popular now, and have a bright future ahead of them, is because HTML5 is a highly versatile programming language. It can handle many of the things that make for an excellent gaming experience such as complex graphics, high-definition video, animation and location-based services. All of that, it is worth remembering, happens with nothing more than an internet browser.
What’s more, the fact that HTML games can run without additional software ensures a certain amount of future-proofing: no matter how sophisticated the next generation of mobile devices become, they’ll be able to run HTML5 games provided that they run an internet browser.
This is a boon for developers, who can sleep easy knowing that a game they code today has a high chance of staying relevant and playable in the years to come. They can also benefit from the fact that they can push updates seamlessly. Players, meanwhile, can enjoy their favourite HTML5 titles safe in the knowledge that when they upgrade their devices, their games will come along with them.
HTML5’s position today as one of the world’s leading game programming languages belies its somewhat slow ascent to glory. First introduced in 2008, it was immediately seen as a potential competitor to Flash, the multimedia platform from Adobe that had slowly come to dominate the web after its creation in the 90s.
But HTML5 was unable to unseat Flash straightaway. As the early frontrunner when it came to developing online games, the Adobe platform made it easy for creators to build rich 2D and 3D environments. Innovations such as Adobe Scout and Flare3D refined Flash further and simplified parts of the design process. Could HTML games ever compete?
In fact, they could. The beginning of the end for Flash - and the parallel rise to prominence of HTML5 - came in 2010 when, in an open letter published online entitled “Thoughts on Flash,” the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs expressed a number of criticisms of the platform. Jobs railed against Flash for being “a closed system,” unsuited to the demands of a mobile era which, he said, “is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.”
Jobs closed out his letter with a prediction, writing, “new open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too).” As was recently well-publicised, Flash finally went universally out of service at the end of 2020, with even Adobe admitting that its retirement was due. As Jobs predicted, HTML5’s moment appears to have arrived and it’s becoming the new standard for online experiences, gaming among them.
So, what can we expect from HTML games going forward?
HTML5 games are already available today in a wide range of genres. RPGs, action, puzzle, sports: whatever your preference, there are HTML5 games out there that cater to it. But this is really only the beginning of what the technology is capable of. For the most part, the HTML5 games out there today are casual games, designed to appeal to an audience who want something they can “pick and play” in short sessions.
But there are exceptions. IO games are notable in this regard, and perhaps point to what the future holds for HTML games as a whole. The beauty of IO games is that they blend the real-time, massively multiplayer aspects of traditional console or desktop online games with elements of casual gaming. So, they can provide deeper gameplay without even requiring players to create an account. And, like all HTML5 games, they are immediately accessible through an internet browser.
That marriage, of simplicity with multiplayer gameplay that has real depth thrown-in for good measure, is where the promise of HTML5 games truly lies. HTML games could eventually become so good that players would simply be able to open their browser and get a gaming experience just as good as if they were playing a AAA title on a costly console or a high-spec computer.
HTML5 technology also enables the possibility of multi-gaming platforms. Under this model, users would have just one app that contains multiple games, all of which would be seamlessly updated by developers without requiring any action from the user. This kind of configuration, where a world of content is available through a single, convenient “super app” is something we’ve already seen with television and video thanks to services like Netflix and Youtube.
For the moment, it is safe to say that HTML games are a work in progress. On the one hand, developers are still experimenting with HTML5, learning its possibilities and limitations. At the same time, a slow process of discovery is underway amongst players, who are realizing that they can play HTML5 games on all devices easily without visiting any app store or surrendering their personal information.
HTML5 too, as a platform, is itself constantly evolving under the stewardship of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group, a consortium made up of members from a number of the world’s leading technology companies.
What we know for sure is that HTML games - with their easy, cross-platform accessibility and pick-up-and-play sensibilities - offer such an attractive combination of features to game developers and players alike that they are sure to be part of the gaming landscape for many years to come.