As a developer of both Flash-based Web games and iPhone apps, I have been paying a lot of attention to the growing battle between Apple and Adobe over the future of the Flash platform. Apple would like us to believe that their rejection of the Flash player both for mobile browsing and for App development signals the death of Adobe’s Flash platform. However, in the near term the facts don’t bear this out.
What does this mean for Web site developers? The current reality is that total mobile interaction with the Web is a small number compared to desktop and laptop interaction. Less than 3% of Web interaction is done on smart phones or mobile tablets (gs.statcounter.com). And this 3% is then further subdivided into different smart phone devices where iPhones are less than 30% of the worldwide smart phone market and are increasingly losing share percentage to operating systems like Android and RIM (where Flash will be supported). This just doesn’t seem like enough reason for any site to totally redevelop.
What does this mean for game developers? The iPhone App store has been a big success for game developers in the recent past, but within Flash game development circles, Facebook is a much bigger story. There are hundreds of millions of people playing and spending money on Facebook games daily. This number is rapidly growing, and the majority of these are developed with a Flash front end.
What is HTML5 and why is it getting so much attention? It is due partially to the marketing power of Apple and its ability to generate controversy about Flash, but it is also due to vocal Web users and developers who want a more “open” format for Web development. There are absolute advantages of open source formats in terms of development, and I think that in respect to video playback, HTML5 may be stable enough to become the dominant playback format on the Web. However in terms of Web games, HTML5 is a long way off. Each browser is implementing the logic in a slightly different way, so there is no guarantee that the specifics of animation and interaction will work in the same way for all users. In addition, there are no tools quite like the Flash Dev environment that integrate artists and animators directly into the game development workflow. Apple’s implication that developers can easily switch to HTML5 is false.
So, considering that Apple (from a market share standpoint) is not in a position to define the future of the Web, and that HTML5 is not currently stable enough and does not have the tools to easily develop interactive Web-based games, we for one will continue to develop games mostly in Flash to reach the largest audience of players. We will build games for the iPhone as well, but probably not as many as we would if we could use existing Flash code. We will experiment with new tools and technologies as they become available. Flash may have its disadvantages, but in the near-term it is the best available option.
Tom Rassweiler, Manager of Game Development, Arkadium, Inc.
Tom Rassweiler is the Manager of Game Development at Arkadium, a leading game solutions developer in New York City. Since the company inception he has managed a growing team of programmers in New York City and Simferopol, Ukraine. For the last six years Tom has worked on over a hundred web and downloadable games, focusing on how to keep game development affordable and quick with growing competition and production costs.