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Game On: The Current State of HTML5 Games

An overview of the current state of HTML5 games, and tech advances that are going to change the future of online gaming. Find out more!

HTML5 Games

Did you know that without having to install anything except a shiny up-to-date browser, you can play multiplayer real-time strategy games, massively-multiplayer role-playing games or even 3D racing games?

Thanks to the emergence of HTML5 and the powerful technologies it reveals, web-based gaming is rapidly becoming a new frontier for interactive web content.

So what is it all about?

HTML5 - the latest revision to the web’s core structural language which was first published in 2008 - offers web developers and users alike a whole host of improvements and additions to the core “out-of-the-box” functionality of the web.

WebGL

From structural markup and CSS3 support allowing developers to better define the structure of web pages and create fancy interactive content through CSS3’s animations, to embedded video players (no more having to use Flash-based players which require that plugin, YouTube provided a HTML5 video player back in 2010), HTML5 greatly expands the technical repertoire of all web developers.

 

The label “HTML5 games" is pretty misleading, however. Whilst HTML5 acts as the mediator between the core technologies such as WebGL and developers, the actual “core” logic of games is the common scripting language JavaScript.

JavaScript has been around for a while. Before CSS3 brought in it’s own swathe of animation functionality, JavaScript was powering a lot of the animations and interactive content you have experienced on the web, and now it can go even further.

What is the current state of the HTML5 game scene?

HTML5’s current gaming scene is still in it’s infancy, game engines (the code which handles all the core functions of a game: graphics rendering, physics, sound etc) are still being developed and refined, meaning a fair portion of the current generation of HTML5 games are fairly simple and crude in their delivery, and mainly built by experienced JavaScript developers. The current generation can be compared to the early 2000’s emergence of Flash games, where a lot of the early creations were fairly simplistic before technology improved and developers had enough experience and support to get the most out of the it.

Despite it's still-improving situation, the HTML5 scene has a lot to offer, a quick round up of some of the more notable games around at the moment:

Some of the earliest examples of HTML5 games were already off to a good start, with the likes of Mozilla’s BrowserQuest (a 2D online roleplaying game), the official port of the original Wolfenstein 3D and HTML5 versions of popular mobile games Angry Birds and Cut The Rope showcased the capabilities of the platform.

RuneScape

More recently, a basic Sim City-esque game 3D.City demonstrates the capability of simulation games in the browser, whilst LittleWarGame offers a fully-featured single and multiplayer strategy game with map-maker support. On the other hand, Alteil: Horizons brings traditional trading card games into the browser, Jagex have started a HTML5 beta of RuneScape and the Internet Explorer team have created a fancy-looking racing game based on Assassin’s Creed, which shows off a more graphically-intenstive 3D engine and what the platform is capable of.

So whilst still a developing scene, HTML5 gaming has plenty to offer users and is set to continue its climb into a popular cross-platform industry.

What can we expect from the HTML5 gaming scene in the near future?

Chrome Web Store 

Arguably the biggest barrier for any gaming platform’s maturity and development is the difficulty involved in creating games, which stems from the quantity and quality of game engines available. Both metrics have increased drastically over the last year or two, showing promising signs of further leaps in the near future.

HTML5 also has a lot of backing from the large tech companies such as Mozilla who continue to work on improving HTML5's gaming capabilities, and Google who provide a commercial ecosystem through Chrome’s HTML5 web-app store, meaning the technology should develop a substantial gaming scene fairly quickly.

This “open up development to everyone via awesome engines” trend is set to continue strongly, with Unreal Engine supporting HTML5 and the popular cross-platform engine Unity also following suit, showing that the only direction for the platform is up both in terms of quantity and quality of games produced.

The underlying technologies involved (WebGL, Audio API) are being constantly improved and refined, and some exciting developments are emerging from this development storm; including a virtual reality API for both Chrome and Firefox, which puts HTML5 ahead in terms of raw potential.

Finally, one of the hurdles on its path to being decent gaming platform, HTML5 is hoping to avoid the pitfall (for commercial developers, at least) of Flash games being free and available to everyone.

The World Wide Web Consortium (the group which oversees development of web standards) has published a working draft of the Encrypted Media Extensions, a native digital rights management system embedded in HTML5 as standard. This means that developers would be able to lock down their games in order to sell it as a product like on every other platform, making HTML5 commercially viable for developers large and small. This should see an increase in commercial platforms such as Google’s Chrome Web Store in the near future, propagating the ability for small and large developers to get their games out and exposed to the public.

So with the engines that are available and in development (which we will touch on in a moment), the backing and support of various large technology companies and near-future adoption for digital rights management, HTML5 is set to become a legitimate commercial option for game developers.

How can I get involved in HTML5 game development?

Phaser

Developing games for HTML5 should be a familiar step for any web-developers who have experience in Javascript - Whilst you certainly can start hammering out your own game from scratch (LittleWarGame was built from the ground up), it would make the learning curve much easier if you tried out one of the many available game engines:

Some highlights of decent HTML5-specific engines around at the moment range from 2D ones such as Phaser, pixi.js, Impact.js, Create.JS to isometric/multiplayer-based ones such as Isogenic.

As great as these engines are, they’re entirely code-based, which puts them out of the reach of a lot of indie and casual developer talent. For those who are not so clued up on Javascript or even programming, this gap is reduced with popular drag ‘n’ drop engines/creation suites such as GameMaker and Construct2 now including the ability to export to HTML5, meaning even those without much code knowledge can throw together a fully functioning game in a matter of days or weeks.

So if it interests you, either pick an engine you like the looks of (would suggest Phaser due to it's continued development and large and supportive community) or work through a tutorial for starting from scratch, and see what fun things you can create!

Conclusion

HTML5 for gaming is - whilst still in it’s infancy - rapidly maturing as a viable platform. Game engines are becoming abundant and easier to use every few months, with larger cross-platform engines starting to support HTML5 as a platform.

The development of Encrypted Media Extensions will allow greater content publishing and control, making HTML5 game development commercially viable for all developers.

Unlike games which have to be built for specific platforms (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS), HTML5 is truly cross-platform, as you simply need an up to date browser, and can access games on any system.

On top of all the obvious advantages for the gaming industry as a whole, the advantages for the regular web are also pretty decent. The level of interactive content on sites has been limited to animations and some other basic interaction: HTML5 gaming becoming widespread and easy to pick up would mean a step forward in media and content on websites. With developers being able to put together a simple game as easily as a regular Javascript widget, websites would be able to engage with visitors on another level (most importantly: without needing the user to install anything first), allowing exploration of information through the medium of games an exciting prospect.

HTML5

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