Hypertext Markup Language, better known as HTML, has been used to create web pages and applications since 1993, but where is it headed now that we’re slowly approaching a new decade? Considered a cornerstone for the World Wide Web, HTML makes it possible for web browsers to receive documents from a web server or local storage and render them into web pages.

Of course, HTML elements are the masterminds at work. They allow things like images and interactive forms to be embedded into a page. These elements are denoted by tags, written within angle brackets, like <img/> or <p>.

The fifth and current version of the HTML standard, HTML5, was published in 2014 and has since given way to some miraculous creations. It’s behind most web pages, search engines, and social networks and is now implemented in Fortune 500 corporate websites.

Perhaps more innovative than web browsing, however, is HTML5’s role in game development. Knowledge of languages like Javascript allows developers to focus entirely on their vision. Games can be created completely from scratch, with just the use of a browser and text editor.

If you’ve ever heard of games like Agar.io and Kanye Zone, then you know how addictive browser games can be. They attract an array of players, casual or not, who want to play games they don’t even need to download and install. A few clicks of a mouse button and a quick browser search is all it takes before they can start playing on any device—computers, phones, tablets, you name it.

 

What Are HTML Web Games?

First and foremost, let’s explain what browser games really are, and why they’re quickly picking up steam. Browser games are computer games that are played over the Internet using a web browser. Some don’t require any kind of installation, but a few run on browser plug-ins like Java or Adobe Flash. Surprisingly, these games include all the standard video game genres and can be single-player or even multiplayer. This explains why both regular players and casual players alike love browser games.

The main attraction of these HTML5 web games is that they are easy to just pick up and play anywhere, regardless of your operating system. Due to the minimal plug-in installment, if it even requires it, the setup is simple. Since they can be played on any browser, they are easily played on multiple devices, from smartphones and tablets, to laptops and desktops.

Now obviously browser games aren’t held in the same category as any AAA or even indie game. They’re not mobile games you can purchase in the app store, and you’re not about to hear about these games by the watercooler. However, they’re nothing to be scoffed at either, as many players list browser games as some of their first introductions into video games. Browser games have the advantage of being able to appeal to most types of players and are completely hassle-free. Most of them are even free-to-play. Due to their accessibility, they’re often played in more frequent, shorter sessions than traditional computer games.

If you take a moment to think about common player demands, browser games have an advantage: players hate downloading games, especially if they need to download them on multiple devices. We live in a fast paced, high demand, short span society. We’re not used to waiting for things anymore, because we’ve all been conditioned to expect things quickly. If it takes any longer than “it should,” most people quit altogether and do something else. Browser games don’t have to deal with anything of the sort—and are being called the “innovation of tomorrow” as a result.

 

How Does the Development of These Games Work?

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Obviously there are many tools to choose from when working with HTML5 games, so there is no true linear path. For the most part, web games are rendered on PlayCanvas for 3D games or Phaser for 2D. Browser vendors are now working on fast rendering engines, but Unity has quickly become a huge staple for web game developers. Both Unity and Unreal now offer the ability to export games for the web with asm.js, short for Assembly JavaScript, a subset of JavaScriptmaking, hence making it possible to experiment to your heart’s content.

Other than engines, there are some interesting editors and plugins that make it possible to speed up the development process. For instance, with tools like CocoonJS, developers can package the game and publish it on the AppStore or Google Play. One code base can be reused to make builds for all types of platforms and marketplaces.

And if for any reason you come across a bump in the road, don’t fret too much. HTML5 is relatively simple enough to figure out, and there’s a strong community that’s always willing to lend a hand. HTML5 Gamedevs forums are filled with questions and answers, all of value. There are countless tutorials and articles on this topic as well. There are even weekly newsletters to help keep you updated on any new developments and news. If something is missing for whatever reason, the forums will quickly catch it.

And if you need an extra push or shove to get motivated, there are always competitions going on strictly for HTML5 game developers looking to race to the finish line.

 

How Easy Is HTML5 and Unity Porting?

As we’ve established, Unity has quickly become a staple among HTML5 game developers. This is predominantly because it’s just so easy to use and allows for a lot of experimentation. Putting it simply, Unity is a beautiful thing. Build your game once and deploy it on any platform—VR, console, desktop, etc.. Most of Unity’s API is identical for supported platforms, so transitioning from one platform to another is fairly easy.

Mobile game development is also a possibility with Unity, and it’s rapidly growing for two major reasons: the market has grown significantly in the last few years and projections are positive; and they can easily be ported into other outlets. Unity for mobile offers one-click deployment to all OS types, optimizations as a result of asset bundling and build size stripping features, monetization and retention services, and user friendly 3D and 2D tools. Thanks to all the information on Unity’s famous instruction manual, it’s easy to take it all and port it into official game developer websites.

One build is enough to port to Unity, since it’s made to cater to all types of devices. It also allows you to directly write web games, which run in Flash—or even more recently, WebGL, a Javascript API used for rendering interactive 3D and 2D graphics into any browser.

Asm.js also helps, as it will behave identically whether it’s running on an existing JavaScript engine or ahead-of-time (AOT) compiling engine. It’s quite fast and simple to work with, especially when compared to older counterparts like Silverlight. Thankfully, old browser plugins have been discarded thanks to Google Chrome rendering them incompatible.

 

Current State & Future Projections?

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Time has been kind to HTML web games. Consider the game Captain Rogers: Asteroid Belt of Sirius, built for smartphones, then ported to browser. It looks like a great game, and it certainly received the attention it deserved, but just three short years later, a new version for TVs and browsers launched, titled Captain Rogers: Battle at Andromeda. Comparing the two, it’s clear HTML games have not only improved, but they have also increased the potential to become something really quite amazing in the near future.

We’re lucky enough to be living in a golden age of technology. The tools and systems needed to take web browser games to the level of big, commercial projects are now available. Canvas is fast, and tools are always being improved upon. Big, professional game engines like Unity and Unreal are already supporting HTML5 game development everyday. WebVR, virtual reality for the web is being called the future.

The only drawback to these games is the fact that despite all of these positives, browser games are still not considered serious games—a stigma that mobile games still haven’t shaken off either. When people think of games, they think of consoles and PC. Anything else, and entrepreneurs and serious game developers begin to ask questions.

Even still, the future for HTML web games is pretty bright and only getting brighter by the day. It’s easier to work on these games than any other, and the potential for ROI is there, if handled correctly.

 

Can Web Games Be Monetized?

Speaking of ROI, game development only really becomes a profession if it’s fruitful, right? This makes it possible to keep creating games for your audience. One game’s profits can result in a bigger, better second game.

In the case of web browser games, they can be monetized just like any other mobile, console, or PC game. There are several approaches developers can take, one of them being ads. In-game ads and portals (revenue share through banner and pre-game ads) are currently a default way to make money, but unless your game is wildly popular, you’re not going to see much of a return on investment.

Sponsorships are another method of monetizing web games and are currently regarded as the best method. These portals purchase exclusive rights to market and distribute your game onto their site and other portals. They attract players, driving ad revenue in, and you get paid for essentially selling your game off.

Of course, there are a few ways you could get paid from a sponsorship: lump sum, a fixed amount anywhere between $100 and $10,000+; performance-based, where you’re paid per click back to the sponsor’s site or per plays on the site; or a hybrid, a blend of the two. For instance, you may receive an upfront payment and then other payments upon reaching certain milestones.

If neither of these methods sounds right for you, and you’d like to be able to keep the rights to your own game, there’s one more method you can use to monetize your web game: distribute it yourself. This requires a website with your own domain, preferably, and e-commerce capabilities. Official game developer websites tend to have voices and presences already, so they’re easily integrated with web browser games. Put together, they have the potential to generate a lot of organic traffic.

This option has become quite popular for mobile game developers, who up to this point have been selling their games on the AppStore and GooglePlay. Not only do these platforms take a 30% share of the profits made, they also publish it on their platform, not yours. There is no sense of independence with this solution. Thanks to engines like Unity, porting games from mobile to web doesn’t take a rocket scientist either.

As for payment integration, there are several ways you could monetize a self-hosted web game. Some developers make a certain level free and then charge for any extras. Others opt for providing free browser games to help promote their mobile games. For instance, The World’s Biggest Pac-Man is a free-to-play browser game, but on the bottom left corner of the window, you’ll notice it’s connected to the developer’s website, where all the paid mobile games are found. Players who enjoy the browser game would probably be inclined to look into the mobile games.

If you’re looking to sell virtual items for the game, like Agar.io does with coins, skins, XP Boost and Mass Boost, you can partner up with payment processors like PayPal or Stripe. These payment processors handle billions of dollars every year, and have extensive business experience. They give you the ability to create on-demand marketplaces, e-commerce stores, or even crowdfunding platforms.

If you’re looking for a partner with more than just general e-commerce experience, Xsolla is a good option. The game service provider is used by companies like Twitch and Ubisoft, and makes it possible to sell virtual items for games using their PayStation. It features over 700 payment systems in 10 localized languages, helps you sell virtual items, currency and subscriptions, and makes it possible to offer sales and coupons.

 

Successfully Monetized Browser Games

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Bouncy Mouse, Skullface, Balls in Space, and Gyossait are all successfully monetized browser games. In the case of Bouncy Mouse, the game was built entirely in HTML5, more specifically Web GL. The web version is a manual port of the mobile version, built for Android and iOS. One of the developers, Jeremy Weinstein, explained his monetizing method on Quora:

“This game does reasonably well financially using a combination of display advertising on the web site and in the mobile version. Users can remove the ads with a single in-app purchase.”

On an entirely different system and scale, the developers behind the famous Pirates Love Daisies: An HTML5 Tower Defence Strategy Game, decided to take an alternative route. While gskinner handled the technical components of the game, they worked in partnership with Microsoft to bring it to life. The game itself is not monetized, but it does link to the main game development website, and vice versa. The studio did the same thing with their other games, all of which are of high quality. Treating the website as more of a portfolio has paid off nicely.

The art and animation was contracted out to Pulp Studios, Inc. Both Corey Lansdell and Kelly Mellings, the founders of the studio, work as a duo and have worked on children’s books, comic books, magazines, apps, online games, and even museum exhibits. Some of their noteworthy clients include Microsoft, Red the Agency, The Art Gallery Of Alberta and Avenue Magazine.

 

Are Browser Games Worth It?

Developing HTML5 games is something for pioneers or innovative visionaries. Despite the fact that the technology to create professional, AAA quality games is available here and now, these games are still not treated with the respect they deserve. This form of development has been called “a premature technology with no near-term place in technology’s value chain.” Type the word “HTML5” into your browser and strap in for a bumpy ride. Some are true advocates, while others completely dismiss it as nothing more than a hobby.

But the truth is that society has sang this song before about the internet, mobile gaming, and at one point even console gaming. No one took the gaming industry as a whole at first, they thought it was a passing fad. The industry even crashed at one point.

So, if you’re a visionary, HTML5 may be the route for you. It’s easy to develop these web games, and they’re easy for players to play, since they don’t have to download or install anything at all. They can play on multiple devices, stress free. Engines like Unity are following the movement, and offering tools to make development even simpler. And payment processors like PayPal, Stripe and Xsolla are optimized to help you sell virtual items, subscriptions, and even host sales.

Combine all of this with a strong HTML5 community of developers, and you have yourself some interesting waters to explore. At the very least, even if you don’t see this becoming a main focus for you, it can certainly be used to market your other projects.


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