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Marketing HTML5 Games in the Next Gen

HTML5Runescape-Feature

By Guest Writer Katie Green from CrazyGames.com

For gamers who primarily play AAA or other large budget titles, it might be difficult to understand the profit potential of HTML5 games. HTML5 games are not flying off the shelves, being bought in record numbers on Steam. How are the developers earning any money? This article will explore a few game titles and companies behind them that are earning their income in the browser-based market.

Agar.io is one of the best known cases. Having been developed by 19-year-old Matheus Valadares, he announced its release on popular image-board 4Chan. Matheus sold rights to Miniclip.com, giving them rights to license Agar.io on app stores in exchange for revenue sharing. It’s important to note that Miniclip does not own Agar.io, only the rights to license it on app stores, and the Agar.io website and game itself is owned by Matheus. From advertisement revenue on website and apps alone, it’s estimated that Agar.io earned several million dollars for its developer. Not bad for a 19-year-old Brazilian.

Agar.io is a perfect example of the current market trend, which has been dubbed the “casual game gold rush.” Developers are crafting their games around sponsor’s expectations, which are simple, casual pick-up-and-play games with minimal control schemes. It’s not that HTML5 isn’t a powerful engine, as it’s perfectly capable of 3D games. It’s more the fact that sponsors realized a long time ago that the most profitable games are often the simplest, most user-friendly.

HTML5 game developers, hoping to earn an estimated $5,000 – $30,000 per game with ad-revenue sharing licenses, are working to pump out these casual games to earn their fortunes in increments. It’s not unusual for an HTML5 development company to have more than 30 to 50 game titles in their portfolio. We could say that this is oversaturating the market with casual games and HTML5 clones of popular games, but device limitations also need to be taken into consideration.

A core slogan of HTML5 development is “one language, multiple devices.” This means that HTML5 game developers are aiming for their games to be playable across computers, mobile phones, tablets, smart TVs, etc. Thus, an HTML5 game should play just as smoothly at 1920×1080 resolution as it does on an older, 320×240 phone. Simplicity in game design is one of the keys to achieving this, as it would be counter-productive to try and create a highly polished, graphic-intensive game.

Of course, just because ad-sponsors are looking for Flappy Birds-type games, doesn’t mean developers aren’t finding other ways to make income. Free-to-play browser-based MMOs are still a successful business model, and some developers have tried HTML5 for this purpose. Some developers have even tried updating their existing Java and Flash clients to HTML5, with different stages of success.

Two notable examples of porting MMOs to HTML5, with key differences in the final product, would be RuneScape and Achaea.

Jagex, the developers of RuneScape, announced in 2012 that they were working on a new HTML5 client for RuneScape, citing increasingly outdated Java limitations as their reason. However, HTML5 did not meet the needs of Jagex, and they ran into performance issues with HTML5. Eventually, they scrapped the HTML5 client altogether and created a brand-new, downloadable client called NXT, written in C++. With this new game engine, Jagex was able to make several graphical improvements that they could not achieve with HTML5.

On the other end of the spectrum, Achaea, a popular MUD (multi-user dungeon) similarly ported its client to HTML5. Achaea is a text-based multiplayer RPG, and because graphics and performance are not a key worry for its developers, they were able to focus on creating a highly accessible MUD client for new players. Achaea has had a handful of clients over the years, from Java to Flash, but their current HTML5 client has been the most fanciful thus far. “Fancy” and “MUD” might not be two words you’d expect to go together, but Achaea’s HTML5 client introduced a range of new GUI elements to players, which has increased its appeal to new players, despite being an old-school MUD.

Both games above are examples of MMOs that operate on a free-to-play, pay-for-perks model. However, their success in the game industry was established long before HTML5. It’s difficult to name a financially successful, modern MMORPG built entirely on HTML5 from scratch. A quick glance at any “top list” of HTML5 games shows a plethora of simple casual games, developed for maximum simplicity and ease of play. The unfortunate irony here is that, while HTML5 is touted as a replacement for Flash for multiple reasons, the surface of its power is barely being scratched by the current casual game market.

That isn’t a dig at HTML5 developers, however, it is merely an indication of the market demand. As I mentioned before, ad-sponsors are primarily focusing on licensing games that offer simplistic, addictive gameplay. This puts the game developers in a precarious position – do they spend large amounts of time on trying to unleash the power of HTML5 to create a fully-fleshed game, with no guarantee of profit, or hop on the bandwagon of what is tested and proven to work?

Perhaps HTML5 was not meant as a technologically superior replacement for Flash, but rather a continuation of its limited capabilities, with increased support for modern devices. This would put HTML5 in the sphere of incremental innovation, rather than radical.

A final example of success in the HTML5 game industry would be companies that focus on development, whether for themselves or for clients. One particular company we researched who specializes in developing HTML5 games for clients, typically works with existing game frameworks such as Phaser.io. The games in their portfolio are often little more than examples of the games they can build for clients. Companies like this typically charge between $5,000 – $20,000 per game, with the client retaining full rights to the game to license or sell as they please. However, the clients are basically gambling on the potential virality of their game idea. Throwing down $10,000 on outsourcing a simple, 10-level platformer browser game is certainly a risk, but it might be worth it for already established brand names with high market visibility.

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