Google's HTML5 game platform GameSnacks has crossed a notable business milestone: As of last week, the platform has acquired over 35 million users, and is shuffling inside Google to be an arm of the Google Ads business unit. Most of the platform's players are located in developing regions, where internet access is growing thanks to a proliferation of cheaper smartphones utilizing lower-speed networks.
The company is also entering into a partnership with mobile game publisher Voodoo to bring games like Helix Jump to GameSnacks.
This news comes from a conversation with GameSnacks founder and general manager Ani Mohan, who explained to Game Developer how the Google subsidiary has found success meeting a new audience of players at their level, rather than trying to integrate them into an existing mobile games cycle.
GameSnacks is, of course, a platform for HTML5 games. Industry veterans trying out GameSnacks games might feel a twinge of nostalgia for the era of Adobe Flash, when simple web-based games could be the entirety of a player's video game diet. What is new, however, is that GameSnacks isn't an app that players download; it's a web-hosted platform that can integrate into "all-in-one" apps that are prolific in regions like Southeast Asia, Brazil, and Nigeria.
Mohan calls this model "embeddable distribution." Because GameSnacks is an embeddable web app, it can be dropped relatively easily into another web page, or app that is capable of embedding HTML5, like the Southeast Asian technology app Gojek. Gojek was one of the first platforms to partner with GameSnacks when it debuted in 2020.
Apps like these are also popular in regions like India, Nigeria, and Brazil, which have been where the bulk of GameSnacks players are located. If the video game industry is interested in capturing new audiences, Mohan says that these regions are already getting up to speed.
The nuances of HTML5 games
Mohan told Game Developer that interest in HTML5 games is rising in part due to COVID-19. When we think about the effects of the pandemic, we generally think about players staying inside and needing recreational activities while isolating or social distancing.
But another side effect (that Microsoft actually also discussed with us in relation to cloud computing) is that internet access across the world has been expanding with the proliferation of remote work. Google has been a large part of that effort (its business IS the internet, what do you expect), but a side effect of that expansion is a new class of users being "brought online" for the first time.
"It's very different from how internet users were first exposed to the internet 20-30 years ago in the West, which was mainly via desktop computing," Mohan said. These new users are relying on mobile phones and smartphones, often with lower RAM, and often connecting on 2G or 3G networks.
A big part of GameSnacks' HTML5 pitch was that this method of game development would allow for games that load inside of 3 seconds, even on weaker devices. As we've heard recently from other developers tinkering with browser-based games, quick load times are vital to securing interest from players.
Another necessary component of HTML5 games: simple mechanics. Think really simple. I lost about 5 minutes playing a GameSnacks title called Tower, where all I did was try to line up blocks that got smaller and smaller with each inaccurate attempt. Successful mobile games on the App Store and Google Play Store now involve all kinds of in-depth mechanics, but this new group of players doesn't have any background in concepts like looting or character progression.
Mohan referred to these mechanics as "the old classics," noting that they're most popular with GameSnacks users because of their broad appeal.
How are developers making money from these games? For now, it's been through licensing deals with GameSnacks, which has been focused on a "bootstrapping" model to get these games onto devices. Mohan says the future of the business is in in-app advertisements, which is partly why GameSnacks now lives under Google's advertising business unit.
The integration with platforms like Gojek has been a big part of GameSnacks' success, and Mohan said that developers who want to join this field of game development should take time to study these "super apps." "These places where users accomplish many different tasks as part of their lives, like chatting with their friends, like paying their friends, ecommerce, food delivery, etc."
It also means the performance of different apps might be more hidden from the public eye. If users are glomming onto a particular match-3 game, that won't be reflected on the phone manufacturer's store page. It's a game within an app, not a standalone app itself.
Developers who also dive into this field should know that even though Nigeria, India, Brazil, and other regions are adopting these games, user tastes and interests still vary region by region. "Not all users are created equal," he warned, explaining that a match-3 game might be popular in India, but doesn't have the same audience in another country thousands of miles away.
The Wordle phenomenon
In more conventional video game markets, the biggest web game phenomenon of 2022 has been Josh Wardle's Wordle, which is now owned by The New York Times. Like GameSnack's HTML5 games, it's a simple game that loads quickly and can be played in minutes.
Mohan doesn't see Wordle as a flash in the pan, or a phenomenon that's disconnected from the work he and GameSnacks have been doing. "We do have a significant amount of usage in the West now," he noted, before explaining that Wordle's social sharing mechanic is one feature GameSnacks is looking into as part of future games. The bulk of GameSnacks users in the United States are congregated in the major metropolitan areas, which means some of the same folks playing the games on Mohan's platform might be familiar with Wordle as well.
Mohan said that Wordle's success reinforces the idea that web games (HTML5 or otherwise) have legs in conventional video game markets, not just emerging ones. He described a growing interest in "short-form gaming," where games are deliberately designed to be played in 5 minutes or less.
The proliferation of so many Wordle-likes may also be a symptom of the short-form format. "The web format and the quick quick, casual nature of [Wordle] allows for faster remixes," he observed.
Wordle's blaze of glory among game developers shone a light on the world of web games, which might be a verdant field for developers chasing the casual game market.