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Wooga and HTML5 - Not Ready for Primetime Yet?

Wooga recently announced they were getting out of the HTML5 business (for now) and open-sourced the code for their first and only HMTL5 game. They claim that HTML5 technology is not "there yet." Is that so? I say no.

Josh Levitan

August 1, 2012

4 Min Read

I will first make a disclaimer: this is my opinion, not that of Gamzee.

Magic Land Island App icon

Magic Land Island App icon

Magic Land Island - Wooga's HTML5 Experiment

A little over a month ago, Wooga announced it was abandoning its HTML5 efforts and open-sourcing their code for Magic Land Island: http://www.wooga.com/press/releases/wooga-html5-project-goes-open-source/

According to Wooga, the tech's just not there yet:

Philipp Moeser, co-founder and CTO at Wooga said, “We’re very proud of the work we’ve done with HTML5 over the past year. With some of the most talented software engineers in the industry working on the project here at Wooga, we’re confident that the community will find lots to learn within Pocket Island and use our experience to progress the technology even further. HTML5 certainly has the potential to be a complete game changer, but the technology isn’t there yet”.


From its release in October until development ended on 5th May, 1.3 million people played the HTML5 game whilst in comparison Diamond Dash on iOS has been downloaded over 18 million times. Looking at 1-day retention figures for the HTML5 game, 5% of users came back to play the HTML5 game the next day compared to almost 50% returning to Diamond Dash mobile. This was the most difficult performance gap between HTML5 and natively developed apps.

This is an awful comparison. Here, Wooga is comparing a better-performing native title to an HTML5 title. And in two different genres (Magic Land Island is a city-building game, Diamond Dash is a casual arcade game). A better comparison would be to track performance among similar titles, one native, one HTML5. Picking out a key quote:

Looking at 1-day retention figures for the HTML5 game, 5% of users came back to play the HTML5 game the next day compared to almost 50% returning to Diamond Dash mobile.

This shows the ridiculousness of the comparison. I'll eat an Ed Hardy trucker hat if Wooga's getting 50% 1-day retention on the desktop/Flash version of Magic Island. A better comparison (although still flawed as I'll show below) would be to track 1D retention on Magic Land and Magic Land Island. At least the games are substantially similar.

So the larger question -- is HTML5 not "there yet?" I think it's a little premature for Wooga to make that pronouncement. Magic Land Island is a decent game, and a good proof of concept for what Wooga was able to do with the technology. But is it something users are dying to play?

Not really. It's a port/re-imagining of their existing Flash game, Magic Land. There's zero integration with the Flash/desktop Magic Land game -- meaning users can't play their existing cities on their phone, which would be the main draw of suddenly having a mobile version of an existing Flash game. MLI wasn't redesigned from the ground up for mobile -- the UX and gameplay are still the desktop version, just tweaked a bit to display properly.

So what are you left with? A port of their existing game that doesn't integrate with that game and something that has controls and gameplay that weren't designed for or optimized for mobile devices. Oh, and most importantly, it's a game that seems to have been designed to hit lowest-common denominator display, meaning instead of showing high quality animations on mobile devices that can handle it (like the iPad 2), those settings were turned off or dialed way down on all devices. That makes no sense. HTML5 performance depends on your hardware. On desktop, it's as good as or better than Flash. On iPad 2, it's almost as good. It then goes down from iPhone 4S to iPhone 4 to some Android phones to an iPod Touch or iPhone 3GS to some of the Samsung Android devices.

HTML5 is very promising tech. You can build awesome mobile and cross-platform games on it (for example, our own Skyscraper City - apps.facebook.com/skyscrapercity). But it requires a lot of work, from designing in fallbacks and failovers for different device capabilities to rethinking the type of gameplay and UX that works on mobile.

It would have been nice if Wooga gave HTML5 a fair shot -- by creating a game designed for mobile platforms -- rather than making a crummier version of an existing game. I would posit that the failure of Magic Land Island has more to do with the game selection and tech implementation than any shortcomings in HTML5 at the present.

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