Zynga Germany's Paul Bakaus on what's the deal with HTML5 [Interview]

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HTML5HTML5. It sounds like one of C-3PO's buddies on Tatooine, doesn't it? While it's certainly not as cool as a personal assistant droid, HTML5 packs a lot of potential for not just social games, but the games industry on the whole. Still fuzzy on what it is? Here's a brief description that pertains to what you care about: HTML5 is a web programming language still in development that allows developers to create games within the browser that require no additional downloads and can be played across computers and smartphones effortlessly for the gamer (and created that way almost effortlessly for the developer).

Over the past year, Zynga has expressed its interest in HTML5 game creation, namely through founding Zynga Germany. (Yes, the same Zynga that founded its gaming empire on Flash, the most common tool used to play and create games in the browser.) Largely guided by Paul Bakaus, CTO and creator of the Aves Engine that attracted Zynga initially, Zynga Germany is behind much of the company's recent HTML5 games in one way or another.

Take Zynga Jukebox, for instance. It's an open source project headed by Bakaus that, in short, makes audio in HTML5 games easier to implement for game makers. (See? We told you HTML5 was still in development.) "Zynga Jukebox is being used in Words With Friends [on Facebook, also built using HTML5]. Not only are we writing code, we're also doing a lot of research," Bakaus reveals to us. "Research includes asking the community for input. So, we're trying to open up our technology not only for the greater benefit to build HTML5 games, because we really want to see if we can accelerate the market as a whole, but also we really value input from the community."
Words With Friends Facebook, iPad and iPhone
Those who've been following the intersection of HTML5 and Facebook games will remember when the Zynga Germany technology head likened making games with HTML5 to experimenting with a pain machine. If that's the case, then why bother?

"The trick of HTML5 is that it's an unknown territory for game developers. Anything you try that's unknown will feel dangerous at first," Bakaus admits. "Also, HTML5 hadn't been built with games in mind, and now it's something we're working on with the W3C [Worldwide Web Consortium] to really drive gaming. It's always early until someone starts, right? The power that you gain by creating games in HTML5 far outweighs the pain."
Zynga Germany Paul Bakaus
After picking the guy's brain for 30 minutes, it's clear that Bakaus (pictured) is in it for the long haul when it comes to HTML5 games. And it seems as if he's inspired the rest of Zynga to follow suit. In 2011 alone, the company launched five HTML5-based version of its games, including FarmVille Express, Mafia Wars Shakedown, Zynga Poker and two iterations of Words With Friends. In January, the developer gave CityVille the "Express" treatment, too.

"I'm really excited about the opportunity to type in a URL or just open Safari on the iPhone and being able to play in less than a second ... and play right away without launching any software," Bakaus says, but "What I'm really worried about is getting developer traction." In other words, HTML5 isn't exactly the most popular way to make games, so what's Zynga going to do about it?

Mafia Wars Shakedown"We're really trying to get out a lot of the components that make life a lot easier for people. Things that people fear most--like HTML5 sound, for instance--we're trying to work against that," Bakaus says. "I think that right now, few people are aware of the games that you can build right now on HTML5. I think it's totally imaginable that you can create an absolutely fun, fast-paced, interactive, sprite-based game on HTML5 right now. It's just that people are still afraid of how far we've got, since no one really writes about it with focus on games."

And that's just the thing. Most iPhone and Android game creators gloss over HTML5, because they think it can't yet create the experience gamers are going to get in (or create cash flow like), say, Angry Birds. To the naysayers that think HTML5 games can't make money without being on an app store, Bakaus points them to tools like PhoneGap. But for those who think HTML5 simply isn't ready for prime time, Zynga Germany's resident techie says:

"I believe that the tech is ready to build those games. I think that the tech is not yet ready to build great 3D games since it's just about browser share penetration. But for 2D games and isometric games, it's the right time."

[Image Credit: Facebook]

What do you think of Zynga's current HTML5 games? Would you like to see more social games built using HTML5? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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