Although Facebook may have temporarily shelved the launch of its mobile HTML5 platform this week, that isn’t stopping game developers from barreling into the space.
Finnish startup GamesMadeMe is the latest to join the race to prove that HTML5 titles can be as engaging and lucrative as native apps or Flash-based games. The company’s founding team comes with several years of experience from Nokia, where the startup’s chief executive Juha Paananen was a business development manager for the Nokia’s Ovi ecosystem.
“We want to build the largest network for cross-browser games,” Paananen tells us. “HTML5 gives us new possibilities. A big part of our vision is that the game is just a link which can be easily distributed everywhere.”
The company’s first title, which is out this week, is Dollar Isle, a city-building game that works across multiple desktop browsers and the browsers on iOS and Android phones. (We have 500 beta keys here.) Players try to grow a city by juggling different resources from energy to supplies for local businesses like pizza shops. They also must collect rent from local housing properties. Decorative items like buoys and yachts have various kinds of power-ups that can boost rent, for example.
There’s an extra twist though in that players need to decide whether they’ll be a greedy industrialist or an environmentally-sensitive leader. They have to make choices between building things like solar power plants or coal factories.
I tested the game on Chrome, Firefox and the iPhone, which used Safari. It feels as seamless as a Facebook-wrapped Flash game on laptops and desktop computers, but there were some latency issues on the iPhone. With higher production quality, it’s a very promising start compared to other HTML5 titles we’ve seen. A few early HTML5 gaming startups have been rolled up with various acquisitions like Disney’s purchase of Finland’s Rocket Pack and Zynga’s deal to buy Germany’s Dextrose. Plus, there are a few independent companies like Moblyng.
Mobile and social game developers alike have long tinkered with HTML5, but performance, user acquisition and monetization issues have long hampered growth with the technology. For one, distribution — already problematic with native apps on iOS and Android — can be challenging for mobile developers without a dedicated and highly-trafficked portal, store or mobile gaming-friendly social network. Many get around this by creating an HTML5 title with a light native wrapper for the Apple’s iOS store or Google’s Android Market. Secondarily, there aren’t the same kinds of light friction payment systems like Apple’s iTunes for HTML5 games. (But if Facebook launches Credits for the broader web tomorrow or within the next month, this could change.) Still, HTML5’s allure, which gives developers the ability to deploy a single game across multiple platforms in a fragmented market, continues to attract developers and the big platforms like Facebook.
For now, Dollar Isle is completely free as GamesMadeMe is still optimizing performance. When they do start with payments, they’ll probably look at SMS-based systems like Fortumo. Of course, if Facebook rolls out Credits for the web soon, that might change everything.
GamesMadeMe has seed funding from Finnish incubator Lifeline Ventures, which also invested in Applifier and Shadow Cities-maker Grey Area. Paananen and the company’s two other co-founders Henrik Karlström and Teemu Ikonen work with a network of game developers to produce titles and has several more in the works. The company has two bases in Finland and Singapore, where they expect to build an Asian market-focused presence.
It’s worth noting that Finland has had a Renaissance of sorts among both tech and gaming startups with a diaspora of technical talent from Nokia. Angry Birds-maker Rovio, naturally, is the biggest name among mobile developers.