I wrote this article for the Business Insider, the original was published here.
Several trends are happening at the same time in the online game market. Where a few years ago the most popular, and most profitable, titles were triple-A games, nowadays the most played games are casual and social games. These are games that are much simpler and less expensive to produce than triple-A games. Another trend is that mobile games are growing very fast, something that had been forecast for years already but only happened after the iPhone and the app store took off. And lastly a trend that may still be less visible for the general public but that people in the industry talk about a lot, is the shift to cross platform games.
When they hear the word cross platform games, most gamers will think about MMO (massive multiplayer online) games that can be played on different consoles, such as the Xbox or the Playstation. But that’s not the real trend I have in mind here. What’s happening now is that developers are working on games that can be played on mobile devices and regular computers, giving a similar experience on all devices. This is happening especially for social and casual games.
Some people, such as Popcap’s Giordano Contestabile, see cross platform gaming as playing a game which presents different vertical slices of the same environment on different platforms, all interconnected into a wider gaming experience. With this he means that different parts of the game can be played on different devices. Although this may certainly happen for some games, I don’t believe all players would be in favor of this. In my opinion the whole game experience should be available on one device, if that is possible.
One service that is bringing cross platform games to the general public is OnLive. Although this is a cloud gaming platform that delivers a game from a server real-time through the Internet, the end result is the same as what cross platform gaming is trying to achieve. You can now theoretically play the games that are available through OnLive on every Internet connected device with video, including on phones or on TVs.
Remote streaming needs a fast Internet connection however, and that’s not always available to everybody. Next to that it will likely prove difficult to develop touch controls for all different mobile devices, although OnLive also provides a controller for playing games on an iPad. For casual games using a high-bandwidth service such as this one may also be a bit over the top, but for MMO games it is certainly a good cross platform solution.
Although I believe in services like OnLive, I think the real cross platform games will be games that can not only be played on every device but are also optimized for every device. Especially this last point is important, because you will need different resolutions and different kinds of game controls (keyboards, touch etc.). One way this can be achieved is by making many different versions of the same game in different languages, like some companies have been doing for mobile games in the past. But with the advance of HTML5 this is suddenly a lot easier. Because HTML5 runs in all new browsers (including browsers on smart phones), the main problem is solved right away. You will still need to make sure that the game can be controlled through a keyboard/mouse/controller or by touch and you will need to add different resolutions, but once that is done the game is ready to ship.
HTML5 still has its limitations, but it works well for many social and casual games, and is getting better literally every month. It is today exactly a year ago since Spil Games launched its HMTL5 strategy, driving the convergence of games on mobile devices and on the Internet. At that time this was still completely new, but 12 months down the road HTML5 is widely seen as the future for the mobile web and as a viable alternative to native apps. I therefore believe true cross platform gaming in the sense of playing the same game on different devices might come from HTML5.
In my opinion cross platform is more than just cross device, it should also include being able to play the same game on different online gaming platforms. The big advantage of HTML5 games is that these games can also be played on social networks, e.g. on Facebook or Google+, or on dedicated social game platforms. That is where most social and casual games are being played nowadays, so just having an app or game that runs on many devices is not enough.
One problem that I foresee, however, is that it will be easier to play a certain game on a laptop than on a phone, or the other way around. For example, I normally get higher scores in the game Angry Birds on my iPad than while playing it in Google+ on my laptop. The opposite is true for some shooting games, where I am too slow on a touch screen. When you want to play against other people on different devices, this is a potential problem. Maybe a handicap system like in golf can be invented for this? Getting additional points or additional lives while playing on certain devices may help to equalize scores. I have not heard that anybody is doing this, but I am sure someone will eventually come up with this idea.
I believe that once cross platform gaming takes off it will give another big boost to casual gaming. Being able to continue to play games that you started on your laptop at home, on another device while commuting to work will be literally a game changer. Unite the world in play, on all kinds of devices and all kinds of online and social game platforms. With cross platform gaming we are almost there!