Google at GDC 2012: gaming for browsers, HTML5

by Kristen Nicole

Sometimes it seems the mobile world revolves around gaming. This booming industry is bringing in revenue and spurring innovation for software distribution and monetization everywhere. Kicking off in San Francisco this week, the annual Game Developer Conference has become a platform for exploring new ideas and pushing new products, and Google is taking full advantage this year.

There’s two main concepts that Google is promoting at GDC so far: that of the mobile browser and in-app payments. These are both heavy areas of interest for the mobile gaming sector, broadening both distribution and monetization opportunities on smartphones, tablets and other connected devices (like TVs and even PCs).

For Google, Chrome’s Native Client is perfect to power games, extending online gameplay across all of Google’s platforms. At GDC, Google showed off the latest in its Native Client (NaCI) and Pepper technology for Chrome, in hopes of drumming up developer and gamer interest in browser-based gaming. So far, there are new features for Google+ integration, and continued work on HTML5 standards for gaming, with full-screen window support and Mouse Lock for FPS-style mousing. Google will reveal six new games at GDC this week, all ready for browser-based gameplay. Be on the lookout for Zombie Track Meet, AirMech, Eats to Munchies, Dark Legends, Ubisoft’s From Dust, and Go Home Dinosaurs.

With a growing focus on the browser, Google’s game efforts fit nicely with its Chrome Web Store, which will also get an upgrade for in-app payments. This is a booming trend for mobile games, and we’re seeing its proliferation across web games as well. Google now supports in-app payments in over 17 countries, with eight currencies. In-app payments and other alternatives, like offerwalls, have thrived on Android, whereas iOS restrictions can limit a game developer’s ability to generate revenue from a mobile game. Google’s stance on revenue-generating upgrades is another attack on Apple, made all the more poignant given tomorrow’s expected iPad 3 unveiling, which takes place just two blocks from GDC.

HTML5 for Android games and more

Google’s improvements around HTML5 standards also mark an important step for Android, as it still lags behind iOS in HTML5 performance, according to a recent Spaceport.io test. But there’s an entire ecosystem looking to improve HTML5’s mobile presence, including Android-specific tools. appMobi launched directCanvas beta for Android at GDC this week, just months after a similar release for iOS. The Android-ready HTML5 acceleration platform speeds up graphics rendering, and ties in nicely with appMobi’s SDK for in-app payments, analytics and social gaming tools.

Ludei has also revealed an HTML5 tool for Android developers, letting you turn HTML5 games into Android apps without changing code, and gaining a performance boost as well. This is part of Ludei’s flagship product, CocoonJS, which comes with a Launcher to test apps as well.

The promise of HTML5 for Android’s platform goes farther than games. Jamie Hall, who will hold a session at GDC this week, hails HTML5 as a solution to Android fragmentation. HTML5 certainly holds promise as an ubiquitous platform that defies the ‘walled garden’ approach to mobile software distribution, and with Google on board, HTML5 is certainly a game changer in the mobile realm.