Big Viking Games CEO Details the Pros and Cons of HTML5

Dark Heroes

With an increasing number of companies adopting HTML5 (for instance, YouTube ditched Flash for HTML5 last February), some are calling it the perfect time to switch to the language.

While HTML5 isn’t without its challenges, developers like Big Viking Games are learning to thrive under the pressure. The company has plenty of experience creating HTML5 games for mobile devices, including Dark Heroes, SuperSpin Slots and Monsters & Dungeons: CCG Wars.

Coming full circle, the developer is currently working on a reimagining of its first major title created using HTML5 technologies: Tiny Kingdoms. The original game was shuttered in late 2014, as, according to the game’s Facebook fan page, the team “reached too far and ran into too many complications.” But now, thanks to the experience and knowledge Big Viking Games has acquired in developing its other HTML5 mobile titles, the new and improved Tiny Kingdoms aims to be bigger and better than its predecessor.

We recently spoke with Albert Lai, CEO of Big Viking Games, about HTML5 development, and how his team is making it work.

SocialTimes: Big Viking Games has been working on HTML5 games for a couple of years now. What inspired the switch?

Albert Lin Big Viking GamesAlbert Lai: The current limitations of the mobile application landscape feel very sub-optimal and almost seem like a step backwards. For that reason, we wanted to explore and invest in how we can improve the way mobile content can be discovered and delivered. HTML5 is a powerful and open technology standard that we felt has the potential to really shape the future of the mobile gaming industry.

HTML5 is powerful because it allows us to build native-like gameplay experiences that can be played directly from the mobile browser. Imagine if you could send users to a vertical slice of a game before they ever download it. That sort of experience will ensure every single person that downloads your game is a qualified lead vs. the crapshoot that can oftentimes accompany traditional UA spend.

But even more than that, HTML5 allows us to develop games on alternative distribution platforms like Kik. There’s a really important truth here: new distribution platforms open the door to a blue ocean for marketing and user acquisition. When Facebook launched, opportunistic companies like Zynga were able to bring in millions of users with basically the push of a button via notifications (which I’m sure many people are still annoyed about).

There’s nothing more viral than two friends talking about their favorite games, and there is a wealth of possibility if you could build games that friends could share on a messenger app and start playing together immediately in the mobile browser without having to download a game off the app store. With the right type of game, that sort of distribution can be extremely powerful, and if you nurtured the right partnerships and developed a bit of innovative marketing tailored to the platform, messenger apps could easily be the next frontier for mobile gaming.

ST: What are some of the biggest struggles you’ve faced while developing with HTML5?

AL: [There are] tons. HTML5 is an extremely constraining technology because the investment just isn’t there yet. Engines like Unreal and Unity have years of development behind them, which makes them very powerful tools to build games. We’ve had to make our own engine from scratch, and that’s been a huge investment of time, energy and millions of dollars of our company’s money.

Apart from that, because we are trying to pioneer a new nascent technology to deliver rich and very highly interactive user experiences, we demand a lot out of our technical talent. This extremely high bar we set for ourselves with regards to new developers often makes it hard for us to find the right talent easily.

With that said, we are more excited than ever about where we are as a company. When evaluating the market space, our own internal HTML5 engine and tools pipeline is very robust and built to create rich, interactive, native-like games. We’ve cultivated a group of extremely talented developers that are excited about paving a new path forward within the technology, and feel like, for the first time, we’re at a place where we can really put the technology to the test and prove it out as a viable platform to evolve and improve the mobile gaming experience.

Big Viking Games

ST: Given the extra challenges presented by HTML5 development, what are some of the reasons you continue to focus on it?

We believe that every innovation comes with a price that is often paid in blood, sweat, tears, and in our case, millions of dollars. We continue to focus on HTML5 because we believe it’s the future. Quite simply, when companies like Machine Zone are spending upwards of $40 million dollars on a single User Acquisition campaign, smaller independent studios like ours have to adapt and innovate in order to survive.

We reject the idea that the mobile gaming industry is all about luck. Undoubtedly, everything in life requires a bit of luck, but we want to set ourselves up from a business and strategic standpoint to the best of our ability to ensure success. “Hit driven games” is a business model I just don’t believe in, because it relies too much on luck. I have seen many gaming studios with extremely talented teams flounder and close shop simply because they ran out of money and failed to win the mobile games lottery.

In short, I believe in making opportunistic business decisions to set up my companies for success by leveraging the technology and platforms that best position us to be competitive within the space. I believe HTML5 is that future within the mobile gaming space.

ST: All things factored in, has Big Viking Games’ move to HTML5 development been worth it?

The jury is still out on that one. Admittedly, our most successful games—social games on Facebook that have been growing year over year—are built out of flash and PHP, which is obviously pretty old technology.

Yet, I strongly believe that HTML5 gives us a unique, and potentially highly advantageous strategic position within the mobile gaming industry. I’ve had the privilege of launching six different companies, and one thing I’ve found to be consistent in driving success is thinking long term vs. short term.

From what I’ve seen, technology always trends towards the most open platforms. HTML5 is that, and that’s one reason industry leaders like Google, Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla have all vouched for HTML5. YouTube even recently dropped flash for HTML5 as a default video player.

Nothing is ever a guarantee and you’re always taking a risk, but I believe by adopting HTML5 we’re taking a smart risk. We’re investing in the future without shortchanging our short-term success. Our social games on Facebook are growing every year, and are doing very well and helping us stay independent and grow. By developing games for the App Store, we could even potentially win the mobile games lottery. Most importantly, we’re heavily investing in HTML5 to open up new doors and opportunities for us from a long-term perspective.

ST: What advice would you give to aspiring game developers, who are interested in developing with HTML5?

Think long and hard about doing it. It definitely hasn’t been all fun by any stretch of the imagination, and without significant capital, you’ll find yourself quickly burning through lots of cash really fast, while trying to make the technology work for games. Fortunately, we’ve had the luxury of being extremely profitable, and that has empowered us to invest in HTML5 intelligently.

One important question to ask yourself: will the technology help you gain an advantage, or simply cripple your goals and objectives? Implementing HTML5 requires thoughtful, well-defined strategy that helps optimize the strengths of the technology to accomplish business objectives.

HTML5 may one day be just as powerful as Unreal or Unity as a method to develop games, but that’s the future. The opportunity that exists now within the technology is very real, and as long as your business objectives coincide with the strengths that the technology can provide, then it’s definitely worth looking into.

Netmarble US Announces Raven for iOS, Android


Animals vs. Mutants company, Netmarble US, has announced the upcoming release of Raven in the U.S. Developed by Netmarble Games studio STPlay, the hack-n-slash RPG has found quick success in Korea, where it reportedly hit the No. 1 top grossing slot on both iTunes and Google Play for iOS and Android devices.

Raven has achieved over three million downloads on mobile, and grew to one million daily average users within ten days of its launch. In the game, players choose from multiple races and classes to create their perfect hero. For instance, some players may choose to be an Assassin, which excels with fast attacks, while others may become a Berserker, and so on.

Raven features five gameplay modes, including separate Scenario and Adventure modes, with the latter offering 150 stages to complete. A Raid mode introduces cooperative play, as users team up with friends to fight against dragons. Two other multiplayer modes, Arena and Guild, see players fighting in either one-on-one arcade matches, or fighting with 17 others in honor of their guilds, respectively.

In a statement, Seungwon Lee, overseas president at Netmarble Games Corp., commented on the game’s worldwide release:

With splendid action, dynamic real time battles and thousands of items to collect and upgrade, Raven has struck a resonant chord with gamers. We will leverage the record-setting success of Raven in South Korea as we look forward to bringing the game to players worldwide.

Raven is expected to launch in North America on iOS and Android devices later this year. Check back soon for more.

Peership Personal Delivery App Launches on iOS, Android


Peership, a personal delivery app, has officially launched in San Diego, Calif., giving users a new way to make money by making deliveries on trips they’re already taking around town. With the Peership app, users can list an item for pickup and delivery across town, or request an item to be delivered to them, depending on their needs.

For instance, if someone purchased a couch on Craigslist, but didn’t have a truck to pick it up, they could list the delivery opportunity on Peership, paying someone with a truck to pick up the couch and deliver it.

As another example, if a stay-at-home parent is caring for a sick child, but needs milk from the store, they could list this request, paying another user to pick up the milk and deliver it to their home. In these cases, the deliverer is paid for the trip, and is also reimbursed for their purchase price of the item.

Peership charges a $0.99 fee for each delivery request, and users can review and rate deliverers when their services are completed.

In a statement, Peership founder, Michel Choueiri, commented on the app:

We want to wring the many inefficiencies out of logistics by matching people who need specific items at a specific time, with people [who] can grab it for you on their way and earn extra money.

Peership is available to download for free on the iTunes App Store and Google Play. Following this release in San Diego, Calif., Peership will next launch in New York.

Music Messaging App Rithm Relaunches with Premium Streaming


Rithm, a music-themed messaging app, launched in beta in 2013, and over time grew to a reported “few million installs.” The app’s developer, Rithm Messaging, learned a lot about social music experiences during that time, triggering the commercial relaunch of Rithm, which offers a $3.99 per month premium version (Rithm Gold), and unlocks the ability to send complete streams of music tracks to others within chats.

All users can share music via public group chats, or private conversations, but non-subscribers are limited to 30-second clips. Thanks to content deals with major music labels, users can search for specific songs or artists, or browse curated song lists (popular or happy songs, for instance). When users find a song they like, they can add it to a playlist. Premium users can then stream these full songs from that playlist, without being in a chat.

As part of this launch, the app has also introduced Artist Shops, where users can purchase dancing artist emojis and stickers to share back in chats.

Additional social and music discovery features allow users to visit others’ profiles, viewing and previewing the songs they’ve added to their playlists. These profiles are slightly gamified, as users earn points for their activities within the app.

Rithm is available to download for free on the iTunes App Store and Google Play. Users will receive a 14-day free trial of Rithm Gold upon downloading.