Disclosure: I am the CMO of WiMi5, an online HTML5 game engine, which is mentioned in the article.
Onine video game engines are a new concept for many developers who are used to using desktop tools. In this article, we're going to go through the advantages and disadvantages that a solution like this offers when compared to the classic desktop ones. It must be kept in mind that some of the advantages described here don't exist yet in any online video game engine, but they should be possible at a technological level. In some cases, they're advantages that we've already seen in other types of creative collaboration and online solutions and they would be perfectly applicable to an online video game development engine.
The tendency to use web applications to perform tasks that used to be done in desktop applications is nothing new. The revolution of Software as a service (SaaS) and of the first projects using applications with centralized hosting goes back to 1960. It's a tendency that has been developing faster and faster in the last few years thanks especially to all the new web technologies that have come out recently. We've seen this evolution in all types of services and tools, some of which are listed here:
There are definitely many areas where change has already happened or is in the process. The sector of the ERPs and the CRMs is another example. In web page design, we've seen how we've gone from spending the last ten years using tools like Dreamweaver to seeing how WordPress has become the tool for creating 25% of the websites in the world.
This last piece of information is very important and relevant to us, because in our judgment, this perfectly represents the spirit of WiMi5: to construct a web environment that allows anyone, from neophytes to professionals, to create a video game, where there is also an ecosystem of people with different roles who collaborate to extend the platform, to create video games or to exchange components to make their development easier. In fact, this is the reason we've adopted our slogan: WiMi5 is the WordPress of video games.
Well, let's get on now with the list of advantages and disadvantages of using an online video game engine to develop your projects.
- email: perhaps the clearest example is email. More and more people manage their personal and business email from a browser. Email management web applications, such as Gmail and Outlook, have become more efficient, usable, and productive, and are used on a massive scale from any device.
- office IT: this is another clear example of how different office applications, such as text editors, spreadsheets, presentation editors, etc. have migrated to the web. Since 2005, Google Docs has progressively been creating an alternative to the classics, Microsoft Office for Windows or iWork for Mac. In fact, Google claimed in 2015 that their their plan was to take away 80% of Microsoft's business from MS Office. Microsoft's response, launched in 2011, was an online version of their suite, Office 365. Here's a great comparative analysis of both solutions.
- image editing: in this area, there is no clear success story like in the other two areas above, but many initiatives have come up in the last few years to rise up as the model for the online Photoshop. Examples such as Pixlr.com or Fotor.com show the potential of this type of web app. In any case, even if they aren't as widely received, image editing webapps are integrating themselves well into other types of services. One example of this is how Aviary (later purchased by Adobe) integrated itself as the image editor inside the newsletter management service of Mailchimp. The basic image editing functions are integrated into the online newsletter creation process, easing the workflow for the campaign author.
Current Advantages of Using an Online Video Game Engine
No dependence on platform
An online editor allows you to work on any operating system that has a web browser, regardless of whether it's a Mac, Windows, or Linux machine. Nothing needs to be installed since you're accessing via a browser. Access is instantaneous.
An online video game engine normally makes saving a project continuous; for example, on WiMi5, all operations are automatically saved. This makes the developer's job easier since they don't have to be saving a project constantly in order to avoid unexpected losses.
If your computer fails, has a virus, gets fried, is stolen, has its hard drive crash, or is hit by any other type of bad luck or misfortune, it won't affect the development of the video game. All the data are stored on the cloud and available at any time from any device.
Immediate updates and improvements
Given that the development tool's software is managed directly by the service provider, they can update the current version at any time with a new one, introducing improvements and fixing bugs permanently. This makes updating to new versions of the game engine greatly easier, since the game developer doesn't need to download new versions or install patches.
From the web, for the web
Finally, there is one advantage that almost establishes itself as an ideological position: Creating content for the web from the web. Because of the speed of distribution, agility, simplicity, coherence, and consistency in the development and creation; the adaptation of the final product to the medium; and an endless number of other reasons, creating content for the web from the web is a winning bet. At WiMi5, we believe the web is going to be the next great gaming platform. And it seems logical to develop games from the web itself if the technology allows for it. This is now a reality with HTML5, and all that's needed is to consolidate and mature the different online video game development tools that are appearing, including WiMi5.
Integration with other web services and applications
Another advantage that an online development engine offers is the possibility to integrate with other web services and applications. In the purest mashup style, an online video game engine can be integrated, for example, with the APIs of services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box for storing assets; Charbeat or New Relic for analytics; GitHub or Bitbucket for version control; Trello or Wunderlist for task management; any social network; etc, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Future Advantages of Using an Online Video Game Engine
We've all worked with Google Docs at some point, and we know how well it handles the control of the different versions of documents. An online video game engine based on infrastructure residing in the cloud allows you, as with Google Docs, to control the versions based on the modifications and changes carried out by the developer. Moreover, it should also let the developer be able to decide when to save a specific version and go onto the next.
Work in collaboration in real time
With an online video game engine, several developers, with different profiles, can work on the same project. A designer may be modifying the graphics of a background while a programmer is defining the parallax for that same background. What's more, they can be doing it in real time, each seeing what the other is doing. To all this, we can add a user management system with different roles to cover the different areas of the development company.
In an online, collaborative games development tool, communication can be immediate and very focused on the question at hand. Developers can communicate via instant messaging systems integrated into the tool itself. They can also work with a system based on the comments that are being left about the different elements of the game, such as assets, scripts, etc.
Disadvantages of an online video game engine
Need for a permanent connection
This is something obvious: if there's no Internet connection, you can't use an online service. While there are of course some solutions, such as how Google Docs allows you to work in offline mode, this loses many of the virtues that online development in real time offers. It's also necessary for the Internet connection to have a minimum level of quality as far as bandwidth is concerned. While developing a videogame, very large assets, in terms of filesize, may be used, and working with them can use up a lot of bandwidth.
In general, SaaS services are criticized by users who don't have access to a server and the data and files that are executed from it, since this is controlled by the company providing the service. In fact, Richard Stallman considers that the use of this type of service is a violation of the principles of Free Software. In any case, this can't be applied to all SaaS products, since on many occasions, these products have free source code, allowing users to access all the files and source files that make up the service. In any case, this issue has a lot to do with the culture or belief that having all the data on one's own computer is better. The trend now is for this belief to be waning, helped along especially by cloud data storage services such as Dropbox, Drive, etc.
The online game engines look promising. Some solutions are already working and stablishing new standards of a new way of creating video games.
The 3 most interesting examples of online game engines are PlayCanvas, Goo Create and WiMi5. PlayCanvas and Goo Create are both focused on 3D game development while WiMi5 is focused on 2D game creation. WiMi5 also integrates publishing and monetization as main features of its game engine.