Massimiliano Silenzi in an interview for Games Brief on the challenges and opportunities of HTML5 and mobile monetization.
Deciding on whether to build your mobile application on HTML5 (web based on a mobile browser) or on a native app (one which is built specifically for Android or iOS for example) is an ongoing debate, and the answer really depends on who you talk to. In fact, the industry as a whole remains largely undecided; a recent Gartner report based on 478 developers in North America and Europe found developers were spending 41% of the their time on native app development, 24% on the mobile web, and 22% on hybrid apps.
Perhaps I myself even fall into this undecided category, but when I put my gaming hat on, the debate immediately shifts towards the importance of striking a balance between the ability to monetise that app, alongside the ease of development and the user experience.
A rich user experience
Of course from a consumer point of view, monetisation and development are simply not important; they are focused on the visual appeal of the game and how easy it is to play. However, these aspects can in turn enable further spending within an app and so are vital to consider.
Native applications support higher graphic rendering and better synchronisation, and that’s going to give gamers a better experience compared to HTML5. Users can also access their phone’s hardware such as the camera and GPS (although a hybrid app could overcome this) and react to search buttons and volume controls.
When it comes to HTML5, it’s true it may be beaten on user experience on some more sophisticated games, but when you look at the games typically being played on smartphones –Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, The Grain of Truth and iBasket for example – they are popular but they are simple. The games that are pulling in the profits don’t necessarily need the levels of sophistication you could get from native apps so HTML5 also stands up strong here. We also need to bear in mind that the level of sophistication and richness of the HTML5 user experience is greatly improving and it’ll be interesting to see what the outlook is for the technology in the future.
As browser platforms have matured and merged in regards to the technologies required for mobile games, performance issues have been become less of a problem, but connection can still be an issue for HTML5.
Native apps do not rely on a web connection to operate, meaning they’re not affected by access to 3G, 4G or WiFi. HTML5 is based on a browser, meaning that while it is good at loading and keeping memory on the client side, if the connection is lost then the player may not go on to the next level (and potentially spend more).
However, it needs to be remembered that both native and HTML5 need a connection when it comes to social. If you want to chat with your friends or create an army, you still need that connection, and this is where the difference between the two yet again becomes increasingly blurred.
Native apps can be easier to develop, using programming languages such as Java, Objective C and C++. Bugs are also easier to fix. However, as the name suggests, each application is native to its operating system (Android, iOS for example), so the developer must release one or even multiple versions for every device.
However, when it comes to HTML5, there are many more developers who are accustomed to building on web technologies, so you immediately have a much wider skills base. Additionally, as the application runs through the web, it can be developed once and then, with some optimisation, can be rolled out across multiple web platforms.
Updates to the apps can also be made directly to its users via the browser, meaning that they do not need to go into the web store to update the application; something which is necessary for native apps quite frequently if users are to see the latest updates and enhancements.
Striking the right balance – where does monetisation come into play?
Mobile apps contributed to more than $10bn in revenues to the EU economy over the last five years and for games developers, profits are important. With the most popular games being simple and easy to play, the level of user experience can be readily met by both HTML5 and native apps. Therefore, the final decision on which platform to use really comes down to how the developer wants that game to be monetised.
With native apps, the business frameworks and monetisation tools are often tied to the system supported by the OEM. Apple is a case in point and while it ensures that the application is highly secure, it does take a 30% commission. Native apps may also give little payment choice, meaning you may have to utilise the payment systems supported by the store (as is the case of with GooglePlay, the new version of the Android Market), although there’s a growing number of app stores available and alternative channels that are increasingly supporting in-app payments including carrier billing. This limited choice is fine if it’s a smooth payment such as a simple ‘one click’, but consumers like flexibility and time consuming methods such as having to enter card details or signing in to their account may deter customers from making that payment.
An app published on the web however means that the developer is free to use any online payment method they wish, including credit card, Paypal or the most powerful payment method for HTML5 games, carrier billing. Being able to automatically recognise the player’s mobile number without any registration needed and charge the purchase to their mobile bill or deduct it from their pre-paid credit in just one click makes for a much quicker and easier payment process. Furthermore as the user doesn’t need a credit card or even a bank account, this opens the doors to much wider and faster growing markets such as Latin America as well as the younger market segment.
And this is what starts to sway HTML5 more in my favour. While there are many points above to consider when it comes to application choice, monetisation through fast and simple payment methods such as carrier billing will play a big role in determining the profits made from an application.
*Editor’s note: the article’s author has been Neomobile employee until 2015