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Flash is the dominant engine to develop social games. While I don't think this will change in the near future, what technologies do you see most transformative in this space and do you believe games that require a proprietary plugin can reach the scale of a game like Farmville or is the acquisition friction simply too high?

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Flash is not (just) an engine, it's an entire platform. –  Adam Harte Aug 23 '10 at 20:30
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HTML5/javascript may be the future of social gaming. Flash has a few issues right now that could conceivably get worse. Namely, it has security issues and does not work on apple mobile devices. In theory there is no reason you could not implement a game such as FarmVille ENTIRELY within the browser as opposed to using a flash plugin, but the market penetration for HTML5 browsers is not quite high enough.

3 years from now it is very possible that people will be moving away from flash, the way people eventually moved away from Shockwave and other such technologies. Entirely native browser experiences will eventually beat out plugins, but it may take a more time than expected.

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I still don't get why everyone has it in for plugins. Generally they are small to download, provide a consistent platform, and are years ahead of any open solution since they evolve more rapidly. Flash, Unity3D, Silverlight to name a few. But I digress, FarmVille could be implemented in HTML5, the biggest hurdle will be inconsistencies across browsers. –  Allan Jul 22 '10 at 9:36
    
@Allan - Because if markets of the size social game developers are looking for could be trusted to install plugins (correctly, safely, with cross-platform and cross-browser support) we wouldn't need plugins at all and could just go back to shipping native binaries. Unity's plugin is impressive in how easy it is to install, but that's the exceptional case. –  user744 Jul 22 '10 at 12:26
    
I don't like installing plugins unless I have to. I'm lazy and I don't want to have to keep installing the plugin on every computer I use. Sometimes, I'm not even allowed to install the plugin. As for a developer perspective, there are risks in depending on third party plugins. You give up some of the control. –  user384918 Jul 22 '10 at 17:00
    
@bloots - Plugins are easier to install than whole new browsers though. Problem is there are just far too many browsers at the moment. Can you elaborate on some of the control given up by depending on third party plugins? :) –  Allan Jul 22 '10 at 23:06
    
You assume the plugin works for everyone, and on all devices that you want.If something breaks, and it ends up being the plugin (or any other third party thing really), you can't fix the problem. You have to wait for them to. If your business model depends on how the third party does business, who's to say they won't change something that inadvertendly screws you over? Suddenly the plugin does so and so to a user's browser, and people hate it and block it. You take the risk that some other company will play nice with everyone. This probably doesn't apply to social games as much, but still. –  user384918 Jul 23 '10 at 3:18
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As already answered, for "classical" social games (in the same way that the current FarmVille and Zynga games), the future is probably something between Flash and HTML5/JS. For example, another popular title from Zynga, Mafia Wars, is designed in HTML and JavaScript. Also, the web-based version of HOMM, Heroes of Might and Magic Kingdoms (by Ubisoft) is mixed Flash and HTML/JS. Technically, this is pretty much awesome.

But as the social games market is growing, more and more "big" entertainment companies will invest in this area. The main issue for them is regarding workflows and pipelines. Most of those companies are used to 3D games, which means they are employing peoples who design 3D stuff, and program 3D stuff. And those peoples are usually not the same that creates 2D graphics, animations and engines used in "classical" social games.

Also, those companies are tooled for what they do - 3D "AAA" games. They have pipelines regarding those tools. They have proprietary engines to fasten development. They have knowledge and expertise in those fields. But not in the totally different environment of "classical" social games, centered around Flash and web programming.

There is two approaches for them, and I think it is a good guess to expect them to go in both. The first one is to hire talented 2D-graphic, programming and designers peoples, and open up new teams, built for this kind of challenge. The other one is to change the way social gaming is designed.

This is the main reason for the success of Unity, which is a (quite powerful) 3D engine and game development platform for both in-browser applications, Apple devices and PC/Mac. It allows those companies to reuse their people, workflows and tools in this new environment, as well as create "new generation" social games, that may look more appealing to their customers.

I think that in the mid-term future, classical games and social games are going to meet, and there will be "hardcore" social games, as well as "casual" classical games. And technology between the two are going to be close.

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What do you think about cloud streaming technologies like OnLive and Gaikai? –  rrhoover Jul 24 '10 at 21:10
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Possibly HTML5.

It will work on new web browsers (current web browsers are still work-in-progress) and it'll make it simple to work on mobile phone (where Flash isn't embedded).

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To clarify, mobile phone == iPhone. Android 2.2 phones support Flash. –  Allan Jul 22 '10 at 9:38
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Boring old DHTML (HTML4, JavaScript and CSS) combined with a server language like PHP have powered hundreds of very successful multi-user casual games - all those pre-Zynga-era games where you manage a kingdom / space fleet from static menus. Kingdom of Loathing doesn't use any plug-ins, I don't think. In fact, the Flash elements of Farmville are really a very thin skin on top of essentially server-driven game: all the game logic is server-side.

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