Interview: Google on HTML5

Interview: Google on HTML5
Michael French

By Michael French

February 16th 2011 at 8:00AM

Michael Mahemoff, Chrome developer advocate, speaks on emerging web technologies

As a key leader from Google’s developer relations team, which works with third-parties making HTML5 content for the Chrome App Store, Michael Mahemoff was happy to take questions on Google’s game plan, working with the industry, and the convergence of developer cultures…

There’s been a sudden uptake of HTML5 gaming – why?
It’s since we announced the Chrome webstore, and HTML5 as a buzzword took off. I like it having that buzz – it’s not necessarily the official Google line, it’s something I personally advocate. But HTML5 speaks to what games are very well – and the opportunities Canvass presents means good things for gamers. That combined with the new avenues to purchase new apps and content through PCs and mobile, when you combine that delivery with the development environment for the industry there is a real opportunity.

Has there been an increase in the number of games companies you have spoken to?
Yes, definitely. In the build up to the launch of the store, my main role has been working with partners in other companies developing cool games. We’ve gone to many of them and said that from the start if they commit to HTML5 we can give them good, early information. It’s not exclusive to games – that door is open to any company that is interested in selling apps – but for games specifically there is real excitement there. Now, someone with a cool idea for a game can make and sell it quickly through the web.

Plus, we’re also working hard with games for Android. So on mobile you have apps for Android – where games is certainly already one of the most popular categories – and HTML5 content.

What I find interesting is how quickly the interfaces have developed and how sophisticated online games have become – and HTML5 can help that move even faster.

There’s a debate about the actual specifications of HTML5 – and understandably so given it isn’t finalised yet. What’s your view on the components it should or shouldn’t include?
Much of it is arbitrary, to be honest, which is why I often say to developers that I am reluctant to define what HTML5 is. What’s important is that people understand the various things it brings together are available for them to use if they want – such as CSS3, geo-location, offline storage, and so on. As we have thrashed out what HTML5 is, things have been taken out and put in – the developers, really, will define what it is.

How do games fit into what a broad web company like Google does?
It’s funny, you read all these rumours about what Google will do in games, but we are already working with game developers – we are up front about it. People play games online, and we are online.

And we’re definitely hiring in people from the games industry so we can better understand its conventions and skill set. I come from the web world of javascript and so have had to skill up my knowledge. That’s something a company like Google, which is getting closer into games, definitely knows it needs to understand.
Google has always had an experience on faster user interfaces, clean design – games haven’t traditionally been that way.

But there’s a crossover now, and we’re talking to all sorts of people when it comes to HTML5, which is increasingly relevant to games and other entertainment. Things like interface design and user experience, fonts, or even just bigger media organisations. A lot of things are simply coming together and matching up. That’s certainly something HTML5 encourages, too.

What kind of feedback have you had from game developers about HTML5?
One of the biggest grumbles is about the basic fact of browser fragmentation and inconsistency – IE6 is still out there in the wild and popular; the British government has said it will be using it up to 2014. That’s a big challenge, and creates an immediate barrier.
But there are other web issues that developers are also learning about – things as basic as SEO to make sure content, be that games or not, is easily found, right up to client-side storage.

And there are questions about how audio is addressed with HTML5 – it’s still quite basic. Where’s that up to? Audio is a key component in many games, after all.
It’s already being solved and will be cracked; there are people in-house at Mozilla and Apple already trying their own solutions, so I don’t think it will be too long before that becomes more advanced. It will certainly be well ahead of the final specifications.

That’s one area where the open, collaborative nature of the web and HTML5 have really proven themselves – there’s a group of companies that compete but also work together for the best implementations. HTML5 is a great example of the new way of thinking – about collectively defining and deciding some standards that will help us all go forward. Because you can’t second-guess developers and what they might do with technology. Hack days like this Game Jam are proof of that too.

You say ‘hack day’, when the games industry says ‘Game Jam’. That seems to expose a real difference in how web developers and game developers approach thing.
Definitely. There’s an ethos of tinkering and playing around with content that’s endemic to web development that is a bit different. I remember when I first ‘got’ web coding, and I made something that someone on the other side of the world was then able to see, change and fire back to me. That’s very unique – but it’s something happening in games now, too.