Whenever a new developer and compute platform comes along — whether that’s the mobile phone or a VR headset — games are quick to follow as one of the first ever use cases.
That’s the case now with Blackstorm, a development platform that’s geared toward different platforms like Messengers and the browser that can easily be accessed without having to download a native app through the App Store. Using it as a showcase to see the kind of performance and distribution developers can get through Blackstorm, the games studio is geared toward building high-fidelity games that work in a browser.
“We’re focused on HTML5, but held accountable to native mobile performance,” co-founder Ernestine Fu said. “The games we create are just as good as what you’d see from traditional engines like Cocos2D or Unity. If we can’t deliver a product that’s as good or better than native we go back to the drawing board.”
One of the core examples for something like this is for users sending a link to their friends over a messenger — like Facebook Messenger and iMessage — that gets them into the game without having to download an app. The company set aggressive fidelity benchmarks to ensure that they would be on par with native app performance, such as ensuring that high-level particle effects and supporting tens of thousands of sprites work without dipping under 60 frames per second.
“Native [apps] typically have downloads of hundreds of megabytes or more, we have to make sure we load instantly,” Fu said. “The biggest thing to note in which why this is possible right now, this level of quality wasn’t possible until very recently. We’re really starting to see changes like iOS 9 and it got a lot better with iOS 10 as well. Really kind of pushing the limits of how we can build HTML5 to build very high quality games. In general [HTML5 was] missing a lot of APIs which we’ve only seen recently emerged. Good offline, good networking, push, I think these are changes over the past year or two to really enable this to be the time for us to compete with native game studios.”
Fu said that an advantage is being able to load the app quickly and continue loading elements in the background while getting the user into an experience right away. The first game that the company is launching is called EverWing, something that looks akin to a ship-based bullet shooter but with more of a fantasy flair. That game is designed to be highly social and competitive through scores, Fu said, to encourage users to start sharing it through alternative platforms and show that the tools actually work.
In the end, Fu wants to get a service in the hands of developers that’ll get their apps accessible immediately through a simple link in WhatsApp or anything along the like. HTML5 for the most part has been inferior to native app development, but there’s also a large barrier to entry for getting someone to actually go through a link to the App Store, download an app, sign up and finally start using it. So Fu and her team’s theory is that it’s time to go back to exploring the browser and messenger platforms as the fidelity starts to catch up.
This is still going to be an uphill battle. The largest and most-established gaming companies already have huge and well-known titles built into the App Store. And when they launch new games, they can easily cross-promote them through their apps in order to encourage additional downloads and get new users on board. And, of course, there are plenty of systems in place to direct users to install apps like Facebook’s App Install ads.
“We were thinking from a game studio perspective as we were thinking about adoption of the technology we have, and the best way to showcase the Blackstorm technology is likely games,” Fu said. “[We wanted to show we could run] complexity and requirements of games, which are the most demanding apps in terms of all that’s required. It’s like a showcase, so we’re definitely taking the approach of a very traditional in-house game studio. And I think, probably I would say it’s a similar approach to our biggest competitors.”
The company’s advisors and investors including gaming legend and former Sega of America chief Tom Kalinske (thanks for Sonic the Hedgehog!), Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron and Playdom CEO John Pleasants. Earlier this year, Blackstorm said it raised $33.5 million in venture financing.