Is it “game over” for Flash?

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

gameoverIn recent months, Adobe have abandoned Flex and abandoned supporting Flash themselves on Linux and browsers for mobile operating systems. They instead are introducing new premium (ie costs-you-money) features and are marketing Flash as a game development solution. They will be supporting games on (non-Linux) desktops using AIR and browser plugins, and on mobile, using AIR and native compilation.

Clearly Flash’s “it’s everywhere” heyday is over. It’s a technology that is in decline, which has refocused purely on gaming in an attempt to halt that decline. News last week from Mozilla suggests this may have been a wise move. In a blog post entitled “Opting-in to plugins in Firefox”, Jared Wein unveiled Mozilla’s plans for the future of plugins for that browser. The upshot is that plugin content will be disabled by default and that the user must give permission for a plugin to run content each time a new website is visited. Anyone who has ever run a “flash blocker” will know that this will severely destroy the user experience of any website that relies on seamlessly merging Flash and HTML content. Lots of black “click here to run flash content” squares on a page that is attempting to look visually appealing is a great way to destroy any appeal of the site. We have a situation where Flash is no longer supported on newer mobile devices, Windows 8 won’t support it in IE in Metro mode and won’t support Flash at all on the ARM version of Windows. Add to this the fact that Firefox seems to be planning on requiring the user to agree to run the content and the growing power of HTML5 (ie HTML5 + CSS3 + JavaScript) and it’s clear to see why Flash is in decline as a web technology.

Can just focusing on games give Flash a future though? Listening to what game developers say via tech user groups, twitter, events like Try { Harder } and the like, I’ve formed the following impressions of Flash as a gaming development platform:

  1. Many “indie game devs” rely on creating banner ads, web content, etc to help fund the development of the games as the latter is often more a labour of love than a good source of income.
  2. There is stiff competition to Flash as a game development platform from the likes of Unity and “going native” with C, Objective-C and Java.
  3. Despite this, many game developers know Flash well, it – and tools for it – are being actively developed still and many remain upbeat about it.

By focusing on games and game developers, Adobe may well have picked up an “Extra Life” token just prior to Mozilla taking a life from it. So my gut feeling is it’s not game over for Flash … just yet. I do get a growing sense of it clinging on by its fingertips though and if focusing on games doesn’t start generating a decent level of revenue for Adobe, that extra life token may simply have delayed the inevitable.

4 thoughts on “Is it “game over” for Flash?

  1. Personally, I don’t think Adobe should be relying on games revenue. They need to relying on the revenue from their tools. The uptake of upgrades to the Flash IDE is poor because it isn’t good enough as an animation tool anymore, and it’s a terrible development tool. If they’re serious about Flash for Games, I’d like to see them really focus on the Flash IDE as a game production tool, introducing a level editor, sprite sheet exporter (which they are doing), physics engine integration and so on. If you look at the proliferation of “game-maker” style tools, then you can see where they should be aiming – some of them are even built in AIR, primarily because of the lack of decent tooling in Flash itself!

    They could also do themselves a massive favour and fix JSFL, so that the community can write plugins without having to jump through a million hoops.

  2. This is the first that I heard of Firefox disabling plugins by default. However, a closer look at the description of the functionality on mozilla.org, shows that it will just disable out of date plugins. Chrome does the same thing, which can be annoying anytime I come across a QuickTime video as Quicktime always seems to be out of date. The big difference with Chrome is that it auto-updates Flash so that it is never out of date. However, with Flash Player 11.2 that shouldn’t be as big of an issue since the player will auto-update in the background. However, my understanding is that auto-updates it is currently Windows only.

  3. I agree that Flash is not the best of platforms, but it’s become a standard on the web. Allot of websites use Flash in some form or another and that is going to keep Flash alive. HTML5 is far from complete and still doesn’t fill the gap that Flash has made, Flash is going to be replaced but it won’t be Unity or HTML5 (In their current states) as they are styled in a way that most Flash developers (That’s who we are converting after all) won’t be able to use easily. Flash is still a big part of the internet and will be until an identical tool which does more replaces it. I love Flash as a Games Developer and would love to see it get some healthy competition. This article and many like it do prove that Flash is still an important part of the internet!

  4. Visited Dice today. By searching for “actionscript” I got 55 results. Few months ago it was about a hundred more (150+). Make no mistake Flash is declining rapidly. Few years from now it will probably be obsolete. Time to move on to other platforms.

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