The death of the Adobe Flash platform is a big change for many media-centric industries, for better and for worse.
Flash was truly a revolutionary tool for people wanting to make games and animations. Its accessibility made it so that anyone could create and enjoy awesome interactive experiences without needing a super powerful computer or game console. Games like Super Meat Boy, Trials, and Happy Wheels got their start on Flash and still exist to this very day, even on other non-Flash platforms. Game genres like Endless Runner and Tower Defense became largely popularized in the Flash era and have made a huge impact on gaming as we know it. Many of the more popular and memorable Flash games had outstanding game design for their time, many of which without having stellar triple-A graphics and development budgets. Flash was a haven for indie game makers, animators, and even website publishers who wanted more engagement from users at minimal cost. As the web market shifted towards mobile devices and standalone apps, the practicality of using Flash dipped dramatically. Not only was it not hip to make Flash games when Apps were getting all the attention, technically with Apple’s popular iOS devices completely ignoring Flash support, the writing was on the wall. Now, after almost a decade of warning users Adobe’s “Shockwave” Flash platform was dropped from support by Adobe and all major web browsers/operating systems will loose support in December of 2020.
What we lost
As the Internet began to adopt newer formats such as HTML5, websites such as Newgrounds, Miniclip, and Addicting Games (all indie web-gaming powerhouses) as well as countless e-learning businesses had to face their massive Flash libraries becoming less compatible, outdated, and more of a security risk to users. More users demanded mobile support, and Flash was just not there.
Flash was unique in that it, with little shame, allowed content to utilize a great deal of power of the host desktop. So any new developer could import massive assets and build a game, ignoring optimization and best practices along the way. With mobile and the lower power and memory they come with, it means Flash itself, and a lot of Flash Content, was simply not suited for such a step back down.
Converting Flash apps to more modern platforms, such as HTML was proven to not only be difficult, but expensive. Especially for those with massive libraries of games, videos, and interactive content. As those once-popular SWF (Shockwave Flash) files became less supported over time as web browsers leaving Flash Player totally out of their releases, the platform became less about creation and more about preservation.
While mobile apps have consumed a great deal of that market, one could not argue with the convenience we once had of heading to Newgrounds.com and having a huge library of games at our mouse pointers. While HTML5 is considered to be the platform to replace Flash, HTML5 requires more development time, knowhow and optimization to get that expected level of cross-compatibility. It can’t be understated, Flash was not just a development tool. It was a revolutionary art tool, allowing for illustration, animation, programming, and optimization all on a tight visual workflow. Even after all these years, HTML5 struggles to compete with what we once had.
Flash’s demise, has left the world with a massive collections of games, apps, websites, and e-learning courses, filled with art and animations, audio and video that developers and publishers have either abandoned naturally, or were forced to because of the cost to convert. A whole history of gaming is at risk of being lost (or, at least, difficult to preserve). There’s a slew of passionate communities, and Rochester’s own Museum of Play, are working hard to preserve those games, but the gap between archiving and pirating is often not accounted for.
It is estimated that nearly 200,000 educational courses globally are still housed in the flash platform, inaccessible to mobile users. Will we see those live on? It’s hard to say at this point. With Flash support over with, soon the tools used for efficient conversions will dwindle, and cost will go up. Now is really the time to act.
What we gained
Perhaps the biggest nail in the coffin for Flash was the dominance of mobile for web browsing. Games that traditionally worked well on Flash found simply were not accessible on mobile. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either (Flash players in the way early days sucked a battery dry in a matter of minutes). Thanks to push towards mobile, not only did we break free from our reliance on a single company (Adobe), tool (Flash), and Player (Flash Player) and whatever browsers/devices decided to support it. We now make HTML5 content that works in all browsers on pretty much all devices (including HTML5 devices such as smart TVs and VR headsets). The end result is variety, higher potential userbase, and more stability and openness within the HTML5 standard.
Creators have been forced to code more efficiently to support mobile devices and appliances, resulting in lighter and tighter apps and games that load in a new tab in an instant. As new web technologies crop up, they are often integrated into games and e-learning courses, giving developers more flexibility and resources—something they simply had to wait for Adobe to support. From cloud based multiplayer and content management systems to powerful open source engines, we have more tools available to us than before. While we lost a bit of Flashiness in what we create, we ended up gaining the freedom to expand far from the scope of the old Flash app. It is literally is game-changing.
What we learned
Flash’s demise wasn’t the first time people were forced to migrate from highly popular platform to something more modern, and certainly won’t be the last. In the digital space, it helps to consider permanence and maintenance when planning a product. Choose your platform wisely and assume that with technology moving as fast as it is, that eventually the game or application may need and update or outright conversion. When will that be? It’s hard to predict. Will my product still be viable then? Who knows. What will the cost be? Hopefully affordable. You simply can’t predict what will happen, but you can mitigate for when it does.
- Choose an open standard that’s the best safe bet right now
- Document the scope and development
- Use external standardized forms for storing content (XML files)
- Save your creator source materials. Save everything you can!
- Don’t be afraid to ask.
Workinman adapting from Flash
As a studio who started out creating Flash games and entertainment apps, we ourselves went through this transition over 5 years ago when the demand for HTML5 games was just ramping up. As leaders in the field of web game and associated technology, we went full-force into HTML5 development (while offering support solutions for our remaining Flash users) building a solid engine that carried over a lot of features and a set of tools to facilitate conversions. Our experiences have led us to become experts at not only HTML5 games and entertainment apps, but the conversion process to HTML5 as well. Why put all that knowledge to waste?
Converting your Flash content to HTML5 (or mobile apps)
We are helping others make that transition before their Flash apps are lost forever. We have converted hundreds of games, e-learning courses, and entertainment apps to modern HTML5 for clients. Along with conversion, we can modernize components, add touch controls, add responsiveness, upscale art, add content management, and create native iOS and Android builds. We are a full service studio capable of taking your outdated application and resurrecting it into a viable new product. While there is not one-button automated way to modernize a Flash app or game, our experience, streamlined process, and advanced tools allow us to use the solution that best fits your budget.