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Thinking Through Gamification and HTML5 for Mobile Apps

Peter Rogers
Principal Architect for Mobility
Cognizant
In this article, my colleague and uber-geek (he builds games over wet-weekends) Peter Rogers shares his insights on Gamification and HTML5.
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One of my most interesting achievements in life is having the first downloadable mobile game ever rejected. I was running an internal games team back in the days of the emergence of J2ME and we were actually running custom built MIDP 2.0 emulators (that I had to build myself) on top of iPAQs, as there was no 3G phone hardware available yet. We had to load a reduced Java SE runtime onto the iPAQ and then load on the MIDP 2.0 emulator which was itself written in Java. The interesting thing to note was the proliferation of Java SE runtimes that were available for Compaq’s handheld Pocket PC, but they all suffered from performance issues which is why they never really took off. It was not until Google decided to make the Dalvik VM use a register-based architecture, as opposed to the stack machine typically used by a Java VM, that acceptable Java SE performance was possible on a mobile device and henceforth Android was born.

The concept of the game was actually very simple, a lot of chickens popped out of various holes and you had to grab hold of them (and sort of choke them). I hired Steve Brown as our artist, who was the legendary artist of the 1987 Commodore 64 classic Barbarian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbarian:_The_Ultimate_Warrior) which managed to gleefully court controversy ("Barbarian features gory combat for the sake of rescuing a bikini-wearing princess"). I am not sure if it was the animation sequences of cartoon chicken related violence (their eyes bulged out as you squeezed them) or the name of the game (chickens, choking, I am sure you can work it out). We also had a game where you had to lead sheep over a minefield with amazing graphical deaths. I think we managed to have three games rejected (some may actually class them as the first mobile games ever banned) but we did produce two exceptional games which did finally make it to market.

With that said, I have always had a strong love affair with mobile gaming and so I get a twitch of disatisfaction when people discuss Gamification in such dispassionate undertones. In my mind then Gamification is more than just adding experience points and awards to your underlying content. In my opinion the actual content needs to be changed and that means adopting simple game design concepts. Flappy Bird proved to the world that people are highly competitive and that frustration equals stickiness. I want to see more people adding actual mini-games into their content and not just into their advertising windows.

The creation of mini-games does require a supporting Gamification framework though. I believe this will happen, as HTML5 Gaming frameworks offer higher levels of abstraction and the best I have seen yet is the Quintus Game Engine (http://html5quintus.com/). In just 80 lines of code then you can write a simple platform game. I managed to prove this point by writing a touch screen Tetris game one wet weekend.  The next step is Gaming frameworks that offer more simplified gaming experiences that can be created by amateurs. I envisage an App Factory with a simplified API that can be used to create mini-games that can run in a GameView window - similar to a UIWebView/WebView for wrapping web content. Only interactive adverts seems to offer anything similar to a GameView and these are generally a bad experience on mobile.

As one of the first five owners of a Nintendo Gameboy in this country, I remember sitting in a McDonalds and playing a portable monochrome Super Mario Land on a blurry screen, whilst watching the amazement of the local burger munching clientele. It has been clear to me for many years that Nintendo drives innovation far more than they get credit for.

It was very interesting then when I stumbled across a second hand copy of WarioWare DIY (https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/IuuBjN_K0sbf8ckx_2qo9IOUTFXWTisl). At first it appeared to be just a bad collection of mini-games but on further investigation it allowed you to actually create your own games and ship them to an online community. What amazed me was the simplicity of the API that was wrapped into an App Factory for amateurs. With a few clicks and a vast simplification of gaming logic then I was able to create mini-games and ship them to a wider audience. This may sound totally irrelevant until you hear all of your customers asking for Gamification and the complete lack of game creating talent generally available within a business. Imagine if you had a simple App Factory that allowed you to create simple Gamification experiences and export them into a GameView window within an App.

I am therefore currently looking at reverse engineering the WarioWare DIY API and creating my own Design Time API that enables the building of simple Gamification experiences that can be imported into existing native Apps or even loaded over the air (App Store regulations withstanding). This task would of course be far easier by just targeting HTML5 and building this on top of the excellent Quintus Game API, however there would be issues of performance.

Without targeting HTML5 Canvas and a suitable cross-compiler to native OpenGL then I would much rather target Polyglot code for multiple native operating systems. A polyglot is a computer program or script written in a valid form of multiple programming languages, which performs the same operations or output independent of the programming language used to compile or interpret it.

If anybody out there is interesting by my Gamification creation framework then please feel to reach out.

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Kevin Benedict
Writer, Speaker, Editor
Senior Analyst, Digital Transformation, EBA, Center for the Future of Work Cognizant
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Recommended Strategy Book Code Halos
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

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More Stories By Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict is the Senior Analyst for Digital Transformation at Cognizant, a writer, speaker and SAP Mentor Alumnus. Follow him on Twitter @krbenedict. He is a popular speaker around the world on the topic of digital transformation and enterprise mobility. He maintains a busy schedule researching, writing and speaking at events in North America, Asia and Europe. He has over 25 years of experience working in the enterprise IT solutions industry.