Microsoft Tech Evangelist Jesse Freeman Talks HTML5 and Indie Game Development


Jesse Freeman is a Microsoft Tech Evangelist, game developer and author of  “Introducing HTML5 Game Development: Developing Games with Impact”. He recently started a Meetup called the New York Game Makers where he teaches a beginner game development and advanced game development class out of Microsoft on Saturdays for free. The classes pull a mix of new game makers and those who’ve released titles, and it’s an incredibly welcoming atmosphere where passion overrides any traditional artistic pretensions. Everyone just really loves to make games and being offered a time and space to focus on this has the wonderful side effect of building community.

Photo Courtesy of the New York Game Makers Website

You give up your Saturdays to teach people to make games for free, and Microsoft supports your endeavors by hosting the event. Why are you both so invested in teaching people to make games?

Microsoft has a rich history of helping support gaming. One of the reasons I joined the company was to help promote game development in their new Windows 8 platform here in NYC. While the city is a key player in video production and web (agency/enterprise) the indie game scene has been relatively quiet. I feel like that has a lot to do with the fact that it’s so expensive to live here coupled with the fact that we all work such long hours. You don’t get a lot of people who can easily make time or even live off of an indie game developer salary here.

The lack of free time during the week for most people is a big reason why I wanted to do my workshops on the weekend. Normally I would spend Saturdays working on my own games, so I figured why not open up the day to others and see if Microsoft can create a collaborative, creative and productive environment to help others make games.

With so many programming languages and platforms to choose from, what’s the benefit of building in HTML5 for the Windows 8 platform?

I come from a web development background. Pick a web technology and I have probably worked in it, such as Flash, JavaScript, PHP, Ruby and the list goes on and on. The web is still a key distribution channel and even though the good old days of plug-in based platforms are well behind us, I wouldn’t consider building anything unless I can put it online for others to see.

While there is a lot of hype around HTML5 as it emerges to become the dominant web technology in the “post Flash era”, it still provides a solid and fun platform to build casual games on. Plus, we are finally seeing the reality of HTML5 games working everywhere from desktop via Windows 8, to the browser and even on mobile devices thanks to 3rd party wrappers such as CocoonJS, Ejecta and PhoneGap. Although HTML5 is not perfect for every type of game, take 3D for example, you would be hard pressed to find any other technology right now that can truly be deployed both inside a browser and outside that still works on mobile and desktop computers. Over the next year or two we will see HTML5 fill in the gap left by casual Flash games which were a huge market for the past 10 or so years.

Finally, for most developers, their day job may still be web focused, so why not stick with a language they are most comfortable with such as JavaScript? This way, all of the time you invest in making HTML5 games will turn into skills you can still reuse in your day job, assuming you build web apps.

What is your take on the game development scene in NYC today?

As I kind of alluded to earlier on, I feel like the NYC game development scene is just starting to come into its own. We don’t have a lot of game studios here in the city so that means most people are making games as a hobby or even rarer, to go the pro-indie route. I think with mobile gaming becoming such a driving force in the game development scene we will see more startups here in the city.

There are a lot of great Meetups which are helping grow the community. Groups like the NYC Game Forum, which does monthly demo nights and a deep dive session every other week. It’s run by Brad Hargreaves and Eric Yohay who are very active in the NYC indie scene here. Also, Nate Altschul, who is the Director of Game Development at Nickelodeon, is running some great meetups on HTML5 Gaming  and Cross Platform Gaming. I am also looking forward to helping grow the community with my own group The New York Game Makers. Most of the game focused meetups are already being hosted at Microsoft’s office, and with Windows 8 out now gaming is a high priority. My goal is to simply help people make games, ideally if they can get those games onto Windows 8 that would be great too!

You can follow Jesse on Twitter and find him on Linkedin and his personal website

To Be Continued in Part Two Next Week.

About the author: Caitlin L. Conner

Caitlin L. Conner is an experienced project manager with roots in the games industry. She’s earned credits in production management, game design and quality assurance testing for ten published titles spanning the casual and MMORPG genres.

At AlleyWatch, Caitlin focuses on editorial content, writer coordination, and time and resource management. She also contributes writing on gaming and women in tech.

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