While China marked the 90th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in late July with a military parade, the country’s netizens are celebrating the event in their own way by flooding the top social media platforms with PLA uniform portraits. Scanning a QR code and uploading a headshot photo, then a composite self-portrait is ready for you to attract tens of “likes” from friends. The trick went viral quickly with page views for the program spiking to 800 million in two days.

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Xiaomi’s CEO/founder Lei Jun posted his PLA uniform potrait on Weibo (Image Credit: Lei Jun)

The incident has brought the technology behind the program—HTML5—back to the spotlight. Born to high expectations, the technology has run into headwinds due to performance and compatibility issues. But with the development of technology and changing market conditions, it is ready to record a real boom, according to Wen Xiangdong, VP of Egret Technology.

Several market shifts have shed brighter prospects on the technology. At the end of last year, Facebook rolled out Instant Games, a new HTML5-enabled cross-platform gaming experience, on Messenger and Facebook News Feed. On top of that, Adobe announced plans to cease support for Flash by the end of 2020, giving opportunities for more modern open web standards like HTML5 to fill in the gap.

Beijing-based Egret Technology, founded in 2014, offers HTML5 mobile solution and services for games and application professionals. It provides various solutions for HTML5 game studios and developers, including game engine Egret Engine, Egret Runtime, an accelerator used to speed up content by embedding in mobile browsers and applications, and smart GUI editor Egret Wing.

As an early entrant to the industry, Egret Engine is used by over 70% of H5 game developers, according to the firm. A total of 200k users developed more than 8,000 H5 games based on their services.

The company went public last year on China’s National Equities Exchange and Quotations market. As a technology-driven company, Egret’s game engine services are mostly offered for free, according to Wen. The company’s revenues come from game distribution, homegrown game development business and open platform that provides SDK services to game developers, he added.

The twists and turns of a maturing industry

“H5 game is often dubbed the ‘web game for mobile.’ But compared with mobile games, which recorded touch-and-go success in China, H5 gaming has experienced a roller-coster journey over a prolonged period. We are in the industry long enough to experience all the down moments, but luckily the whole market is on the right track to a gradual rise,” noted Wen.

Although Egret Engine-based H5 games like Catch The Crazy Cat became a hit on WeChat as early as 2014, they are mostly casual games with simple gameplay. User passions soon faded away and the lack of a commercialization model made them less sustainable.

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Wen Xiangdong: VP of Egret Technology (Image Credit: Egret)

The recent surge in China’s H5 gaming started from the beginning of last year as more diversified gaming categories emerged. Along with the rise of mid- and hard-core games like SLG (simulation game) and ARPG (action role playing game), the industry recorded another comeback with benchmark games. The H5 version of Shanda’s blockbuster game The World of Legend hit monthly gross revenue of 30 million at the end of last year through ads or in-game purchases.

“For me, diversification in game categories is a key factor in determining the maturity and prospects of a market. Like many other sectors, H5 gaming went through the same development process from having no direction to flocking to one hot sector and then to diversification. H5 gaming is now heading towards diversification and maturing,” Wen said.

The change is being propelled forward by several factors, according to Wen. Firstly, Chinese gamers or Chinese netizens, in general, are more willing to spend money on in-app features. Secondly, large platforms like WeChat, Weibo, QQ, Toutiao are opening their traffic to H5 games. Removing the hassle of downloading an app, H5 games give people a conversation starter or something to do while they wait, both of which click with the social nature of various social media platforms. This is partially facilitated by the openness of H5 technology—which provides one unified way to supply various kinds of games—and removes the problems of re-adapting the programs to different platforms.

Gaming powers from China to the world

After years of neglect, the global H5 gaming market is also warming up, marked by Facebook’s release of Instant Game feature. Against this backdrop, Chinese H5 gaming firms, which have witnessed several successful cases domestically, are poised to take their experiences to the global market.

“Currently, Egret’s overseas users mainly come from Japan, South Korea and Russia. We are trying to expand to more countries in Southeast Aisa and North America. In addition to Facebook, other overseas social platforms like Line and Kakao are also adopting an open attitude towards H5 games,” Wen pointed out.

It seems that Egret is not the only Chinese company that eyes the rising sector. Chukong, the mobile gaming company that stands behind the prevailing Cocos Game Engine, is moving fast to tap the global H5 market with launch of their own title for Facebook Instant Game.

When being asked about rivalry from peers, Wen said: “For an emerging market like H5, cooperation with the few players to build up the market is more important than competition.”