Bubble Tanks 2. Learn to Fly. Platforming Racing 2. For many gamers, these are titles they remember fondly. For others, they might be extremely obscure and unknown. Numerous individuals such as myself grew up with Flash gaming as an exceptional alternative to those expensive AAA titles. Flash games were free, after all, and there was no shortage of new titles to play every single day. Unfortunately, a part of my childhood, as well as for many others, is going to disappear this year when Adobe ends its support for Flash once and for all.
Yet, there are many dedicated individuals who are making it their job to preserve such games, so that a part of video game history isn't lost and forgotten. One such project is called Flashpoint, which has, thus far, saved thousands upon thousands of games from dying and being lost for good. Another company dedicated to this cause is Poki, headed by a team of individuals with a difficult job: tracking down Flash developers and bringing games to the Poki platform. We talked with Head of Game Developer Relations Joep van Duinen on how he and his team are preserving Flash gaming, one title at a time.
Poki's Origins and the Challenges of Flash Preservation
The internet wasn't as robust as it is today, so finding a new flash gaming site was always difficult. Newgrounds, Kongregate, and ArmorGames were a few staples. Like many of these sites, Poki also started in the early- to mid-2000s. Surprisingly, its mission then remains largely unchanged. It was, as van Duinen describes it, an easily accessed collection of Flash games. Many of these platforms are transitioning over to other forms of business as Flash's doom draws near; for example, Kongregate and ArmorGames are largely focusing on game development and publishing now. Poki is still all about Flash, and has found a lot of success.
"We strongly believe that the web is, and always has been, a fundamental destination for games," van Duinen said. "This belief was the stepping stone for our determination to develop what is now the leading platform for play on the web, reaching over 30 million monthly players globally, with a diverse community of more than 200 game developers from all over the world."
Indeed, while Poki has collaborated with over 200 game developers, there's plenty more out there. For collaboration, the company has a process. Developers are able to submit their game for review, and if it makes the cut, there's some money to be made. Poki is a business after all, but it also seems to offer developers a chance to be compensated for their work.
"If the game qualifies to our standards," said van Duinen, "we give the creators ownership of the result, offer a lifetime share of gameplay revenue, and enable them to reach our 30M players on the platform. As our technology handles Flash conversion to modern browsers at scale, we are now preparing to open this up to many more Flash game creators."
Once a game is accepted, they have to be transitioned over to the Poki platform. Flash won't be a thing for much longer, so a game has to have some sort of foundation in order to be played. The engineering challenge is handled by Poki as well as Away Studios. Specific challenges for this process include addressing the issue of load times.
With some engineering work, loads are much shorter now, and van Duinen said technology like HTTP/2 helped avoid those long waits that many Flash gamers may be acquainted with. However, van Duinen admits his team's largest obstacle was having these games run on a mobile platform. Game Tech Engineer Eric Sombroek solved this problem by mapping a game's inputs to a button and joystick overlay.
As for if Poki can preserve every game submitted to the platform, van Duinen said:
"For the past two years, together with Rob and his team at Away Studios, we have been working on, and investing in, AwayFL. This is an open-source technology that can save Flash content for the web. Thanks to this technology, we are proud to have the ability to run 90% of Flash games (AS2 and AS3) close to their original Flash performance."
Reflecting on Flash's Legacy with Poki
The year is reaching a close, and for the Flash platform, 2020 is it. When Flash discontinues, thousands of games and the websites that hold them become obsolete. Were these to disappear, a large part of the video game history vanishes. Poki saw how it was becoming a dying platform that needed to be kept alive.
"Over the years, the goal of bringing this cultural heritage to our Poki platform became more clear and possible for us," said van Duinen. "We genuinely wanted our future generation to be able to play the games we played when growing up—The Impossible Quiz by Splapp-me-do, Tank Trouble by Mads Purup, or Dino Run by Pixeljam. By doing that, we can make both the developers and the players happy, making the web a better place for games."
The impact of Flash gaming is quite extensive. Van Duinen points out two games—Super Meat Boy and Alien Hominid—as having origins as Flash titles. Others, like developers Terry Cavanagh and Toge Productions took what they learned from Flash and created new titles for Steam and mobile platforms.
It's probably surprising for a lot of people, but there are likely plenty of other games and developers that find mainstream success, much of it because of their involvement and experience with Flash. Reflecting on the future, Poki is optimistic about keeping these works alive. Van Duinen concluded with these words:
"When we curate these games, there is a part of nostalgia, we think fondly of our time at school dodging the teachers to play with our friends. But also, we know and see that these games are still loved by kids and will be loved by kids of the next generations. That’s why we are working hard to make sure the next generations can enjoy them, like we did."
What are your favorite Flash games? What are your thoughts on Flash's discontinuation? Let us know in the comments below!