The Death Of Flash Is Coming, And Not Everyone's Happy

The Death Of Flash Is Coming, And Not Everyone's Happy

Did you enjoy Alien Hominid? Thank Adobe Flash. The Binding of Isaac? The original version ran like crap, but that was Flash, too. Flash eats battery life and makes computer fans run loud, but it's been important to many developers, which is why they freaked out a bit today.

Flash used to power much of what you viewed on the web, including games. That's changed in recent years, but Flash is still kicking. Today's anxiety came from a decision by the popular browsers Chrome and Firefox to temporarily block the technology over security concerns. Heck, Facebook's new chief of security recently called for Adobe to start preparing for Flash's funeral:

Basically, people want to kill Flash on the web. Before he died, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously wrote an open letter to Adobe about why the iPhone wouldn't support Flash. He spent hundreds of words explaining his reasoning, but here's the summary: Flash totally sucks.

"Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don't want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.

Jobs was mostly right. But while Flash might suck, that doesn't mean it's not vital or important.

There are several components to Flash, but the one players are the most familiar with is the web player. It used to power YouTube, but formally switched to HTML 5 earlier this year. Twitch still uses Flash, but there's a good chance that's going away eventually, too. It also used to service all sorts of web animation, and was the primary way to play games online for a long, long time.

"For five years I've been told Flash is dead," said Kongregate senior producer John Cooney. "It comes from everywhere: friends in the industry, relatives, blogs, especially news headlines. Flash has died more times than we can remember. It's become a joke among Flash game developers."

Kongregate is one of several web sites dedicated to serving browser-based games, which means they have relied on Flash for years. (Most also now support HTML 5 and Unity.) Did you play an early version of the popular tower defence game Kingdom Rush? You played it on Kongregate.

"As someone who has loved Flash since 1998, it's been frustrating to watch everything that has happened over the years," said Newgrounds co-founder Tom Fulp.

Newgrounds was also built on Flash games, and chances are you've played one at some point. Besides Alien Hominid and Binding of Isaac, there's Portal: The Flash Version, Super Mario Crossover, Defend Your Castle, and countless others.

The Death Of Flash Is Coming, And Not Everyone's Happy

Fulp is not only helped build one of the web's most important gaming destinations, but co-founded Castle Crashers developer The Behemoth. Where'd they get their start? Flash.

Newgrounds has been preparing for the demise of Flash. It built a tool for animators to easily convert creations into a video file for YouTube. Like Kongregate, it also added support for Unity and HTML5, but neither is currently as capable or ubiquitous as Flash.

"People talk a lot about the need for more accessibility in creative industries and I think Flash was the most accessible creative tool in my lifetime," said Fulp. "It allowed all sorts of people to animate and make games; people like me who otherwise would never have ended up where they are today."

One such designer is Edmund McMillen, one half of Super Meat Boy's developer, Team Meat. McMillen originally made a name for himself on the Newgrounds community by building weird, disturbing Flash experiments in 2001. They remain online, if you want to look through them.

The Death Of Flash Is Coming, And Not Everyone's Happy

McMillen still uses Flash as an animation and illustration program, and was recently considering releasing a tiny game through Flash and HTML5, but eventually decided against it.

"I quickly found out that that whole scene is long dead," he said. "There is almost no money in Flash games these days. Kinda sucks, but I believe everyones moved to App Store dev. It's sad to see it slowly die off. Flash was a very easy way to make games, but time changes everything."

These days, if you utter the term "Flash games," people will probably roll their eyes. Many of them tend to have crappy art, but there's a reason for that: Flash made it so easy to get games up-and-running for amateurs that non-artists would end up building every part of the game.

"Flash allowed me to ease myself into being a game developer without having to understand computer science principles off the bat," said developer Iain Lobb, who's been building Flash games since 2000. "You could do a little animation, just add in a couple of lines of code to do something interactive, and build up from there."

When it's easier for people to participate, it's not a surprise quality will be all over the place.

"A lot of Flash games were, in fact, terrible," said Lobb. " [They] were made by 15 year olds in their bedrooms, with awful stick-man art, so it's not completely baseless!"

The Death Of Flash Is Coming, And Not Everyone's Happy

Headlines declared the death of PC game development for years, but it didn't happen. With Flash, however, it appears the "Flash is dead" narrative is contributing to its demise.

"Our clients refused that we use Flash as the core technology, because of all the news of Flash being dead," said a programmer who asked to remain anonymous. "The more the media talked about Flash being dead, the more dead Flash became."

"Steve Jobs and his 'reality distortion field' was probably the worst thing to happen to Flash," said Newgrounds co-founder Tom Fulp. "There were valid concerns about the security of Flash but the reality was that Steve had an ax to grind with Adobe ever since they didn't have his back when he returned as the head of Apple. [...] But he was a dick, so that's how it goes."

It's possible Flash will soon become irrelevant to players, but based on the developers I talked with today, it will remain a useful tool for building games. Many designers told me it remains useful during the early prototype phase.

The bigger worry is what happens if the major browser creators decide to really pull the plug on Flash at some point. Suddenly, tens of thousands of games would no longer be playable by the vast majority of people browsing the Internet.

"The thing I really care about is that some of the legacy is preserved somehow, so we can still look back on the things people made with Flash," said Lobb.

"All that amazing work could disappear overnight," said Tom Vian, a developer who's been building Flash games for the past 13 years.

You can reach the author of this post at [email protected] or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.


Comments

    Surely there are viable alternatives for rapid game prototyping now?

    Flash isn't going to go away as long as there's stuff out there people need it for. HTML5 and Unity and whatnot are all well and good, but unless you can take an existing Flash file and have the browser automatically convert it to HTML5 or something, it's here to stay for the near future at least.

      Right now I can name GameMaker, RPGMaker, Unity, Blender, heck, pretty much anything you can find these days. I find all of those tools far easier than Flash anyway.

      Unity3d seems to be the go to engine for rapid game creation for 2d or 3d games now, its pipeline is just so damn easy to use, plus its supported on basically every platform from PC, Mac, Android, iOS, PS4 and Xbone.

        I've tinkered with it a little but from what I've seen it's nowhere near as quick to get something going in 2D as Flash was. The difference between an animation suite that can be used to make games and a dedicated game engine I guess. Also that was a while ago (Unity 3) so maybe things have changed more recently. Does seem to be the defacto standard now.

    I hope every browser disables it. I hope every developer stops thinking it's a good idea. I hope Adobe finally decide to can it. I hope Flash just dies and goes away like it deserves to.

    There is no good reason to use Flash. Not one.

      It's super easy to make a game and publish it. I have even made a few basic ones and I know next to nothing about programming. Also super easy to animate in.
      You can share them online and they are super small.
      All good reasons.
      There are also negatives however.

      except for the good reasons that the developers have clearly stated above...? are you a developer? im sure you know a better way for them to do their jobs?

      As a platform that's true, but as a content creation tool it's still amongst the best. I'm not really aware of any viable alternatives for creating animated vector graphics.

        I guess if all you're doing is animation you can still use older versions of Flash to make stuff and then just upload them to YouTube when you're done.

      Until you can easily and simply convert the truly classic Flash games that still actually exist into some other format, there is still an excellent reason to use Flash.

    I worked on content at newgrounds from the very start, it was an amazing community and so much awesome stuff came out of it. It's slightly horrifying to think that it could be turned off before it has all been transcribed into other formats.

    And what replaces it as an animation tool now?

    I feel as if newgrounds and planethalflife were THE breeding grounds for amazing creators because of the ridiculous accessibility of both the tools and the communities. I'll only accept their demise when something else can fill that void.

    I'm old. :/

      Yeah, Newgrounds was pretty awesome back in the day. I haven't visited it regularly for a long time now though.

        Go and rewatch everything by David Firth, "Matzerath", and "Dave" before it's too late!

        Last edited 15/07/15 5:38 pm

          Yeah, watched a fair bit of his stuff. The Bitey of Brackenwood guy is amazing too but hasn't done anything for awhile. I go back and watch them now and then.

      http://www.develop-online.net/tools-and-tech/12-alternative-game-engines/0205547

      has some good options

        They're all game making tools though. The beauty of Flash as far as sites/communities like Newgrounds are concerned is that it's animation software that starts simple but can scale up to some serious applications. You could start out just scribbling in Flash and there would be a natural progression as you got better at both the animation side and the scripting side.
        The game making software alternatives can do what Flash could in a technical sense, but the catch is that even the most basic ones don't let you start out with straightforward GIF style basic animation. The ones that start simple tend to cap out earlier in terms of capabilities, so you invest your time learning them only to be forced to move on when you outgrow them. The ones with more potential tend to have a way higher bar on entry.

      To be honest, I think it's the Flash Player everyone wants to die. I may I be incorrect, but doesn't Flash Studio include a HTML5 export option as of several months ago? Maybe even a year or two?

    The number 1 reason flash is dead is apple - allowing flash to work on the ipod and iphone would have killed the app store. It was all about the ios walled garden and control.

      No it was all about battery life and security, notice that flash didn't install natively with Android either, and many companies have recommended disabling Flash due to security problems.

      Last night I updated Flash due to a required security update.

      This morning I found that Firefox was again blocking flash due to yet ANOTHER required security update.

      To be clear, both security updates would have patched holes that have existed for some time and have put Flash users at risk for that entire time. The security holes did not abruptly become dangerous; they already were dangerous.

      I've noticed significant improvements in the load time and reliability of web pages when I use FlashGot (a plugin that stops Flash from playing automatically, while permitting it to be enabled selectively).

      Creators' ease in creating content does not trump my need to have a secure and stable system. This is why Flash needs to die. If Adobe were more proactive in fixing its security flaws I might feel differently, but in practice it's where Internet Explorer was around a decade ago: a buggy black box which favours the vendor over the consumer.

      I understand why people like using it from a content creation perspective. Those same people should be aware that their decision to use flash is putting their userbase at risk, and their userbase is well advised to go and find an alternative application which does the same thing without relying on Adobe's buggy mess.

        I got some bad news, there's other bigger security risks that your browser is doing nothing about and the creators dont care, especially the ones relating to privacy and all the user data that apple and google use as their food, so yeah, while flash isnt great, there's worse out there that nobody is patching or fixing.

          There are plugins to block a lot of those side feeds, and antivirus products (including some free ones) which provide some level of protection.

          Flash represents a highly preventable risk. It's been risky for years, and Adobe's record on security has always been atrocious. Since 90% of flash content on the Web is either advertising (which I'm happy to miss) or video content (which is trivial to convert, if the authors are willing) there's no good reason for enabling Flash on anything but a highly selected basis.

      Yeah it was pretty obvious from steve jobs letter. This was back when the games on phones were a big deal and most were pretty much crappier versions of flash games. People wouldnt have played their shit games on the app store if there was a bunch of free alternatives on the net, many of which were better.

      Natural selection :) I'm thankfully every day that the wall garden enabled game developers to make a viable living doing what we love

        So is apple, as they take 30% of their profits.

    “Steve Jobs and his ‘reality distortion field’ was probably the worst thing to happen to Flash,” said Newgrounds co-founder Tom Fulp. “There were valid concerns about the security of Flash but the reality was that Steve had an ax to grind with Adobe ever since they didn’t have his back when he returned as the head of Apple. […] But he was a dick, so that’s how it goes.”
    He may have been a dick, but he was right on the money. Almost no mobile devices install flash by default for the very reasons Jobs outlines, and it is a security mess, I will be happy to see it disappear, there are plenty of other options available now.

      Exactly. Even Google won't have a bar of it on Android these days, despite that being one of the big arguments for going Android in the first place (even though the support was pretty bad).

      Flash has had its day - it was great back in the early to mid 2000s but it's time to put a bullet in the old thing.

        Adobe stopped their Flash support for Android because it was costing them too much. You can sideload the old versions, if you want

      You dont think it would have had anything to do with making the entire games app store invalid? Btw, this is the same guy who was tracking all your location data. Apple totally care about your privacy, as long as it doesnt cut them out of the advertising pie.

    Did you enjoy Alien Hominid? Thank Adobe Flash.Wouldn't that have been Macromedia Flash, back then?

      Good old days of macromedia (and when shockwave player was more popular)

      Flash? Wasn't it called Shockwave under Macromedia?

        I feel like it was kind of both? I remember there being just a Shockwave player and a Shockwave Flash player. Either way, I know the version of Flash (5) I was using at the end of highschool was Macromedia.

          It might have been. Heck the last time I heard Macromedia, Stick Death was still the rage.

          Last edited 15/07/15 4:30 pm

            Stick Death is still the rage!

            In our hearts *sniff*

        Shockwave was the online distribution technology for flash and Macromedia director (which was great for interactive CDs). Macromedia were brilliant before adobe. I still use fireworks today, which has hardly improved in 10 yrs since adobe bought it.

        Shockwave was what MacroMind/Macromedia/Adobe Director produced. Flash was developed by another company (FutureWave - 'Flash' is actually a contraction of the original name, FutureSplash) that were acquired by Macromedia in the mid 90s. It actually started out as a Shockwave competitor.

        ShockWave Flash (SWF) is the file format that both Flash and Shockwave compile their stuff down into. It gets super confusing (because it's actually the format that Flash used, but Director was changed to be able to use it too) so they changed the SWF acronym to 'small web format' at some point. Probably when Adobe were busy trying to bury Shockwave.

    Bye bye Happy tree friends swf collection. sad bloodied face.

    I thought chrome was ending support for libraries accessed by the Unity plugin too.

    Personally I want Flash dead, but only because I know they're not going to bring it up to scratch. In a perfect world this recent Firefox fiasco would scare them straight. They'd have a big meeting, realise the error of their ways and come out with a version of Flash that performs up to the standard of a must install browser plug-in.
    For all it's flaws Flash could continue to be a great tool if it were done right.

    Surely you could use some kind of walled off Flash App to preserve and play old flash files, if it's really about preserving some old website exactly as it was way back when then it's harder.

    As for using it as an animation tool... You still can. You just add one step at the end where you export your animation to a video format.

      As far as I remember there was a Flash player app you could use to play downloaded SWFs.
      But it probably has all the same security flaws, since many Flash movies include external assets, and the player/plugin gives movies access to local data... among other naughty things.

      Tis a shame Adobe couldn't make it secure, Flash used to be a lot of fun.
      Very powerful, but easily abused, like spawning a billion sprites to kill your client.
      But it also spawned Strongbad, Metal gear awesome, Xiao Xiao, Gerbil blender, and many classics which are now just videos on YouTube.

        If Adobe re-released a brand new, totally redone Flash built off of the most modern standards and made sure to clearly label it as "new flash" I reckon they'd come back.

    Adobe has been spamming my inbox for years with details on what to do to migrate to html5.

    EG: https://helpx.adobe.com/flash/using/creating-publishing-html5-canvas-document.html

    It's not seemless, but it's easier than converting to Unity or Unreal etc.

    I feel this is a bit like "The commodore 64 isn't being sold any more, think of all those cool games we'll never see again!".

    It's time to move on, and leave emulators to the task imo.

    HTML5 isn't up to the task? Are you high? Go to the HumbleBundle website and play around with the full ports of FTL and the like and let me know if you still think HTML5 isn't good enough

    EDIT:
    If it's the whole development process you like, or you just have a real hard on for Flash Studio, blame Adobe for leaving developers stuck with old standards. If Adobe gave up on traditional Flash and moved the tools to modern HTML5 nobody would notice.

    But of course, that won't change the fact that browser based micro-games are becoming outmoded by phones, tablets and just locally installed games.

    I love Sonny still to this day and wish the developer would give the series it's due justice and make a real game. The great games were great, the bad ones were fun, the variety was amazing, but I have all of that on my phone now, and far more.

    Last edited 15/07/15 11:51 pm

    I'm pretty sure Mozilla is working on a HTML5 player for SWF files, so we could still have old Flash games without the horrible Adobe player

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