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    This article took me back 10-15 years ago when I, as a teenager, used to spend a lot of time on flash game websites. There was an overwhelming number of games (tower defense, scare games, rpgs, shooters or flash movies, remember them?) and I loved it. Problematic were those sites relying on flash to function (menus, Flash SPAs!, videos).

    When mobile devices started dominating roughly around 2011-2013, HTML5 allowed more and more things and flash websites were widely shunned, I naturally joined in the criticism of flash as an aspiring web developer and even redesigned the website flashsucks.org (archived).

    However, I somehow didn’t realize how this development would not only (thankfully) get us rid of flash-based web development, but also all this art, entertainment and community of all those flash games I learned to love so dearly.

    What do teenagers have today? Apps in app stores, often of low quality and riddled with IAPs and ads. The flash game sites also had ads, but with extremely few exceptions they would not make you sit through ads to play the games.

    So in a way, and I hate to admit it, I definitely miss those days where you could just go on a website like Newgrounds and try dozens of games with a single click each.

    Not to mention the scene back then which is lost forever. There is also an app developer scene, but it’s divided between the app stores and definitely doesn’t have the same “spirit”. Everything has become much more serious and for-profit. You can almost draw an analogy to YouTube and how it changed in the last 10 years. I liked YouTube back then much more as well (way less corporate and actually promoting individual and small content creators), but that’s another topic.

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      What do teenagers have today? Apps in app stores, often of low quality and riddled with IAPs and ads. The flash game sites also had ads, but with extremely few exceptions they would not make you sit through ads to play the games.

      I’m not sure if Flash had maintained the popularity that it had, that the situation would be better. I think those are more market forces and less anything having to do with the platform. Zynga was pushing IAP through their major Flash games, and I’m sure the trend would’ve blown up if the mobile scene had a good Flash experience.

      Also, a ton of flash games are low quality. Not everything in the Flash era was an indie gem. If there hadn’t been a massive campaign to slowly kill Flash, I’m sure we would’ve ended up in the same situation as we’re in today with shitty app games.

      I totally sympathize with losing a lot of the weird art of flash games, but sometimes I think we romanticize the past too much without trying to think about how market forces would’ve shaped the tech of yore had it survived.

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        Yes, you’re probably right. A lot of flash games back then were horribly bad, but it took mere seconds to switch to another one. Nowadays, everything is skewed due to fake ratings, which may waste you some time when you have downloaded and installed an app that turns out to be crap.

        YouTube is a good indicator for the development you describe, as the core offering (video uploads for anyone) didn’t change, but all the market-factors around it did. I fondly remember YouTube from 10-15 years ago, because everything was much more relaxed, independent and experimental. The major content creators nowadays rarely risk things. I think there are two factors at play here:

        1. The ratio of video consumers versus producers gets larger and larger. Back in the day, you could click on any commenter’s channel and see at least a few videos they made themselves. Often times they were bad, fitted with 009 Sound System’s Dreamscape and/or 10 FPS screencaps with Notepad-captions, but it gave everyone personality and expressed their interests. The videos were often instructional, sometimes even helpful. When I look at YouTube-channels of commenters today, they are mostly empty husks with just a list of likes and subscriptions, if at all. It just makes it so bland.
        2. The audience gets younger and younger. The entire YouTube Kids fiasco deserves its own thread, but everyone probably remembers those few months a few years ago where you suddenly had a lot of random button-mash-comments and strange emoji-comments on YouTube-videos (until they introduced YouTube Kids). As it turns out, those were toddlers who got mom’s or dad’s iPad and just happily typed away. Some baby lullabies get billions of views, and a lot of content definitely tailored towards sub-10-year-olds is usually in trending. I remember back then that YouTube was a more mature place. I created my account in 2008 at the age of 13, but strongly remember definitely never acting my age. While back in the day people tried acting older than they were, it now seems to be the opposite, especially in regard to content creators. Even ones in their late 20s often act very immaturely.
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        Have you seen itch.io? You can browse Free+Web Browser games. That subset of the site isn’t nearly as big as stuff like Armorgames and Newgrounds were before, but it has captured a strong indie spirit, IMO, also being the locus of many game jams (there are like 15-20 going on for any given day).

        One could argue that we need more sites like itch, and I wouldn’t disagree there (especially given what happened to bandcamp recently), but it’s definitely a vibrant creative space.

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          what happened to bandcamp?

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          There was an overwhelming number of games (tower defense, scare games, rpgs, shooters or flash movies, remember them?) and I loved it.

          Are you familiar with the Flashpoint project? As worr suggests, it’s definitely tricky to find the gems among the crap, but it’s an astonishing collection.

          There is also an app developer scene, but it’s divided between the app stores and definitely doesn’t have the same “spirit”.

          You might be interested in the community over at itch.io. It’s a bit broader, since it includes print gamedev as well as video games, but it definitely has a similarly scrappy vibe.

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          When I first started building i_solated, I never could have predicted this current situation. This experience is a reminder that proprietary things come and go. I have already started the long journey towards future-proofing projects that I work on.

          To me, this is one of the best arguments for open source software.

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            I agree, but the claim that the author never could have predicted the current situation is … come on! What did you think was going to happen? This was the most obvious outcome from the very start.

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              Maybe not Free Software that is tied to a specific platform, but it definitely is an argument towards Free libraries and development kits. That’s why projects that I make are always GPL for applications and LGPL for libraries (with the occasional BSD where the platform does not allow for replacing parts of the program i.e. JS bundlers).

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                What was the open source equivalent of Flash in its heyday and why didn’t it catch on?

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                  Java applets was an alternative, but they were heavy and slow to load and cumbersome to write.

                  SMILE / SVG flopped for the same uses as Flash.

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                  Open source is no guarantee either. How many projects depend on abandoned libraries, let alone ecosystems? Good luck getting say, XMMS to build today.

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                    A very niche use-case I’ve been getting into is ripping local subtitles off DVDs that I upgraded to BD/UHD, which usually have English subtitles only.

                    Everything I could find, starting with an old enough version of Avidemux, which hadn’t dropped support for ripping subtitles, was completely unbuildable.

                    Solution: use Windows software in Wine and work from there.

                    Open-source lost this one, but maybe the use-case simply is so niche no-one wants to maintain the packages.

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                        Just because there’s interest, doesn’t mean you have the maintainers able to maintain it. A lot of Flash users were inherently not C++ experts, and probably not able to maintain that codebase.

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                        That is true, but there is little interest in XMMS1, since there are such a wealth of good alternatives.

                        Open source software that there is interest in keeping alive is pretty much guaranteed to live on for as long as there is interest.

                        At the height of the Flash player popularity, if there had been an open source version of it, it would maybe not have died as abruptly as it did.

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                      Remember, this sort of problem was one of the main reasons people wanted a non-proprietary technology that could do what Flash does. Sad, but not surprising.

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                        Interestingly, someone who posted to the HN thread managed to compile and run the game. I hope they connected with the author of the post.

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                          Yeah, I had the tools handy, so I posted a quick comment over there. It looks like he got it working after reading my comment! I had previously resurrected my old Flash toolchain because the community for a game I made was asking me to help them with their modding efforts, so it wasn’t much effort for me to get it working.

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                            It doesn’t solve the core issue of the proprietary technology you were using being discontinued, but it’s also totally possible to just rig up older versions of compilers in an emulator or an older machine. This kind of thing is a huge part of why I keep old Macs lying around.

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                            I remember Mozilla and Google aggressively pushing flash as part of the “open web”, and an “open standard”, yet here we are with no open compiler/packager now that adobe stopped selling their proprietary software.

                            Largely because they were both just abusing “open” for marketing reasons. Google doing so was entirely in keeping with their usual behaviour, but it always struck me as a turning point for Mozilla.

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                              For “regular” applications, one solution for this is to put all external dependencies in the repo. Otherwise if your build depends of external package manager X having version Y of package Z ….eventually this will not be true anymore.

                              For Flash, or any other proprietary product, it it stops making money, there is no guarantee it will be maintained/available for a long period of time. For Flash specifically….maybe that’s for the best :)

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                                Separately, in the past week I worked out how to run Linux GUI software in Docker because it was no longer in Mac Homebrew.

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                                  Steve Jobs made the web worse by killing Flash and Java applets. Web browsers used to have a rich ecosystem for extensions. MobileSafari all but destroyed that ecosystem. One might say Thoughts on Flash aged poorly, but it was already riddled with hypocrisy when it was first published.