Hands-on with Facebook's HTML5 app platform

Social gaming on the go

Hands-on with Facebook's HTML5 app platform

On Wednesday, Facebook updated its iOS application to include support for Apple’s iPad, meaning you can finally browse your buddies, post a status, ruefully browse your ex-girlfriend's photographs, and ‘check in’ at your local Apple Store on the iPhone’s larger-screened brother.

Despite delays, the social network also released its anticipated HTML5 app platform - dubbed Project Spartan - which allows you to play a range of compatible Facebook titles on your iPhone and iPad. You can access these through the native iOS apps, as well as through Facebook’s web app, which can be found at m.facebook.com.

To begin, you simply head on over to one of the above and tap the small button in the top-left of your screen, and then tap inside the search field to enter a game of your choosing. It’s that simple. Well, providing you know what you’re looking for, but more on that later.

Playing nice

The games we tested - Magic Land: Island, World War, Words With Friends - all loaded surprisingly quickly over wi-fi, and continued to function without a hitch, regardless of what device we accessed them on.

Speeds and loading times - naturally - decreased over 3G, but never enough to render any of the games unplayable. Far from it, in fact.

All of your normal social game features, such as the ability to post your progress to your friends' Facebook feeds and accept gifts, are still present. You can also grab bundles of in-game currency to speed up your process, buy exclusive items, and other handy shortcuts, and these are handled with Facebook Credits.

In order to avoid stepping on Apple’s toes, Facebook titles that already have a native iOS application aren’t playable through the iPhone and iPad apps, and selecting a title simply boots you out of the social network and over to the App Store so you can download it.

The web app, however, appears to be fair game.

What's on offer?

Unfortunately, the catalogue of compatible HTML5 games is presently tiny, even though the likes of Zynga are already on board. The platform is likely to grow and grow as more developers and publishers make their apps and games compatible, but the current offerings are underwhelming to say the least.

Another issue is the lack of a centralised hub for all of the available content, meaning unless you know exactly what you’re looking for you’ll be searching for a while.

Sure, you can visit Facebook's Mobile Apps and Games page from your device - which is okay for the time being - but this won't work in the long term, simply because it doesn't offer order or organisation to a high volume of titles.

Thankfully, if you take a particular liking to one of the titles on offer you can pin it directly to your device's home screen, and launch it quickly without any fussing. This, naturally, is all done through the web app.

Nothing for a pair

Facebook's app platform works exceptionally well, but it's let down by the lack of compatible games and a centralised hub. As these are both bound to be addressed as the platform grows and moves over to Android, 'Project Spartan' is definitely one to keep your eye on.

Anthony Usher
Anthony Usher
Anthony is a Liverpool, UK-based writer who fell in love with gaming while playing Super Mario World on his SNES back in the early '90s. When he isn't busy grooming his beard, you can find him replaying Resident Evil or Final Fantasy VII for the umpteenth time. Aside from gaming, Anthony likes hiking, MMA, and pretending he’s a Viking.