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Our next game will be built on Javascript/HTML5 Canvas rather than ActionScript/Flash.

Clearly there are not enough experienced HTML5 Developers in the market (yet), so we'll need to be creative in our hiring efforts.

So the question is what the profile looks like for that model developer who can learn the necessary skills on-the-job as efficiently as possible.

Here are the options we have considered--really just the two obvious and opposing models.

1. Hire Flash developers

  • disadvantage: they will have to learn not just a new language but also a new development environment, because of the idiosyncratic nature of Flash Builder every component of an HTML 5 Dev environment is likely to seem new and unfamiliar

  • advantage: already fluent in client-side development--the tasks remain the same only the language has changed.

2. Hire the most talented developers available

  • disadvantage: latency--most or all of their time for (8-12?) weeks should be spent in a pure learning mode with no other demands on their time.

  • advantage: they will learn quickly and they'll continue to learn; outstanding programmers will become outstanding Javascript programmers; it will just take some time.

The best answer to this Question might offer a third recruiting model, or it might present a more refined analysis of the two presented below. In other words, i did not intend the prior discussion to constrain the responses in any way.

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Not trying to troll, but is your company a company that people love working for (environment, salary, etc.)? I am sure there are people that know HTML5 out there that work in crappy companies. –  sebastiangeiger Dec 6 '11 at 10:41
Just don't let some recruiter run an ad for you requesting applicants have 5+ years experience in HTML5. –  jfrankcarr Dec 6 '11 at 12:04
My gut instict says flash -> html5 migration is non-trivial. html5 won't be easily to learn because they know flash, it would only be learnable if they are competent and understand game dev. I recommend you just find high quality html5/js devs. They are out there. –  Raynos Dec 6 '11 at 13:59
Maybe the Flash devs have a lot more incentive to learn HTML5 and would love an opportunity to get paid doing it? –  JeffO Dec 6 '11 at 18:46

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I am going to go against the grain.

Person 1: Find someone who has done games in the style that you want to use (ie scroller, 2.5D) and who has done it in a "modern" language (sorry, C is out for this one). They don't need to have Javascript experience. Get them some Javascript training (read "buy em some books and google.com" ^^) and give them a month to develop a proof-of-concept on using the HTML5 canvas platform.

My opinion is that good game design/development is the hard part. Learning a language is easy (even if their 1st Javascript looks like C#, Python, or Java).

Person 2: (If you can have more than one (Now that I wrote this paragraph, you really really need someone to do this also)) Find a Javascript expert. This person will have plenty to do with building the quality web site stuff around the game itself.

Don't hire a Flash developer, not worth it. Note: If the flash developer has done games then they fall into Person 1. Sorry for the confusion

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Agreed, hire two people if you can, with complimenting skill sets. Hire one person who knows game development, hire another than knows javascript inside and out. –  CaffGeek Dec 6 '11 at 14:34
Good answer, but I don't quite understand why a Flash developer who has done games wouldn't meet your criteria. Certainly the distance from Actionscript to Javascript isn't very far. –  Jim In Texas Dec 6 '11 at 16:57
I didn't mean to confuse. I meant don't hire a flash developer just because they are a flash developer. If they have the person 1 or 2 skills, then hire em. –  Paul Dec 7 '11 at 13:49

Where I live, there are two active HTML5 groups that meet often. Every time I go, there are talented HTML5 developers presenting topics that they are using already in their day to day work, and you can bet that a given percentage of the developers in the room are already on their way to learning HTML5. Perhaps hiring a developer that is obviously interested in learning the material would be a better way to start?

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If you have to choose, I'd go with option 2 because HTML5 is quite different from Flash, so the only benefit of a Flash background is the same as any other web development background because the only transferrably skills are language-agnostic ones.

Also, getting the best tools (and devs) for the job is a good general rule.

However I see many HTML5 devs, perhaps you're not placing your ad in good places ? For example, try Careers 2.0 right here at StackExchange, I'm sure you'll get many replies.

Another example: search by skill HTML5 on LinkedIn.

Also, instead of an employee, you could also get a freelance dev, those are easier to come by and you don't risk as much if you make the wrong choice (and if you make the right choice, you may manage to lure him into staying with you fulltime afterwards). And we freelance devs usually have a background in multiple technologies, Flash included (but not only).

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While dedicated HTML 5 specialists are rare, there is a rich pool of HTML specialists, javascript programmers, and game developers, and there simply has to be a sufficient common subset. So, go find someone who is proficient in...

  • HTML (from the HTML 4 / XHTML generation; chances are these people are using at least some of the new HTML 5 already)
  • Javascript (you really want some thorough knowledge here - there simply isn't any way around javascript if you go with HTML 5)
  • Game development (any platform; it's the concepts you need to worry about, not the tools)
  • General programming, out-of-the-box thinking, communication skills, and everything else you (should) always want in a programmer

Give this person internet access and a decent enough outline of what it is you want, and things should work out fine. After all, it's all documented online, so if you know what you're looking for, an experienced web / games programmer can go from zero to professional-grade coding skill in a matter of weeks.

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I would tend toward option 2, although you didn't define what exactly "talented developers" means and the way I would define it means I'm likely to pick a Flash developer.

I'd be looking for someone who has solid knowledge/experience with in-depth programming (not just pasting a few lines of jquery onto a website), web technologies, and game development. These three criteria mean that I'm probably going to be looking at a lot of ActionScript programmers, although I certainly wouldn't restrict myself to Flash developers.

I would love to meet a talented Javascript programmer with a background in game development, and I would interview a web programmer who has used any language to develop a game in their spare time.

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Generally I am a proponent of option 2 (hiring the most talented) but there are a few more disadvantages of doing so. First, there are other companies looking only for the best. You'll have to compete with their benefits, 'general sexiness' and potentially closer aligned need/skill set.

The other problem with that approach is, that while we all like to philosophize about 'outstanding developers' (while secretly flattering ourselves with seeing ourselves as part of this elite group) we - strangely enough - seem to be have a pretty hard time to reliably identify them. Considering the myriad of opinions about it.

A third option would be to look for a mix of competent developers with varied backgrounds. e.g. if you need three devs, you could pic:

  • one with a Flash background
  • one with a straight JavaScript background
  • one with a Game Dev background (and possibly experience in a dynamic language)

No matter what option you choose though, IMHO proper working conditions, good leadership and to the point mentoring is much more important for a successful project than hiring 'the perfect developers' (whatever that means) ... for a lot of companies, providing these though seems to be much harder.

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  • ActionScript is an ECMA script dialect that has been abandoned, so although it's just a JavaScript twin in so many ways, there are grave differences between the two.

  • A transition from Flash/ActionScript to Canvas/JavaScript not only involves changing the development environment but (and more importantly) the run-time environment. Flash VM is very different than browser environment, and so if you hire ActionScript devs who have no experience with the browser, and have never had to juggle with incompatibilities, you're not doing yourself a favor.

So, for me the best decision is to hire talented JavaScript developers -- I stress on raw JavaScript developers -- not jQuery ninjas who would find you a jQuery plugin for growing hair on a bald head. You need thinking JavaScript devs who know the language inside out, and also have exposure to the good patterns of client side scripting.

Finally, learning to work with the HTML5 canvas shouldn't take 8 weeks for a seasoned JavaScript dev -- no more than 10 days to get going with the APIs and shims.

Of course, developing an actual game would require the game programming abilities and orientation -- but that's something you need to assess irrespective of ActionScript/JavaScript knowledge and experience.

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Any seasoned JavaScript dev worth his salt has already toyed with <canvas>. He should be able to dive right in. The main thing you need is someone who knows something about game development. That's the thing they need to learn. –  Raynos Dec 6 '11 at 14:00

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