FOCUS: Browser gaming

Ben Parfitt
FOCUS: Browser gaming

Compared to the other gaming platforms, the PC is a tricky beast. While traditional boxed titles are no longer driving sales in the way they once were, they are also no longer the sole avenue through which consumers can access their games.

Alternative methods such as digital distribution are now taking hold on consoles, but the PC still has plenty of unique channels – and browser-based gaming is a prime example of that.

The ability to deliver games content without a disc or download is something no other platform currently offers, and many claim is a testament to the continued importance of the PC.

“The PC is the crucible for innovation for the games industry,” says PC Gamer editor Tim Edwards. “It’s the birthplace for almost every major genre, and almost every major innovation. And it will remain that way so long as the other gaming platforms continue to act as gatekeepers to their hardware.”

Oscar Diele, chief marketing officer at successful browser game firm Spil Games, adds: “Web-based gaming has brought games to the mass market. This presents tremendous business opportunities to developers and publishers who can bring their games to hundreds of millions of people across the globe instantly.”

BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER

Browser gaming is by no means a new phenomenon. Jagex’s hugely popular MMORPG RuneScape turns ten this year, and the likes of FarmVille have long since ensnared the masses with their convenience.

But more and more companies are experimenting with what games can be delivered through browsers, from the FPS thrills of EA’s Battlefield: Play4Free to Bigpoint’s MMO based on the acclaimed sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica.

In fact, MMOs have been a key driver in browser gaming and some believe are a good example of
how such titles can benefit similar boxed products.

“Browser MMOs are a gateway to true MMO gaming, so we obviously welcome and encourage them,” says NCsoft Europe MD Veronique Lallier. “They teach new players the basics and give them a glimpse of the real pleasure and reward that can come from playing a good MMO.”

There is also the added convenience of how browser games work. With no confusing installation or download process, these titles can reach out to those who would never normally consider themselves as gamers.

“Browser games offer a better experience than download-to-own games,” says Bigpoint CEO Heiko Hubertz. “People can get the game running immediately, without having to wait for it to download. Plus, they can play the game from anywhere they like – not only from one computer at home.”

The rise of browser gaming has also driven crossover between the various breeds of PC gamer. While titles such as CityVille and Bejeweled naturally target a more casual audience, new technology has enabled studios to create games that appeal to a core demographic – or ideally both.

“There was previously a difference in the consumers that browser-based gaming attracted compared to console or PC games as there were limitations on the gameplay within the browser,“ says Hubertz.

“However, with the development of engines like Unity, browser games can now start to compete with console and PC titles.

“As a result consumers who traditionally played those types of  games will start to be attracted to browser-based games. I believe that this format will soon attract the same wide spectrum of consumers that PC and console games do.”

Excalibur Publishing MD Robert Stallibrass adds that a distinct age difference is also a factor.

He says: “In comparison to the younger console market, the average PC gamer is aged 35 or over. They are also looking for a longer and more sustained experience than the ‘quick burst’ gaming offered on consoles.”

There is even considerable crossover between those who play PC-exclusive titles and those that own consoles.
“Most PC gamers also own a console, and so will probably play Call of Duty on that while waiting for their mates to form up for a raid in World Of Warcraft,” says Jim Rossignol, writer for PC-focused blog Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

THE NEXT STEP

As with almost every innovation nurtured by the PC, browser gaming will inevitably establish itself on other formats.

As the consoles and most notably mobile devices focus more and more on online connectivity, browsers are becoming more advanced and the opportunities for games are growing.

“Going forward we see the popularity of browser games increasing,” says Spil Games’ Diele. “And, as browsers continue to expand to different platforms, this will lead gaming everywhere. Not just on consoles but on all mobile devices from tablets to mobile phones and social networks. Plus, we believe we will continue to see quality levels of browser games increase.”

As for the future of PC gaming in general, browser-based titles are representative of just one path.

Other advances will no doubt arise in the years to come, and there are even some major, more traditional titles due in the near future. After all, the PC is the longest-running games platform and certainly in no danger of losing its relevance.

“I believe PC has a great future, and will outlast all the various consoles,” says Stallibrass. “Many consoles have already come and gone whilst the PC continues as a gaming platform.”

PC Gamer’s Tim Edwards adds: “It’s a time of extreme bets on PC gaming. When you look at the investment behind The Old Republic, Titan, StarCraft II – these are not inconsequential sums of money being thrown around. But if you can find the audience, the economics work.”

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