A console is also portable and standard. If you buy a console game, you pretty much know it will run on your system. Sure, there are hiccups here and there, but those would be generally the same hiccups that all players would have. The games are made for the console, not the other way around. My jealousy has begun to affect how I play -- I am starting to find ways to step further and further away from the standard PC setup, and hopefully I will never utter the words "upgrade my PC" again.
Browser-based and portable gaming are much like the console market. Let's discuss how so and why this really makes me feel good. Click past the cut! RuneScape is a very popular free-to-play (with optional subscription) MMO. It has been around for years, and Jagex, the developer and publisher, shows all signs of a company that is growing very rapidly. I think accessibility will do more for a game than excellent design. If players can download or install your game and be in-world within minutes with no hiccups or system crashes, then you have a potential market immediately. Often people will not even glance at a game a second time if they simply cannot afford to upgrade their machine to run it. Age of Conan, for example, gave my aging system enough fits that I decided to never look at it again.
"This means that Billy, the kid who was worried that he would not be able to join his junior high friends in the game, would be able to run the game on his older brother's hand-me-down laptop."
Browser-based RTS MMOs are some of the most successful games out there, boasting millions of players and millions of dollars in profit. Make all the jokes you want to about a game like Evony (those ads are horrible), but anyone can play it from almost any machine. Combine that with the fact that many browser-based strategy MMOs can be played in as little as 10 minutes a day and you have once again opened up your game to more people.
Why did World of Warcraft succeed? Well, not only was it more streamlined and easier for anyone to play than previous games, but players did not really need to go out and upgrade their machines like they might with several other titles. My wife and I tooled around with a netbook for a month or so last year, and we successfully ran WoW on it. Granted, it was at lower resolution, and the bells and whistles were mostly turned off, but it worked... and not half bad, at that. That technological access is very important in game design, even in these modern times.
The browser-based or smartphone market works in similar ways to the console market. The technology is pretty constant, at least widely. While the iPhone is not owned by everyone in the world, enough people own one to warrant an entire market of iPhone games. In fact, iPhone MMOs are even starting to rise in number; a new one is released every month or so. I currently have six MMOs on my iPhone, closer to a dozen if you count the browser-based games. My Android phone holds about the same number, with more coming. The point is this: Games that are made for a browser or for a certain smartphone will have potentially more customers than one made for one particular setup. Heck, if you can run Flash or Java, you can run dozens, make that scores, of easy-to-run MMOs.
My phones allow me to check in on my MMO while waiting in line or while sitting outside with the dogs. I can go to a park, enjoy the weather and the people watching, and play some Illyriad or Pocket Legends. What's the point in that, you may ask? Well, while it seems that staring at a tiny screen is somehow less of an experience than staring at a large screen, you must consider the effect of having access to that game, world, or group of friends while you're out in the real world. Sitting at a desk is not better or more immersive than sitting outside in a park -- a screen is a screen. Your imagination will fill in the rest.
You must also consider the success of the mobile market. In almost every mention of portable or browser-based gaming, there will be several comments about real gaming and how it is done while sitting at a desk. I beg to differ. Does anyone honestly picture the future of gaming and digital living being done while you're chained to a dimly lit desk? I certainly do not. Like the console generation, I want to know not only what it feels like to do my gaming without worrying about spending several hundred dollars more on new parts for my machine but also what it feels like to game from outside of the office, out from behind the desk.
The consistent hardware of a phone or of a browser means that I do not have to worry about stutters or performance issues. Or at the least, I will not be alone when they do happen. When a developer makes a game in Flash or Unity, it is making the game with a built-in access for anyone who has a browser. I like that. It makes me feel better.
It also makes my wallet feel better.
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr.