MMObility: The rise of the browser

Glitch screenshot

Over the last week I have been obsessing over Glitch, the new browser-based MMORPG brought to us by Tiny Speck. I will go into details of why in my Rise and Shiny column, but for now, let's just say that I think it is one of the greatest things I have come across in a long time. For the record, I was talking about Glitch before it was popular (that hipster cred should get my a free pair of glasses in Glitch!) and was excited about starting this column because of games like Glitch.

In short, I knew that the browser market was huge, and I knew it was only going to grow bigger. Yes, I know what you're thinking, and yes I am claiming that we are starting to see the end of the heavy-duty client and demand for expensive hardware and upgrades. It's a big prediction, but click past the cut and let me explain.

Photo picture

Remember film? It's that stuff that photographers developed pictures on way back when. It's odd stuff, really, and to anyone who hadn't seen it before, it would appear magical. But it can be expensive and even bulky. Thanks to technology, photography is cheaper and more advanced than ever. For under a hundred dollars, any kid can go through a pretty stout photography phase. Digital photos are easier to store, share, and print. While some of you might argue about the current value of film, I can only say that woodworking still has value as well... but we have plastic.

The browser is the new environment for our gaming. With the browser, we can (usually) do away with cross-platform issues. Instead of waiting for the OS developers to get their agreement on, we can play games across all of our devices, with people from all over the world, in virtual worlds that spread across all genres. The browser is the tool that will unite everyone. The browser is to gaming what digital is to film.

"Thanks to free services from Google and others, I can do anything I want within the browser."

The browser has already shown us how much it can do within a very short period of time. I started this online adventure in '99. Our first PC was nearly a thousand dollars but featured a very slow processor and a tiny amount of RAM. Looking back, that little PC was such a weak device, but we still put many hours into it, and we played every MMO that we could get our hands on. The browser, at that time, was slow, so it was reserved mainly for checking email. Over the years, the browser has retained that role, but now I do more with my browser than I do with anything. Thanks to free services from Google and others, I can do anything I want within the browser. In fact, Google's Chromebooks are slowly being released, but at the current price point, they don't seem worth it. Of course, that price will drop.

Now we have new technologies like Unity, HTML5, and Flash that help the browser do things that we would normally look to downloadable clients for. Even though clients are also becoming streamlined and allowing new players to be in game within minutes, there is still the issue with storage and speed. Combine that with the problem of needing a powerful-enough machine to run those client-based games, and you'll get the formula that is adding up to the browser's success and widespread usage.

Now we have a game like Glitch that comes along and really stirs the pot. The wonderfully wacky world has been receiving a lot of buzz lately. Buzz is the fuel needed to bring the game into the everyday gamer's range of vision. People who have never experienced a browser MMO are now talking about Glitch. Even people who have no desire to play in world that looks like Glitch are hearing about the game. The game could be the one to push browser-based MMOs into the sphere of normal, acceptable MMO gaming.

Don't get me wrong -- it's not as though browser-based gaming has been unsuccessful or has represented only a tiny portion of the market up until this point. Games like RuneScape, Battlestar Galactica Online, Club Penguin and many others have been enjoying massive numbers of players. But as is the normal practice of the Western MMO audience, players believe there is no legitimacy within a genre or style of game until they have heard of it or claimed it as valid. Even though RuneScape is older and much larger than most of the client-based MMOs that seem to grasp most of the headlines, there are still players who have never heard of the title or who think it is just another "kid's game."

"Think your system is tough now? Give it two years and a new title will come out to make you go and spend even more money."

Despite the fact that heavy-duty graphics cards and other hardware upgrades are getting cheaper and more powerful, there are always titles that will come along to push those prices higher. Think your system is tough now? Give it two years and a new title will come out to make you go and spend even more money. Meanwhile, standard boxed PC prices are dropping while the all-in-one technology is becoming more powerful. Current embedded graphics chips are not what they used to be, and the browser is already delivering better-looking games at lower system requirements. In fact, the browser seems to be the only technology that is going to require less of a machine to run in the future, while the machines become more powerful by default.

I started this column for a selfish reason: I wanted to get to the point that all of my gaming, writing, and communicating is done on a basic laptop. No, I don't mean a gaming laptop, but rather an entry level one with a pretty typical graphics chip built in. At first, it seemed that the task was a bit large. Now, I have games like Illyriad, Glitch, Milmo, RuneScape, Earth Eternal, Kultan, Order and Chaos Online and others. Of course, we have up-and-comers like Jagged Alliance Online, UFO Online, Star Trek - Infinite Space, browser versions of Star Legends, and more. If we tack on top of that the games like Wakfu, Dofus, Puzzle Pirates and Spiral Knights, which will run on almost anything, we can see just how much gaming I can pack into this five-pound device.

I'm predicting right now that the browser will be the preferred method of MMO content delivery in the near future... I'm guessing around five years. That might sound a little outrageous (I can hear the comments being typed up already), but it doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to see content becoming slicker, faster, and lighter.

The browser will be there to deliver it all.

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 and Facebook.