Since Android and IOS stepped into the market and imposed the app-store format in mobile devices, mobile gaming focused entirely on the boom that downloadable applications became at the time. Angry Birds, Infinity Blade, Jetpack Joyride and Fruit Ninja managed to make this industry take its first leaps into proving what gaming could offer in smartphones and portable devices.

Over the following years, developers worked intensely on creating bigger and fancier titles; each step up meant becoming a little less ‘mobile’, increasing app sizes dramatically and requiring specific ports for each system available. The idea of a single web-based app seems difficult to achieve, but progressive-apps have come a long way to prove that mobile browser gaming is up for the challenge and ready to match native apps on quality and capabilities, while solving many of the prior issues.

Browser Games

Thinking about browser games might make you recall the early 2000’s, with simple mechanics and limited resources, eclipsed by local gaming and the birth of higher grade consoles; but fifteen years later, the evolution of HTML5, JavaScript and WebGL has combined into a platform with a huge potential when looking to redefine mobile gaming. Imagine a single web-based game, compatible with almost every OS browser in the market (including PCs), that works with complex graphics rendering: its purpose isn’t being a downloadable app, but a browser game with mobile app-like capabilities. Progressive apps serve that purpose (and many more!). In fact, there’s already a number of impressive HTML5 multiplayer games on the market, including Slither and Agario.

The mobile browser game Agario

Agario

The key feature that ties everything together is the implementation of Service Workers. This JavaScript is run by the browser in the background and serves as a programmable network proxy that makes the browser capable of behaving like a full screen app with offline support, push notifications, automatic synchronization and many other features that were only available for native apps. The process of interaction would change drastically; instead of having the user browsing through a third-party store, looking for authorized and promoted apps, the player could go directly to the creator’s site and play. If the user enjoys the game, he can add it to his Home-screen and from then onwards it behaves like a regular app. Service Workers will make sure through AppCache that your device has everything it needs to play it any time.

When it comes to timing, the technological present holds every characteristic that browser gaming could need to become a popular mobile alternative. On the first place, having crossed the 4G border, wireless connectivity has reached optimal speeds. Combine that with the peer-to-peer connectivity that WebRTC Data Channels offers and you’ll get effective and stable connections. Second, HTML5 carries WebGL’s API for rendering 2D-3D graphics without the need of plugins and allowing GPU accelerated processing. This breaks two huge barriers: design wise, browser games get a graphic and gameplay boost (compatible with Unity!); and in terms of portability, one single game is coded and available in every HTML5 capable device.

The Power of the App store

Why aren’t we seeing much from it yet? Well, the income that both Google Play’s Store and IOS App Store generate is nothing to look over. Last year it grossed over 42 billion dollars, while this 2016 may reach 52 billion, with mobile games alone accounting for 12 billion. Taking games to the browser format not only could mean a loss in revenue for Apple and Google, but also a huge market turn that would take the audience away from a store they regulate and tax. However, the risk of going solo comes as yet another benefit for creators, who could manage pricing, in-game paid content and subscriptions without intermediaries, taxes and promoted competition.

Also, changing the user’s way of thinking when looking for a new app/game is a complicated process to tackle. Companies looking to back this new platform switch need to generate a proper marketing strategy that gives the player the tools for discovering new titles, aside from traditional stores. This is where browser game-sites shine and make a comeback with renewed aspects and capabilities. The core selling point is simplicity: the player can try the game with one click. There’s no installation process, constant updates or huge storage stress. Sharing and social media need to be one of the pillars that supports this transition, there’s nothing more usual than a game trending because of word of mouth. Mobile gaming still carries that social auto-marketing capability.

Progress

Either way, slowly but steadily developers are starting to give more space to progressive applications and browser based experiences. High-end graphic engines are joining the movement, Unreal Engine through asm.js programming language, and even new alternatives to JavaScript are on their way to deliver optimized programming tools for web based projects (WebAssembly). It’s a matter of time until the right game dares to take the independent way into browser games and gets the cycle started.

Even if not at full capabilities yet, browser gaming could change the market in an extremely positive way. The vast compatibility doesn’t only give players the chance to carry their game over many devices, but also solves the very time consuming issue that porting is for programmers; another plus is that smaller projects can enter the market with affordable projects and compete against AAA mobile companies without having to be restrained to a specific platform; a fairer and more balanced competitions means less titles buried in a store, and an active list to pick from for gamers.

There’s no more excuses or limitations: the tools are available, the devices that support it form a huge market, and it provides the player a friendlier and less tedious interaction with mobile gaming. The only thing that’s left is that companies take on the dare to create a game that breaks stereotypes that keep the market from shifting into browser based technologies.

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