Although there are thousands of free web browser games out there, quality titles are thin on the ground. Why? Simple. A good dev house won't waste their time making a game if they can't get paid. So what to do? Make multiplayer games. Advertising takes place in all games these days, single or multi - but if you have a multiplayer game with a strong community, then gamers will keep coming back for more, and devs can keep selling that ad space.
In-game ads can work. Counter-Strike 1.6, still one of the most popular multi games around, has its costs covered by in-game billboards and scoreboard adverts. The idea has mileage, mostly down to the fact online gamers are more tech-savvy and more likely to purchase products online, things like gaming hardware or other games.
We're yet to see a true triple A title come to the web browser, but there is a huge gap in the market for one. It is a tall order: web browser games need to look good but keep downloads and install times to a minimum. Mobility should be a priority - all you'll need is a small browser plugin and your account details to play no matter where you are.
Some developers have the right idea. Let's take a look at a few of the most impressive browser games around...
'Heroes is a WW2 themed third-person romp that combines MMO game elements with TF2-style chutzpah and cartoon game design. In case you didn't realise, it is a branch of EA's Battlefield series which means you'll be treated to planes, tanks and Humvees, a selection of classes and conquest gameplay.
It takes around 15 minutes to get started. Sign-up at the website (if you have an EA login you can use that) and you'll be prompted to download the browser extension.
Character creation is now all that stands between you and the battlefield (snort). Chose your team - Royals or Nationals (read: Nazis) - and pick a class. Classes are divided into the usual holy trinity: the medium all rounder, the heavy, and the light. Each class, naturally, has his own unique powerups, weapons and advantages. For example, the solider can throw a cluster of grenades, the heavy has a defence boost and the light class can run faster and turn invisible.
There is a traditional levelling system and when searching for a game you will be matched with others at a similar level.
The absence of in-game voice comm means there is next-to-no player co-operation, in the lower level games teamwork is all but absent. The more intelligent and experienced gamers will dominate, and the newer players could be turned off. This is of course the curse of online multi in general, but 'Heroes doesn't naturally gear players towards teamwork like other games in the Battlefield series do. The vast array of powerups available to each class makes it simple to go solo.
The vehicle play is reasonable fun, anyone familiar with the series will be up and flying in no time, and tanks can be very effective when attacking capture points. However, 'Heroes seems to be more fun on the vehicle-less maps.
This game has a lot of charm. The graphics are very appealling and the style is good even if it fails to emulate the interest that TF2 garners with similar, yet more developed characters.
While the game is 'Free to Play', EA generates income from micropayments. Players can purchase 'Battlefunds' to buy things like clothes, emotes and controversially, extra experience or more powerful weapons than those accessible to non-paying gamers. A recent update means crucial weapons are only available to those with Battlefunds, or those who play an unsocialble amount of hours to earn Valor Points - another in-game currency which is free, yet scarce.
It costs a lot of real world money to buy a pair of trousers, a hat and a novelty item - and that just isn't right. EA will be EA and look for the money. I could be dramatic, cry out that they risk killing the golden goose... but that's not the case. Battlefield Heroes is good, yet unfinished. It needs more features and less restrictions.
The player animations could do with a bit more polish too, awful for a third-person game.
Developer: id Software
Yes it's old news, but QuakeLive is the first heavyweight to come to the humble web-browser. Yes, it is basically Quake 3 Arena with no significant changes, but the arrival to the browser was simply meant to be.
Dueling games like Quake and UT will never be as popular as team games in the online multi world; however if I was at id software I'd feel a little disappointed that Q3 lost a large chunk of popularity due to the success of Counter-Strike and other free mods that were so huge at the time. No wonder they decided to have another stab at it.
The duelling community is completely compromised of skilled players and for this very reason it has made the the most popular games, like Q3, difficult for new players to get involved in. QL solves this problem with matchmaking - you'll be pitted against those who are a similar skill level to you so if you're new you won't feel like you've come up against fatal1ty every time you join a server.
As an accessory to the matchmaking system there is the very useful 'Duel Detective' which finds two equally skilled players for a duel game - a great tool that's been a long time coming in gaming. A similar feature, in essence, exists in Left 4 Dead 2, which allows teams to search for other teams for a more competitive and reliable game. It's a trend that needs to continue. The days of finding opponents on IRC could soon be a distant memory!
The clan arena game-mode has been pimped out quite a bit, to make concessions for more team-minded gamers out there. Players start with a full inventory and 200 health and 100 armour. After community input, the damage settings have been altered to cater lessen the blow of all the extra shrapnel you'll be exposed to. Plus, theres no personal rocket damage which, yes, means free rocket jumps!
The reason why QL is such a successful browser port is because it hasn't been dumbed down. A newcomer will be able to pick up and play without any issues, while the Q3 vets still have console commands and other tweaks available to them.
Quake 3 is over 10 years old and id have said they'd like to see Quake Live also last that long. While they may achieve that goal, they chould use their new mastery of the browser format to create something much bigger than this game. And a game that actually makes a profit...
Carmack recently revealed that ad money can't pay for the QL project. He said: "The in-game advertising stuff has not been big business."
And the fact that ads have all but disappeared from QuakeLive would seem to indicate that he's telling the truth. Whatever happens with Quake Live, id's experience could prove a yardstick for future browser titles.
Fallen Empire: Legions
Developer: Garage Games
If you were a Tribes player and you haven't heard of this game then you've got a lot of catching up to do.
'Legion's is Tribes' 'Spiritual Successor', with a Warhammer influenced design. You'll be thrust into the same vast landscapes, barren but for a few metal obelisk-like structures that house opposing teams and there are similar weapons and classes.
The game uses the Torque3D browser engine which provides a great looking and surprisingly fluid experience that is seriously impressive. It plays superbly and miraculously doesn't even require a browser plugin.
If you're new, I'd suggest hitting up the 'Legions forum before taking the plunge. There is plenty of advice on the community forums
But such extensive player guides wouldn't exist if the game was accessible. Due to a lack of pick-up-and-playability Legions hasn't quite achieved the same mainstream appeal that Battlefield Heroes and Quake Live have. However the technology is superb,
Developer: Travian Games
Imperion isn't really a proper 'game'. Think dopewars or urbandead.. it's a MMO browser game designed to be played as a campaign over days, weeks, months. What sets it apart from the other browser games of that ilk is a slick game design togehter with decent graphics, all things considered. Like its predecessor, Travian
, the game operates without a software engine, .exes or even flash. It's made up from seperate images that somehow merge to form the traditional isometric strategy gamespace.
I was surprised to be greeted by a peppy tutorial character, who dispensed wisdom and, yes, missions for me to do.
Among your first tasks is to rename your planet by clicking on your profile and changing it. It's at this point that you'll see your neighbouring planets, each one representing a real life gamer.
Upon renaming your planet, you're rewarded with some resources. Theres water... which is blue and then two other rocks which are gold and green. Anyway, fuelled by my success I eagerly clicked towards my next mission. Upgrade my building yard to level one to 'reduce building times'. Having set the wheels in motion, my improved building yard would be ready in ... 35 minutes.
I'll be honest, I'm not a natural strategy gamer. I once spent an afternoon in with Cid Miers Alpha Centurai. That's a few hours of my life I'll never get back. However, Imperion is quite laid back and I seem to be getting the hang of it. I like the MMO quality and, incase you didn't realise, I like browser games.
But you get the point: this isn't a REAL-TIME strategy and it's not going to take on Starcraft 2 any time soon. It's designed to be played as a campaign. Perfect for coming back to inbetween games of Quake Live!
None of the above titles has even a fraction of the sheen you get when you buy a newly released triple A title, but browser games carry many advantages: Lightweight, Free to play, Accessible stats, web-based environment means players are more likely to contribute to forums and create a thriving community.
Something all of the games on this list have in common: a thriving community kept together by busy forums.
Like QuakeLive, Battlefield Heroes is open beta. The value of open beta is that a large community of gamers can help mould gameplay much more effectively than private beta testers. This is a key advantage because gamers who feel like they have a say in the development of the game are much more emotionally invested in the product and, consequently, are much more likely to stick around and play with you. And that's all you really want isn't it? Deep down all any online gamer really wants is a quality game with a healthy community.
Footnote: Battlefield Online
Whether or not you consider Battlefield Heroes a valid incarnation of the Battlefield franchise, it has the potential to solve a fundamental flaw that has plagued the series since Battlefield 1942.
Allow me to explain: Bad Company 2 looks fabulous, and I can't wait to get thumbs on sticks - however a little part of me dies inside when I realise the game will wither and die 6 months after the release date, leaving only a hardcore of players and clanners behind. Because there is a new BF game released every year without fail, support for a title drops off as soon as the hype machine starts for the next one.
The Battlefield concept has the potential to become an online gaming behemoth.
Although the quality of the franchise has increased substantially with every iteration, the community has had it's growth seriously stunted by the frequent releases. Battlefield Heroes has no realistic chance of addressing the problem, but Battlefield Online
might just do that with more familiar and mature design.
I managed to get a short interview with Korean developers Neowiz, who, broke this sad news to me:
"Unfortunately there's no official plan for western market. EA & DICE concerns that product cannibalism might occur."
Sad, but I pressed for some information about free to play, since I'm so interested.
"“Free to play" is one of the most successful business model here in Korea. That's why we've decided to approach huge number of potential players who are interested in free version instead.
"Open Beta will begin in the first quarter. We're close to reaching a target better than most commercial games in the market."
Although it looks murky, here's hoping to a bright future for free browser games. (note: I'm not a tightwad!) read