As electronic titans Microsoft Corp. and Sony Corp. spend billions of dollars redesigning the video game console, the next leap forward in digital games may come from the unlikeliest of places.
In what could transform the video game industry, Web browser developers Google Inc. and Mozilla Corp. are in the early stages of developing ways for users to play games simply by opening a Web page.
The gamer would no longer be tethered to an expensive game console: A game could be played from anywhere and on any device as long as there is an Internet connection, creating a potential game audience of billions that could be worth billions of dollars annually.
So far, the games that have been developed for the Web browser are not nearly as sophisticated and graphic-rich as game console titles such as “Grand Theft Auto V” or “Call of Duty: Ghosts.”
But eventually, as more software developers jump in, browser-based games could become just as entertaining and complex as the current generation of video game titles, analysts say.
Software advances, notably HTML 5, are making it possible for developers to create games for Web browsers that are more complex than those on Facebook and don’t require users to install any extra software.
HTML 5 is the latest version of the markup language used to develop Web pages. Previous versions of HTML were limited in their capabilities, but HTML 5 enables developers to embed all sorts of items, such as video and complex audio files, into the code for their websites without requiring users to install plug-ins and other software.
Google has been at the forefront in adopting HTML 5 and this year began showcasing the video-gaming capabilities of its Chrome browser. Among them: “Cube Slam,” in which players face off against each other over the Internet in a modern-day take on the classic game of “Pong” that incorporates users’ Web cameras.
The company best known for its Internet search engine has also teamed up with Warner Bros. and the creative agency North Kingdom to develop a new Chrome game based on the “Hobbit” movie trilogy. The game is expected to be released before the film “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” comes out in December.
Rival browser maker Mozilla is also optimizing its browser for Web-based games.
This year, the creators of the Firefox Web browser teamed up with Epic Games to create a video game demo called “Epic Citadel.” The demo doesn’t feature any characters, but it enables users to walk around in an elaborate 3-D world and imagine the possibilities of the games they could one day play on their browsers.
Mozilla Director of Engineering Vladimir Vukicevic said these games won’t be on par with what PlayStation 4 or Xbox One game consoles can do, but they’re a vast improvement over what users have been limited to on browsers.
“The work that Epic is doing and other developers who are used to squeezing the last bit of performance out of any platform that they interact with – I think we’ll actually be amazed by what they’re able to do with the Web,” Vukicevic said.
HTML 5 browser games offer tremendous potential for users and developers alike. Unlike the current generation of video games, which require a console or a specific type of operating system, HTML 5 browser games can be played on most modern Web browsers, including Firefox 25 and Chrome 30, the latest versions of both browsers. That could potentially create the video game industry’s biggest market.
“With the Web, game developers can easily reach an audience of upwards of 2 billion users,” Vukicevic said. “As a game developer, that is an extremely interesting and lucrative size of audience that crosses all demographics and all people who are interested in gaming.”