In a blog post, Mozilla technical evangelist Rob Hawkes has predicted a future for online gaming that will be based solely on utilising web standards, and he hopes that 2012 will be a game-changer in transitioning to this technology. His post ties into Mozilla's overall mission to free apps from closed systems, instead enabling them to be used across all devices and distributed via multiple stores and systems.
The post explores dealing with identifying players, going full-screen for more immersive gameplay, "taming mouse input", using gamepads, adding real-time multiplayer gameplay, and working with local storage. All these things were recently seen as barriers for web-standards-based games, but the technology is now moving fast. We spoke to Hawkes about his post and also how he hopes web gaming's going to change over the coming year.
Moving to the browser
According to Hawkes, a few key things must happen for the web to become a truly viable platform for gaming: "We need to break away from the idea of games on the web being a glorified website, enable people to monetise their games, and ensure browsers adopt the necessary technologies for open web games, in order to stop platform battles."
Today, Hawkes believes we're used to web games that sit within a frame, surrounded by ads, but this isn't a good enough experience: "You wouldn't enjoy your Xbox 360 if games were packaged this way! Initiatives looking into combatting this issue include the Full Screen API, Gamepad API and Mouse Lock API, which bring a console-like experience to the web." Hawkes also told us further differentiation from 'websites' is enabled by Mozilla Labs Apps project Web run-time (WebRT), which "allows any website or game to be installed as a 'native' application on the user's operating system."
On the monetisation angle, Hawkes said there are currently few solutions, "You must lock yourself into a web store or convert your HTML5 game into a native app and sell it on iOS and Android," but this will change: "The major hurdle is getting major studios to release open web games to kick-start things. Without that, growth will be slow, and a lot of these studios haven't yet warmed to the idea of how open their code and game assets will be – although they will in time".
Arguably, though, the biggest battle when it comes to web-based gaming is browsers adopting the technologies. We've already seen a number of online games that happily run in one browser but fail in others, and those that still require Flash to be installed for audio. "Right now, we're not in a good place," admitted Hawkes. "Only Chrome and Firefox are really putting any real effort into games. Opera is showing some interest, but Microsoft and Apple don't seem to be playing ball – IE doesn't support WebGL, for example. This will hurt the web as a platform for games."
The end result could be a web mirror of existing gaming ecosystems, such as Chrome-only games that are sold only in the Chrome Web Store. "This isn't good for the web and it's something we're working hard on at Mozilla to solve," said Hawkes. "However, we can't do it all ourselves and we need users to lobby their browser manufacturers to adopt these technologies before it's too late."
In part, any success will be achieved through Mozilla's open nature, enabling other browser manufacturers to include relevant technologies. "While some of the projects and APIs that we're working on might not yet be cross-platform, we're aware of that requirement and we're constantly reaching out to the other browser vendors and the W3C about how to best take things into the future," said Hawkes. "One example is that of the Gamepad API. Our developers are working closely with Google to make sure we're all on the same page and that our implementations coordinate with the specification that we created jointly."