Shyam Ranganathan

Browser-based games set to become prominent

CHENNAI: By day, Shashank is a graduate student in the U.S. working on wireless communication systems. But by night, he becomes a Gaul miller in a world populated by thousands of people with names like “Celtic Harpist” and “Gothic Hippie.”

The_Irish_Myth, as he is called in the “Travians” world, is part of a growing community of online gamers who find their web browsers good enough to play sophisticated games.

Browser-based games, similar to the one Shashank plays regularly, and Flash-based games like Cricinfo’s Slogout, have been considered poor cousins of console (like the Xbox and Playstation) and computer games. However, with the recent economic downturn hurting the bigger game developers, browser-based games, typically developed by students and hobbyists, are expected to become prominent, says Gopal Sathe, who writes on gaming on his website accessible at www.split-screen.com.

The Independent Games Festival has also reported a 30 per cent increase in the number of entries to the annual competition this year while big game publishers are declaring a fall in revenues.

A recent study by the Entertainment Software Association, comprising big game publishers like Microsoft, Sony, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts, reports that the average age of game players in the U.S. is 35 and people 50 years or older comprise 26 per cent of game-buyers. Also, 65 per cent of the American households play computer or video games.

In India, while gaming has not achieved similar penetration, the Internet has created a number of “casual gamers” — people who invest much less time and investment in games — as opposed to “hardcore gamers.” Various sites including Yahoo, MSN and Zapak offer free online games.

As hardcore gamer R.K. Badri Narayanan, a student from Chennai, says: “I play many games both on the PC and consoles but when I have only a few minutes to kill, I can quickly play a round or two at any of the popular sites. I also regularly play similar games on my mobile phone.”

But Badri stops short of actually praising these games as they “do not have the graphics content or the depth of a real game.” However, developers are pushing the envelope, adding more to browser-based games to remove their “poor cousin” tag.

Many Massively Multiplayer Online games like Travian, Ikariam, and Khan Wars, similar to those already available for consoles and computers, have been developed for the browser. Games with a political content have also been developed, like the McVideogame and Oligarchy.

“Working within the constraints of a browser, where people cannot wait until a ton of graphics is downloaded, pushes the creativity of gamers. This, in turn, also leads to lots of innovation and challenges the concept of gaming itself,” says Mr. Sathe.

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