We rarely talk about browser based MMOs because the perceived quality of them is just subpar to the quality of a proper client MMO utilizing a high end engine. However, we all have to wonder if there will come a time when the browser is pretty much our OS and we play our games directly inside of the browser.
There is a ton of games that are already browser based MMOs. Sadly, most of them are mislabeled as MMOs when in reality theyre either social games or freemium single player games. Then there are games like Roblox which arent necessarily browser based (there is a client involved even though you choose where to go in the browser). Though when we think browser based, what comes to mind?
Runescape. One of the longest running MMOs and completely self contained in any browser that has the latest version of Java running in it. The boon of school age kids everywhere with library computers that dont have it blocked or Java permissions disabled. Runescape may not be the most interesting or intuitive game out there, but it has one thing going for it - accessibility. I honestly think I could play it on my T.V. if I wanted to wait around all day for it to load.
That, after all, is the major key point to a browser based MMO. Without a major up front download, theyre very easy to get started in, making it much easier to setup rather than waiting for a ten plus gigabyte download to start.
However, the trouble is that browsers arent necessarily amazing platforms to develop complicated MMOs on. A lot of games have suffered drastically from being unable to develop something cool within the strict confines of either Unity (which is making major advancements), Java, or Flash.
As mentioned, Unity is making great strides in actually being a really decent engine. If you explore Unity games on a site like Kongregate you can quickly find that there are a lot of impressive titles out there and a lot of the Chrome Store is unity games accessible straight through the browser. Interestingly enough, a lot of single player games like Dont Starve are also in the Chrome store.
I dont think that there is going to be any major shakeup in the world of client installed MMOs. Mobile MMOs are almost non-existant and browser based ones are limited. I do think, however, as technology advances so will our options when it comes to browser based MMOs.
A good example is the upcoming Game of Thrones Seven Kingdoms which is based off of the T.V. show Game of Thrones. The screenshots for it dont look half bad, although you can tell in the trailer that it doesnt have the same level of detail that games like Final Fantasy XIV or Guild Wars 2 has.
For a browser based MMO to work I think it requires a few major components. First it has to be accessible. However the game is played needs to be simple and easy to get into. There shouldnt be any super complicated mechanics and the game should be easily played with a keyboard and a trackpad, making it accessible to pretty much every system imaginable minus an undocked tablet.
Next it needs to look pretty. I know, I know, not every game has to look great in order to be good. However, it can go a lot way in making a mediocre game awesome if it is good looking.
Finally, it has to be fun and engaging as well. There has to be stuff in the game to do that really draws you in and makes you enjoy yourself.
Thats a lot to ask for in a game, which is why the success of the browser based MMO industry hasnt taken off. However, I really do think that in the future, most of our games will be based completely in the browser.