Mozilla Browser-Based Gaming Supports Native Unreal Engine 4 & Unity

By Published March 21, 2014 at 3:14 am

Mozilla has spent the last year expanding and improving its support of browser-based gaming with JavaScript-derived asm.js, Emscripten (cross-compiler for C and C++ games to run in browsers), and the WebGL standard. At this year’s Game Developer’s Conference, Mozilla demoed its support for Unreal Engine 4 technology and games using the upcoming Unity 5.0 engine. We caught up with platform gaming experts Vlad Vukićević and Martin Best to talk about how WebGL (and accompanying components) can make gaming anywhere possible and the degree to which it replicates native performance.

No Clients, No Plugins 

The key capability with browser-based gaming is that developers can enable their games for the web with Mozilla’s WebGL and asm.js to get people playing quickly. The consumer doesn’t have to download a game client or browser plugin in order to run the game, overall improving accessibility (reducing technical knowledge requirement), improving conversion rates, and reducing fear of contaminated installations from obscure game developers. Because the game is effectively run in the browser as a sort-of sandbox environment, the browser’s native security theoretically makes the gaming experience significantly more secure for the user. This becomes more important as gamers come across titles from lesser-known developers and don’t want to risk running an open .exe.

Mozilla’s asm.js JavaScript subset works with WebGL and Emscripten to deliver games to the browser in their full graphics fidelity at a relatively high performance compared to native (more below). Emscripten handles compiling of code from C or C++ -- which games are typically written in – and then the browser executes the code as JavaScript, which is a ‘native tongue’ to the browser. This process is also supported by other browsers apart from Firefox – including an easy integration with Chrome and Opera – so gamers can stay in the same browser from the time they discover a game to when they finish it.

Reaching all Corners (and Screens) of the World 

Mozilla is also supporting browser-based gaming for mobile platforms. Browser-based games already run on Firefox for Android and later this year they will work on Firefox OS. Martin Best explained that for some developing countries, the phone is the primary way that users access the internet, so the ability to play a platform-agnostic game on a common device can significantly expand a game’s user base.

Nonetheless, browser-based gaming still requires that the game be rendered by the player’s hardware. Eventually we could see something like NVIDIA Grid remotely processing graphics so that gamers could play games from leaner hardware. We’ll have more on this at GTC next week.

Performance and Development 

Mozilla’s blog notes that performance for games running through asm.js have improved over the last year to get games running at about 50% of native speeds in Firefox. When looking at the popular (and somewhat graphically-demanding) iOS game Dead Trigger 2 on a laptop, we noticed some screen-tearing (browser issue) resembling frame desynchronization, but saw very few instances of the framerate dropping. Games generally take between 15-20 seconds to load and don’t suffer additional load times as a result of running on a browser. Developers can keep load times minimal by loading enough content to the player and then continuing to stream data once the player’s in.

On the Devs’ Shoulders 

The availability and profitability of browser-based gaming rests on the developer. Mozilla can make some extra bucks by selling games through the Firefox Marketplace, but otherwise, it’s mostly up for the developer to decide where they want their games available and how they want to monetize it. They’ll have to consider whether or not the game has to be purchased through a third-party or self-run marketplace, the business model of the game (such as free to play, or subscription-based), and any cross-platform linking between the games.

Check back next week for NVIDIA GRID coverage for GN Steve’s thoughts on how this could shape the future of gaming. 

- Nick "stuBEEF" Pinkerton.

- Technical editing by Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.

Last modified on March 21, 2014 at 3:14 am

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