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Freeciv is an HTML5 browser game

A browser game is a video game that is played via the World Wide Web using a web browser.[1] Browser games can be run using standard web technologies[2] or browser plug-ins. The creation of such games usually involves use of standard web technologies as a frontend and other technologies to provide a backend. Browser games include all video game genres and can be single-player or multiplayer. Browser games are also portable and can be played on multiple different devices, web browsers, and operating systems. [3]

Browser games come in many genres and themes that appeal to both regular and casual players. Multiple browser games have developed beyond the online platform to become large titles or franchises sold physically in stores, in online marketplaces like Steam or XBLA, or in decentralized distribution platforms such as Some notable titles are Transformice, Alien Hominid, Bejeweled, Bloons, Club Penguin, Cookie Clicker, and Meat Boy.



Browser games are often free-to-play and do not require any client software to be installed apart from a web browser or browser plug-in. In some cases a game may be free, but charge for extra in-game features. Multiplayer browser games have an additional focus on social interaction, either between several players or on a massive scale. Due to the accessibility of browser games, they are often played in more frequent, shorter sessions compared to traditional computer games.[4]

Since browser games run isolated from hardware in a web browser, they can run on many different operating systems without having to be ported to each platform.[5]


In 1995, FutureWave Software, wanting to challenge Macromedia's Shockwave program, modified their SmartSketch software by adding frame-by-frame animation tools.[6] The tools were released in FutureSplash Animator for the PC and Macintosh. In December 1996, FutureWave was acquired by Macromedia and the animation editor was renamed Macromedia Flash.[7] This and the release of the ActionScript programming language, were some of the first ways developers made games for browsers.

In the same year, Tom Fulp developed the games "Club a Seal" and "Assassin" for his Neo Geo fansite New Ground.[8] A year later, after making the sequels to both games, he made a separate site, Neo Geo Atomix, specifically for hosting browser games. In 1998, Fulp began experimenting with Macromedia Flash, and combined both websites into Newgrounds. By 1999, there was considerable traffic on Newgrounds. He added a chat room and message board, along with "The Portal", where people could submit their own Flash creations. Newgrounds would grow to have portals for Games, Movies, Audio, and Art, and would spawn viral videos like the Numa Numa Dance. Google searches for Newgrounds peaked at December 2005,[9] and has an Alexa rank of 598 as of February 2017.

In 1996, Microsoft acquired the small online gaming site "The Village". The site was relaunched under the "Internet Gaming Zone" branding. It first hosted card and board games like Hearts, Spades, and Backgammon, and would be renamed many times over the years, to "Microsoft Zone", "MSN Games" and others. It received competition from similar sites made around this time, like Yahoo! Games. A notable series that came out of Microsoft Zone was Bejeweled.

In 2001, Robert Small and Tihan Presbie created the video hosting site Miniclip in London with £40,000 of their own funds.[10] Their first video, about a dancing George W. Bush, became popular after they released an accompanying game.[10] Miniclip would become the world's largest privately owned gaming site,[11] and in 2008, the company was valued at £900 million.[12] Google searches for Miniclip would peak at December 2007,[9] and as of July 2017, has an Alexa rank of 1,572.

For many years, the Classic version of Minecraft was available to play on Mojang's website, but was unsupported and the link was removed at various points from 2012-2015 before being removed entirely. Minecraft's stand-alone launcher would remain the same, however, and is how Minecraft would become the 2nd best-selling game ever released, at 121 million copies (including consoles).[13]

The Google Doodles featured on Google's front page are often games, the first one in May 2010 being a playable version of Pac-Man on the Google logo,[14] which got a permanent site at[15] There are other notable games like the side-scrolling dinosaur game that appears in Google Chrome whenever a device has lost an Internet connection,[16] or a playable Breakout easter egg in Google Images.[17]

The overall popularity of Flash games on game-specific websites has lessened in the 2010s,[18][19] and Adobe has announced they would discontinue Flash in 2020.[20] The original iPhone famously did not support Flash.[21] In his Thoughts on Flash letter, Steve Jobs said "the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short."[21] However, browser games written in other formats remain popular, including 2015's written in JavaScript and C++, and 2016's was written in HTML. The .io domain has become a popular way for developers to release individual games onto, because of its short length, the ease of acquiring the domain, and the association with programming because "io" can also stand for input/output.[22][23]


Many Flash games in the late 1990s and early 2000s received attention through the use of shock comedy or real-world events, like McDonald's Videogame, a satire of McDonald's' business practices, or Darfur is Dying, about the War in Darfur, Sudan. One of the most controversial was Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, released on April 5, 2005, which reenacts the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in a Final Fantasy VI-like aesthetic.[24][25] Betty Nguyen of CNN labeled the game as an example of a terrorist subculture,[26] and the gunman in the 2006 Dawson College shooting admitted to playing the game on a website.[27] There are a few other controversies involving browser games and real-world events, such as the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting reenactment V-Tech Rampage,[28] and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre targeting the game Kindergarten Killers after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings.[29]


A persistent browser-based game is a video game that is both browser-based and persistent.

Persistent browser-based games usually rely on some kind of server-side code, although some games use technologies like Flash, ActiveX, and Java applets to store data on the client's computer. Games relying on client-side technology are rarer due to the security aspects that must be dealt with when reading and writing from a user's local file system - the web browser doesn't want web pages to be able to destroy the user's computer, and the game designer doesn't want the game files stored in an easily accessed place where the user can edit them. The server-side code will store persistent information about players and possibly the game world in some kind of database.

Sustainability, especially when combined with persistence, is a key distinction of a PBBG. This allows dynamic system modelling elements to develop and allow the game to progress even while the player is offline. Such games often last for several months.


Browser games can take advantage of different technologies in order to function.

Web standardsEdit

Standard web technologies such as HTML, CSS, PHP, and JavaScript can be used to make browser games, but these have had limited success because of issues with browser compatibility and quality. These technologies allow for games that can be run in all standards-compliant browsers.[30] In addition, dedicated graphics technologies such as SVG and canvas allow for the fast rendering of vector and raster graphics respectively.[2] In addition, WebGL allows for hardware-accelerated 3D support in the browser.[31][32]

Comparison of web technologies[notes 1]
Chrome Firefox Internet Explorer Opera Safari
SVG Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Canvas Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
WebGL Yes Yes[33] Yes [34] Yes Yes


Browser plug-ins were used to provide game technologies after being installed by the user. As of 2017 most companies (Oracle for Java plugin, Adobe for Flash Plugin) are considering ending support for their plugins. Also web browser manufacturers are leaving the idea of using plug-ins in their products in the future.

Comparison of browser plug-ins
Windows Mac OS X Linux License[notes 2] Installed base[notes 3]
Flash Yes Yes Yes Proprietary[35] 96%[36]
Java Yes Yes Yes Open source (free)[37][38] 78%[36]
Shockwave Yes Yes No Proprietary[39] 52%[40]
Silverlight Yes Yes Partial (Moonlight - LGPL) Proprietary[41] 62%[36]
Unity Web Player Yes - Also in Unity WebGL[42] Yes - Also in Unity WebGL No- Works in Unity WebGL Proprietary[43] 1%[44]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Availability refers to the latest stable version only.
  2. ^ Refers to the reference implementation. There may be alternative implementations under different licenses.
  3. ^ Stated as a percentage of web browsers.


  1. ^ D Schultheiss: Long-term motivations to play MMOGs: A longitudinal study on motivations, experience and behavior, page 344. DiGRA, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Graphics — W3C". 2010-02-18. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  3. ^ "The PBBG Project". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  4. ^ C Klimmt: Exploring the Enjoyment of Playing Browser Games, page 231. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 2009.
  5. ^ E Adams: Fundamentals of Game Design, page 80. New Riders, 2009.
  6. ^ "Grandmasters of Flash: An Interview with the Creators of Flash | Cold Hard Flash: Flash Animation News, Videos and Links". Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  7. ^ "Macromedia - Showcase : The Dawn of Web Animation". 2006-07-17. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  8. ^ "#105 At World's End - Reply All by Gimlet Media". Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  9. ^ a b "Google Trends". Google Trends. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  10. ^ a b " / Business Life / Entrepreneurship - Game plan keeps it simple". 2009-06-03. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  11. ^ "From MiniClip to Mega Brand". Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  12. ^ "Miniclip games hit 1B downloads - Mobile World Live". Mobile World Live. 2016-12-08. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  13. ^ Phillips, Tom (2017-02-27). "Minecraft has smashed 120m copies milestone". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  14. ^ "30th Anniversary of PAC-MAN". Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  15. ^ "PAC-MAN rules!". Official Google Blog. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  16. ^ Becquart, Charlotte (2017-09-01). "This is the dinosaur game Google has hidden on its offline page". cornwalllive. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  17. ^ Aguilar, Mario. "You Can Play Atari Breakout on Google Image Search and It's Awesome". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  18. ^ "Current state and the future of HTML5 games". Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  19. ^ "Google Trends". Google Trends. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  20. ^ "Flash & The Future of Interactive Content". Latest company news & updates | Adobe Conversations Blog. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  21. ^ a b "Thoughts on Flash - Apple". Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  22. ^ Beattie, Russell. "Artisanal Websites: The rise of .io domains for well crafted web services". Russell Beattie. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  23. ^ "Why are startups turning to .IO? - Blog". Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  24. ^ Owen, David (2014-01-06). "I, School Shooter". Polygon. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  25. ^ "Columbine Massacre RPG creator banned from college campus, film festival [Updated]". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  26. ^ " - Transcripts". Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  27. ^ "Wired News: I, Columbine Killer". 2007-02-24. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  28. ^ "Virtual school shootings: interviewing two of the most hated game creators alive". destructoid. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  29. ^ "NRA blames video games like 'Kindergarten Killer' for Sandy Hook". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  30. ^ Downes, Stephen (August 17, 1999). "Fun and Games With DHTML". Stephen's Web. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  31. ^ Anthony, Sebastian (2009-12-11). "3D browser apps and games creep ever closer with the WebGL draft standard". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  32. ^ Ramsdale, Chris (April 1, 2010). "Look ma, no plugin!". Google Web Toolkit Blog. Google. Retrieved 2010-05-20 – via Blogspot.
  33. ^ "Mozilla Firefox 4 Release Notes". 2011-03-22. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
  34. ^ "WebGL (Preliminary)". MSDN. Microsoft. 25 July 2013. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  35. ^ "Flash EULA" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  36. ^ a b c "Web Browser Plugin Market Share / Global Usage". Retrieved 2010-04-08.
  37. ^ "Moving to OpenJDK as the official Java SE 7 Reference Implementation (Henrik on Java)".
  38. ^ "Java Platform, Standard Edition 7 Reference Implementations — Project Kenai".
  39. ^ "Shockwave EULA" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  40. ^ "Shockwave Player Adoption Statistics". Adobe. Retrieved 2010-04-08.
  41. ^ "Terms Of Use". Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  42. ^ Technologies, Unity. "Unity - Manual: WebGL Browser Compatibility". Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  43. ^ "END USER LICENSE AGREEMENT". Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  44. ^ "Thoughts On Browser Plugin Penetration". Unity Technologies. Retrieved 2011-03-10.