Why Haven't 3D Web Games Reached the Scale of Runescape Despite Advanced Web Tech?

Great thread here.

Today, web games are 1% of the games market ($2.3b).

As janosdebugs says, there are few reasons for a game developer today to create a web game. Without the distribution network and payment benefits that come with the app stores/steam, the economic incentives aren’t there - even after the cut taken by app stores.

But i’ve got a thought experiment for you. What if we asked a different question about game making for the web.

What if the question is:

“What is the most compelling use of a game engine on the web?”

Instead of what I think we’ve been asking to date, which is:

“How do we create the best AAA-like games for the web?”

What if we throw out what a game has been historically and imagine instead what a great game would look like with all of the constraints and benefits of the web. Is there a kind of experience here that’s not possible on console/ steam/ appstores?

The analog is Youtube and now Tiktok, where the content created for those networks is tailor fit to the web - it doesn’t make sense for the movie theater. It’s like the anti-Hollywood movie. AAA games are, of course, a lot like Hollywood movies - and chasing them with web games seems destined for failure.

But what does make sense for games on the web? What is the Youtube video or Tiktok short for web games? I don’t think we have an answer there yet. But i bet there is one.

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I recently came across https://www.crazygames.com/, which is an effort to solve the distribution and monetization issues.

That report is full of shit btw. Its probably closer to 50b and even that is over estimating because hardware sales are profit loss, so you should really only consider software sales. Mobile sales include people paying bills through the app store and china, which we dont have access to. A more realistic approach imo is to look at cumulative hardware sales first. 20m xboxs, 40m ps5, and 120m nintendo switches sold. Thats total, not annual, so that is roughly your addressable gamer market, plus maybe 100m pc gamers and ignoring some overlap thats ~280 million gamers, not 3.2 billion. So, as software developers, we should consider our ability to publish to that market through the available platforms.

To answer the thread question;

“Why haven’t there been any huge web games like RuneScape?”

I believe that RuneScape had huge success because of its novelty, but its development was hell and what they managed with the tech of the time was nothing short of incredible.

After WoW and RuneScape, there was a flood of MMOs rushing to the market. However, they didn’t want to make a RuneScape competitor because RuneScape was already at the cutting edge and the web tech of the day, no company was gonna get devs who could make a game that pushed the graphics or game speed much more.

So most companies will opt to build for native. That way they can push for the best graphics game speed and all that. There was an arms race to make the “best looking MMO” as WoW was starting to look dated and well RuneScape was RuneScape.

It was just easier to build for native back then and be in a position to offer the world cutting-edge features.

“OK, but why not today build it?”

While the tech is there, I think that companies who would want to invest capital in making “the next RuneScape” would almost demand some guarantees that the web doesn’t offer.

  • The Web has no easy content protections for source code, game assets and is much easier to debug and try to hack the game.
  • Web users don’t want to pay for games so companies see it as an uphill battle to turn web gamers to paid players
  • The talent pool for developers who can make good, optimized games AND web dev to a high standard is still far and few between. There tones of webs devs and tones of game devs. But they don’t tend to mix a lot.
  • Web tech is good, but it’s still janky and hard to gurrentee all users get the same experience
  • Web users are like 80% on mobile devices so numbers around how many “players” you may get is not as good as you may think. Granted it’s still huge but if you don’t support mobile that’s a huge chunk of players.
  • Tools and marketplaces for web game dev are pittyful compared to the native game engines.
  • Big companies like control. They want your hardware IDs, they want your HDD they want your telemetry, and they don’t want to ask to geolocate you. Again web browsers protect from most of this and big corporations hate it.

Now I think we could have a successful web-based RuneScape-like game in this day and age.

Unfortunately, all the MMOs I see are cynical cash grabs or crypto nonsense. I have seen some really good-looking, high-performance web-based MMOs however they got retroactively pumped full of crypto stuff and I believe that anybody who has anything close to being like a modern-day RuneScape will just get bought out of the process early and the game cynically turned into a gotcha micro-transaction based economy.


Thank you for this comment. I was about to think I was the only one ‘old-school’ digital actor fed-up with the post social-media and next-gen pretendingly CX/UX marketing crap that’s polluting the gaming- and overall entertainment industry. I’m happy to see that there are others who seem to share my disgust for these practices (both as an actor/consultant AND as a customer/gamer/user).

Personally, I was slow to come around because of past experience (and failure) at building the kinds of web projects that I wanted to build. Either it was hard or I was stupid, or the tech wasn’t there yet. I only recently made a new attempt, and maybe I’m less stoopid or the tech is better. But this time I’m having more success!

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