The Mass Exodus of Browser Games
The year is 2007. Video game releases such as Halo 3, Bioshock, Portal, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Super Mario Galaxy, to name a few, garnered critical-acclaim by critics. With more extravagant releases that same year, 2007 was dubbed the best year in video gaming. That is, if you can even play them. Some video games required a costly minimum system specification while newly released consoles were priced as low as the Nintendo Wii’s $249.99 to as high as the PlayStation 3’s $599.99. For some gamers, the experience to play current games was too expensive.
Video gaming wasn’t solely dedicated to home game consoles or internally decorated computers at the time, however, as what arose since the early days of the Internet were online browser games. These games were meant to be available to play on any computer with an internet connection with a majority of them being free to play. In that same year of 2007, well-known browser games such as The Last Stand, The Impossible Quiz, Newgrounds Rumble, Pandemic, and Trials 2 were created and readily available for the public to play. Sadly, the software required to run a majority of these games will cease support from its distributor. This would leave hundreds upon thousands of games unplayable, erasing years of game content and game development. Browser games became a landmark in video gaming history but the 2020 deprecation of the Flash software means the loss of such history and the means needed to preserve it
What Made Browser Games Unique and Flashy
Many browser games were made possible through the Flash software, at the time a light yet powerful tool for web browsers that displayed rich multimedia. Flash had two parts: Flash, a program that’d let you make Flash files while providing drawing and scripting tools capable of creating your own animation and games, and Flash player, a free plugin that could run the creations made in Flash files. Flash games a wide variety of games, ready to play wherever and whenever: from your home computer to your school library. What made these games most appealing was its simplicity and ready-to-go game design . Some games provided stripped-down core game mechanics and graphics. Other Flash games were more polished and extravagant in its game design. However, the common goal for such games was to create a fun experience that enabled constant replay experience.
One simple example would be the game Bowman, where two archers try to shoot one another with their bow and arrows and the person who is able to deal enough damage to kill their opponent wins the game. With environmental obstacles and computer or human versus modes, the game focused more on its core game mechanics and less on how it looks to provide a fun and easy-to-understand experience.
On the other side of the more creative spectrum is the game Endeavor, a jump-and-climb platformer mixed with role-playing elements where you play as a dwarf trying to uncover an ancient secret through means of exploration and leveling up while also providing multiple endings, non-player characters to interact with, and quests to go on. To think that a Flash game of this magnitude can be experienced in one sitting.
“… we were stumbling upon the holy grail of game development. This was a tool that was easy to script, it was easy to draw, you could deploy immediately, there’s a huge audience that was really excited about this content and it was accessible…there was a way to get to this content.”
- John Cooney, “The Flash Games Postmortem”
John Cooney, a veteran Flash game creator, is one of many game creators that utilized the Flash software to lay out their ideas for the Internet to see. Flash would even be the forefront in the rise independent game developers. Released on a more commercial-wide spectrum, videos games such as Alien Hominid, N+, Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, all started off as Flash games. These games either had a solid enough game design or greatly crafted art design or both to go beyond the online platform and become fully released games or franchises. And Flash made that all possible. Browser games provided an endless amount of fun and exciting experiences while also igniting the flame of creativity for independent game developers. Sadly, the heyday of browser games, like all good things, had an expiration date.
The Fall of Flash
Steven Jobs, chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Apple Inc., wrote an open letter to Adobe before the time of his passing in 2010 discussing why Flash was not supported in his Apple mobile products such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. To summarize it shortly: the future is now, old man.
Flash was created during the PC era — for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards — all areas where Flash falls short.
-Steven Jobs, “Thoughts on Flash”
Even worse, Flash player has garnered a notoriety for its slowness and vulnerability to error which makes most web-pages look and feel worse making the software problematic. To some, the death of Flash is a blessing in disguise as Internet users will be getting a faster, more secure world wide web. Even websites such as Newgrounds, Addicting Games, Kongregate, and Miniclip, to name a few, utilized Flash in all of its content throughout the years but have been slowly transitioning away from it because of its faults and for better alternatives. However, the demise of Flash should not be celebrated as the founder of Newgrounds, a prominent figure in the Flash games era, states:
It really bothers me when people cheer the death of Flash. I totally get why it’s time to move on but you shouldn’t cheer the death of something that empowered so many people and brought so much joy to the web for 20+ years
-Tom Fulp, “Flash 2020 and the Future”
The end of Flash will still be a time of mourning, especially for the games that can’t be saved. Flash had an impact on the video game industry and the loss of this neglected content will be re-creating history with early video games having been lost as well.
History in the Making of Disappearing
To many, the first video game created for the sole purpose of entertainment was 1958’s Tennis for Two. Almost 4 decades later, the first browser game created would be 1997’s Club a Seal. Though the games contrast with one another in genre, they are both milestones in their own way as the first of their kinds. However, it’s unknown whether these two truly are the first of their kinds. Many early video games would be simple one-offs, games created but never published, or were never salvaged in its release. Like film, the history of this medium should not be left to wither and die.
When trying to preserve console video games, one has to face the challenges of classified development documentation, legal aspects and extracting the contents from original media like cartridges with special hardware. Special controllers and non-digital items are used to extend the gaming experience. This makes it difficult to preserve the look and feel of console video games
Not just with physical copies of video games but digital releases as well. With some digital games listed as unplayable such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, After Burner Climax, and P.T., it just shows that nothing last forever in the digital age unless preservation is taken with deep consideration. The fate of these delisted games or early lost video games will be repeating the same travesty in losing precious history. Years of Flash content consisting of early creator’s creations or innovations started will disappear. As Flash’s existence begins to wane, action had to be taken.
Dedication in Preservation of Digital History
Ben Latimore, a member of Jason Scott’s Archive Team who are known for preservation of digital history, worried about the state of Flash content in the internet. Seeing as there was no effort in what to do with this crumbling relic that is Flash games, he took it upon himself to save them. BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint is a program that is a “an all in one archival project, museum and playable collection of Flash games” meaning anyone can revisit and play Flash games without the need for the software.
“Adobe Flash (previously Macromedia Flash) is arguably the largest treasure trove of unpreserved gaming history today. Spanning literal tens of thousands of games over a period of twenty years, the library of Flash games, breadth and depth, outlives any other game console on the market. And in two years it might all go away… If nobody acts, the amount of history that’s capable of being lost forever is much too high to let it drain away. The games are worth more than that. Much more.”
-Ben Latimore, “Adobe Flash’s Gaming Legacy — Thousands upon Thousands of Titles — and My Efforts To Save It”
The preservation of Flash games means a preservation of gaming history as the unprecedented collection of volunteers and members behind the conservation of Flash games continues before its eventual shutdown.
As Flash’s days slowly dwindle, the fun, the creativity, the influence it ushered into the internet will never cease. Same goes with the memories of me playing Flash games with my friends in the school library. The thinkers and ideas manifested from the software will live on in its conservation as a landmark in video gaming.