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Insights from the gaming industry

History of Browser Games

In 1995, FutureWave Software, wanting to challenge Macromedia's Shockwave program, modified their SmartSketch software by adding frame-by-frame animation tools. 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. 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. 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, 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. Their first video, about a dancing George W. Bush, became popular after they released an accompanying game. Miniclip would become the world's largest privately owned gaming site, and in 2008, the company was valued at £900 million. Google searches for Miniclip would peak at December 2007, 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).

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, which got a permanent site at google.com/pacman. There are other notable games like the side-scrolling dinosaur game that appears in Google Chrome whenever a device has lost an Internet connection, or a playable Breakout easter egg in Google Images.

The overall popularity of Flash games on game-specific websites has lessened in the 2010s, and Adobe has announced they would discontinue Flash in 2020. The original iPhone famously did not support Flash. 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." However, browser games written in other formats remain popular, including 2015's agar.io written in JavaScript and C++, and 2016's slither.io 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.