Firefox Becomes Gaming Platform With Unreal Engine Support

SAN FRANCISCO — You'll soon be able to stream and play highly realistic three-dimensional video games from within the Mozilla Firefox browser. Mozilla recently announced that the most recent version of its Firefox browser can run games developed with the Unreal Engine by Epic Games, which forms the backbone of many major 3D video games.

You may ask: Why would people want to play streaming games in Firefox, or in any browser? If you want robust computer graphics, there are plenty of games downloadable from the or Steam and Origin platforms, and many more playable on CDs. Firefox will be capable of running games almost as quickly as if the games were running as stand-alone programs, but Firefox is always going to be slightly slower than so-called "native speeds."

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We put that question to the Firefox team on the show floor at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The Firefox team's primary answer was: Because of convenience. Not only would you not have to download a game in order to play it, but you could launch a game just by clicking a Web link. This would make it much easier for players to jump into new games and open up new avenues of promotion for game makers.

Firefox's gaming capabilities don't even require a Web browser plugin to function. The gaming functions are written entirely in JavaScript, specifically a type of JavaScript called asm.js, and WebGL, a JavaScript API for creating interactive 2D and 3D graphics in a browser. The games run equally well on a Windows PC or on a Mac, and, presumably, on Linux boxes as well.

The lack of plugins isn't merely convenient. Web plugins often create new avenues for cyberattackers, so removing plugins from the equation increases the security of the browsing experience. Because mobile browsers don't support plugins, using asm.js also makes it easier to share games on mobile devices.

The ability to run the Unreal Engine, even the new Unreal Engine 4, without plugins isn't just limited to the Firefox browser. Google's Chrome browser can run it as well, and Mozilla says just about any modern browser should be able to as well. However, the most recent version of Firefox is optimized to run games using asm.js and WebGL best.

"We are proponents of the Web," said Martin Best, Mozilla's Game Platform Strategist. "And anything that makes the web successful is good for us."

Currently, the only game playable using asm.js and WebGL is "Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia," developed in Unreal Engine 3 by developers Artificial Studios and Immersion Games.

At GDC, we also saw a demo of the Unreal Engine 4 in Firefox, and a preview of "Dead Trigger 2," currently out on iOS, Android and Facebook, which runs on the Unity engine, a different game-development engine. 

Currently, Unity games are only playable on browsers with an additional plugin, but when Unity 5.0 comes out later this year, it will come with a WebGL add-on that should make it playable without a plugin in Firefox or any other modern browser.

As a gaming platform, Firefox works differently than Chrome, which has offered games such as "Bastion" and "Angry Birds" through its Chrome Web Store for a few years now. Instead of offering games from a central location such as a store or even limited to a single browser, Mozilla's WebGL and asm.js development lets developers host games on their own sites, accessible via any browser.

Email or follow her @JillScharr and Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects. 

  • j5689
    Maybe EA could do this with the Frostbite engine as well and then it wouldn't feel so disjointed to have to launch games through a browser
  • DroKing
    Looks cool but is using "console quality" really necessary? why cant it be "PC" or the dreaded "triple A quality". however I am pumped for this support. it better bring us some good games. Im not a big fan of unity engine myself.
  • "Slightly less" than native speed? Wasn't it like 35% less than native? Not really "slightly".
  • bloodroses75
    Even without the hit, what happens to users that try to use their Dell or Best Buy special computer on one of these games? Especially with how high the system requirements are for the Unreal Engine 4 in native mode: (quad core, 8gig ram, GeForce 470gtx or AMD 6870 source: The average user thinks that if it's on the web, their computer can handle it, which won't happen here. Very cool that it is possible at least.
  • JD88
    Like all cloud computing innovations, the big thing about this is that it is platform agnostic. No matter what device a user is on, they can play these games. That means a lot more freedom from something like a Microsoft monopoly that puts a tight stranglehold on innovation.
  • JQB45
    At first I was skeptical, but after reading the story and comments I'll have to give it a try when it becomes available. And then of course test it again, later once its had a few rounds of improvement.
  • Spac3nerd
    We've had reliable in-browser 3d for three years with WebGL. It really isn't ground-breaking news. What would be great news is to hear that IE finally has full support for WebGL, so that we can make useful applications and libraries for everyone. .
  • hoofhearted
    I'a apprehensive of this "convenience". I am afraid of with this "convenience" will come a market like the Android or iPhone portable market. No real AAA games, just a crapload of freemium and microtransaction junk.
  • funguseater
    Java is garbage, no sorry most people code Java as garbage so not a real surprize at the %35 overhead. This looks like it will just open more people up to Java infections from malware infested game streaming sites, just like the sneaky movie/TV Flash streamers. (Noone ever updates their Java its going to be horrible) I do look forward to more virus removal business, thanks firefox.
  • Spac3nerd
    "Slightly less" than native speed? Wasn't it like 35% less than native? Not really "slightly".
    If browser performance is within an order of magnitude of the 'native' version's performance, the degradation is not important considering the type of applications that will likely be developed with it in the near future.