The immediacy of game content delivered via Web browser could be the thing that knocks game consoles out of the foothold they have established.
But it seems a bit naive to think that people will only play games one way. Video games are not much different than other software--developed, consumed and distributed in different manners.
A more-likely scenario than the death of the console is one in which the console can play games of all types, including those that are browser-based or require a download installation.
The digital distribution era as described by Mike Yuen, senior director of BREW Gaming for Qualcomm Internet Services, is one that requires the gaming industry to re-evaluate the way it distributes content:
At this year's Casual Connect Conference in Seattle, Alex St. John, CEO of WildTangent, predicted the death of console gaming by 2020. He surmised that as the industry shifts its focus from quality graphics to production value it will be less inclined to invest in the development of next-gen gaming consoles. When coupled with rapidly increasing digital content distribution through online and mobile devices, the decrease in console production will cut into the profits and demand for retail console and PC games. With the increased proliferation of affordable, immediate digital content, St. John predicted that the PC and browser will emerge as the dominate "console" within the gaming industry.
Of course, this assumes that consumers would be willing to have a less graphically intense experience and have the requisite bandwidth to make the game usable. While I don't see the bandwidth as an issue, and games such as World of Warcraft aren't hurting for high-quality graphics, it's hard to see a world where the consoles go away completely.
Today, the most popular browser-based games are casual play, as opposed to console games that people tend to play more seriously. In fact, the immersive nature of console games has led to an entire category of legal issues, the most bizarre of which is the "video game defense." According to the Palm Beach Post:
"The goal of the 'video games' defense is to both shift blame and to explain to a judge and jury why this good kid is suddenly acting like a terrorist," says Illinois attorney James H. Waller. "Portraying your client as the victim of outside forces (be they child abuse, coercion by peers, or an ultra-violent video game industry) humanizes the client and shifts the culpability."
Sooner or later someone will use the "blog defense" or "Twitter defense" when all of the noise of the Internet makes them go cuckoo. (For more such noise, you can follow my Twitter antics at Daveofdoom.)
While you're thinking of these heady topics, enjoy the classic (and casual) arcade game Burgertime, courtesy of my friends at Widgetbox.
Disclaimer: The opinions represented here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.