Computer games have played an important role in advancing the state of the art for computing, and now Mozilla hopes to draw upon gaming to advance browser application development.
The Firefox backer launched the new Mozilla Labs Gaming project Tuesday with the goal of encouraging programmers to use a host of new browser and Web technologies.
As part of the effort, Mozilla also announced the Game_On 2010 browser-game contest that will start in September.
The work dovetails with a broad industry transition: Browsers are growing from a vessel for containing Web pages into a foundation for applications. Even Microsoft, for years a laggard in the browser realm and still a powerhouse with PC applications, has gotten Web app religion with its coming Internet Explorer 9, due to launch next week in beta form.
A lot of casual games on the Web today are built with Adobe Systems' Flash technology, which runs across modern and ancient browsers and across multiple operating systems. Many features coming to browsers--notably SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) and Canvas for 2D graphics--reproduce some of what Flash can do. And other technologies, such as WebGL for hardware-accelerated 3D graphics, are headed the same direction as Flash.
Although casual games on PCs are a major market, another powerful new force in the gaming world is the new generation of smartphones and related mobile devices--most notably Apple's iOS-based iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. There, static Web pages are a challenge and Web-based games are even harder. So for now at least, it seems likely that the more impressive browser games will be mostly a desktop phenomenon.