Game-On: Designing Webpages for Consoles

Contributing Editor

You probably pay little attention to game console browsers. While many households own a Wii, Xbox or Playstation, few use the devices to access the web. It’s not surprising:

  • Console controls are clunky. Using a Wii remote or joypad to type URLs and navigate pages is not easy.
  • Console browsers can be woeful. They’re slow, buggy, and rarely support modern standards or Flash.
  • For quick browsing, it’s more convenient to use a smartphone or tablet.

According to StatCounter, the Sony PS3 accounts for just 0.1% of all web activity. Wii and Xbox browsers don’t even appear in the chart, although that’s possibly because they’re intermingled with Opera and IE9 statistics. But even the most optimistic console user would not expect heavy web usage. Unless you’re designing a console-specific website, there’s usually little reason to consider console browsers.

Could that situation be about to change?

Console manufacturers have been losing ground to mobile gaming. While they are different contexts, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have realized that the days of dedicated household gaming machines are numbered. The companies are rapidly moving toward multi-use entertainment devices which feature games, on-demand video (NetFlix, BBC iPlayer etc.), apps, social media and mobile phone integration. New machines will include increased web connectivity; Sony’s recent PS4 announcement stated that gamers can share the last few minutes of play as an online video (just what we need — more awful gaming clips!)

The next generation devices are powerful enough to run multiple functions at a time; it’s inevitable that better web browsers are coming. And don’t forget the web is device agnostic; we should not be restricting access just because someone chooses to use a console.

Console Challenges

Coding for consoles is likely to be more difficult than mobile:

  • Screens may have a high resolution (or even ultra-high definition), but users sit further away and controls are less precise. Typical media queries may not offer a robust solution especially when the browsers rarely support CSS features such as “tv” media.
  • There will be additional challenges to support features such as touchscreen and 3D.
  • Text may need to be more concise than even that displayed on mobile devices.
  • Browsing could become a more collaborative, family-orientated pursuit.

The the Wii U, Playstation 4, Xbox 360 successor and the Android-based Ouya may all be available by the end of 2013. Some households will choose to replace their aging PC with a more consumer-friendly console and tablet.

There won’t be an overnight migration but the current low level of console browsing is almost certain to rise.

What Should we do?

If you’re interested in the current state of console browsers, head over to console.maban.co.uk — a brilliant resource by UK developer Anna Debenham. The site provides descriptions, controller details, screen resolutions, user agents, JavaScript support, Flash versions, (dreadful) HTML5 test scores and a wealth of useful information.

For the moment, however, there’s little we can do but wait until we have further clarification of next generation console capabilities. But keep a close eye on the gaming market, especially if you’re operating a site aimed at home users.

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  • Anonymous

    It’s the “Ouya”, not the “Quya”.

    Despite being told by pretty much every tech journalist that the days of dedicated gaming consoles are numbered, as is the currently fashionable narrative, I am not convinced of that. I would assign myself to the group commonly known as “(hard)core gamers” — a group whose qualities are admittedly not well-defined and whose size is difficult to determine. People that I discuss this topic with and groups I see online tend to stand in stark contrast to this popular narrative. While many of them play games on smartphones and tablets, they still treat these casual experiences as something fundamentally different than traditional AAA console titles. They still play just as many games on dedicated gaming consoles. The reaction I’ve seen to the PS4 announcement also runs counter to the narrative: they like the Twitch.tv-like features, and roll their eyes at the features meant to expand the target demographic (things like Netflix, social media, motion controls, touchpads and web browsing). Most of us just want to play a good game with a traditional controller.

    Anyway, that’s the end of my digression. I don’t think you’ll find any argument from the hardcore gamer crowd that web developers can safely ignore console-based web browsers now and into the foreseeable future generation.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Interesting points.

      Following the success of the Wii, both Microsoft and Sony attempted to target a wider customer base because it was clear that the hardcore gamer market was shrinking — or at least evolving to spend more time/money on mobile games. I’m not totally convinced it worked, but the devices are becoming more multi-purpose whether you choose to use those facilities or not.

      The Ouya (thanks for spotting the typo) is an interesting one too. It bridges the gap between smartphones and consoles to provide Android apps and games on a home TV. Admittedly, Google and other companies are trying that, but the Ouya’s price alone makes it an attractive proposition for someone who wants a quick way to blast alien scum and check their Gmail account. The browsers available on Android are far better than console options at this time too.

  • BScribble

    As a web developer and Console (ps3) gamer, I find this interesting. I have to agree though I don’t really use the browser but apps on the other hand I believe are a lot more popular. eg COD ELITE, Youtube, netflix. I think if more game companies create website’s that are interactive with the game it’s self kinda like COD ELITE, I believe apps can become a huge success with consoles.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      I suspect we’ve only touched the surface of social media integration with games. Microsoft has a commercial interest in Facebook so they could easily link Xbox accounts together in a more sophisticated way than is currently offered.

  • http://www.kaddm.com/forumdisplay.php?f=4 waleed

    nice consols
    sony is winner