At IMGDC 2.0, Gordon Walton said (paraphrase) that Star Wars: The Old Republic should be the last MMO (or perhaps online game) made with a standalone client. His logic was that everyone has a web browser, and the web browser does not require a multi-GB download. As a developer, every barrier between your customer and the game costs you customers. (Back to that post from Gordon Walton: you, the self-identified “gamer,” will work hard for a bit of fun, but most paying customers will not.) As a player, I have lost interest in the time it takes to download, install, and learn how to play. As an observer, I would attribute some of the rise of flash and mobile games to the convenience of automated downloads, streamlined installation, and the business brilliance that is the modern app store.
Maybe it takes more than six years for that idea to spread, but there are definitely reasons why you might want a standalone client: the need for gigabytes of content, security controls, and (most importantly to me today) a uniform development platform. “Web browser” is not one thing. One of the drawbacks of developing for the PC (not consoles) is that PCs differ widely in terms of hardware and software, and web browsers create more levels of differences. Are you using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, or something else? Maybe still using Netscape Navigator? Which version are you using, both major and minor? There are dozens of different ways users could have that one thing configured, and your game needs to work in all of them, with every other hardware and software configuration that goes along with the browser. I can see why you might want to say, “Our client, our world, under our control.”
I spend some days playing tech support for an online system. Some users genuinely have a problem with our system. Others could not remember which password was for our system, remembered the password but had typos, forgot the password for their Windows logon, had trouble with an internet connection, had trouble with Internet Explorer, had trouble using a function that worked slightly differently in Internet Explorer and Chrome, or needed the finer points of using a mouse explained. And those are the questions I remember off-hand from one day. When you are supporting a product on the PC, you are supporting the entire PC. At a previous job, our FAQs included how to update browser settings and how to troubleshoot problems with printer settings. Their printer problems were not our fault, but they were our problem if we wanted customers to make full use of our site.
When you run a hotel, you also get to explain to people how to find your hotel. If they cannot get to your service, they cannot use your service. The construction down the road may not be your fault, but it is still a barrier between you and your customers.