Tom MacWright

Web pages and video games

An evergreen topic is something like “why are websites so big and slow and hard and video games are so amazing and fast?” I’ve thought about it more than I’d like. Anyway, here are some reasons:

  • Web pages are just-in-time delivered, with no installation required. Modern video games typically require both a long install process, downloading tens of gigabytes onto the console. Even after that, they take minutes to boot up: when I play Cyberpunk on my XBox S, the loading screen takes at least a minute. It’s fast after that, but it’s fast because of that loading phase.
  • Video game development cycles are long and extraordinarily expensive. A recent failed game that didn’t make a serious media stir cost over 140 million dollars to make. There is no startup that will pour over $100 million on a website before even launching it. And AAA video games, which are often the ones that people have in mind, take years to develop.
  • Video games are generally single-tasked: you don’t have 10 of them open at a time, ready to switch tabs at any moment. They’re usually full-screen too, so they don’t even need to be composited with other graphics in a window manager, you can just shoot pixels straight to the screen.
  • The web is an aggressively heterogenous platform, moreso than nearly anything else. Webpages by default support any screen size, input method, light and dark mode, and pixel density. Large websites are expected to support multiple languages, and scale down to cheap feature-phones. So websites, when they do express native-like code, need to do so through WASM rather than some platform-specific binary. This is a lot of the power, and the struggle, of the web: you are writing code for an unimaginably wide range of devices.