The online gaming industry is booming, with 72 percent of American players logging on to get their fix in 2013. That figure has increased by 5 percent in just twelve months. There's a glut of websites designed to meet the growing demand, but they're not all created equally. Read on to discover eight of the year's best gaming websites.
Contre Jour blends the lines between art and gaming with its eerie dark imagery, stirring musical score, and intuitive, interactive gameplay. The result of an unusual collaboration between software giant Microsoft and little-known game publishers Chillingo, Contre Jour takes inspiration from Antoine de Saint-Expury's children's classic The Little Prince.
Players are immersed into 60 dazzling levels in this breakout hit, which was named Best in Show at South by Southwest. It began as a mobile gaming smash, but a recent Web adaptation has helped firm its place in modern gaming folklore. Some might say it's a design flaw that a third of the levels require Internet Explorer 10 and a Windows 8 machine. However with Microsoft heavily invested in this venture, the strategic decision makes good business sense.
Animal Jam Combines Education and Entertainment for Kids
Parents can breathe easy when their children log on to Animal Jam. This joint venture of National Geographic and Smart Bomb allows kids to explore a virtual world full of fun, educational games as an animal avatar. The cute characters have sucked young computer users in, but it's the features they don't see that really impress adults.
Live moderators ensure young users can chat to one another in a safe environment. The easy-to-use interface also features a parent dashboard, where parents can manage their child's access and communication settings.
That blend of entertainment, education, and safety has proven a winner. Ten million members spend an average of 65 minutes every time they play Animal Jam. That's a significant proportion of the three hours children spend interacting with media each day.
Zynga Offers Games of All Kinds
With an estimated 253 million visitors every month, Zynga leads the way in social gaming websites. Its roster of games includes wildly popular titles like FarmVille, Draw Something, and Words with Friends. Its clever integrated design allows Zynga fans to compete with their friends around the world using social networks or mobile technology.
While Facebook has been key to Zynga's success, the site is shifting its attention to the mobile gaming sector. The move makes sense, as 64 percent of consumers use gaming apps each day, compared to 56 percent logging on to social networking apps.
While Zynga's still the dominant player in the world of social gaming, King's breathing down its virtual neck. Zynga shed 21 percent of its daily active users in the last twelve months. This allowed King to close the gap on its competitor. Zynga might still have 54 million members active each day, but King's 50 million daily active players ensure it's not far behind.
King's success is driven by the colorful puzzle game Candy Crush, the number one grossing game in America on iOS. This success is mimicked around the world. In Hong Kong, 1.3 million people each day play Candy Crush. That's one fifth of all residents.
Like Zynga, King also integrates with Facebook and mobile technology, but its website offers extra value for gamers. While its most successful games reach popular platforms, the site houses an impressive portfolio of around 150 games.
Miniclip might not enjoy the traffic of Zynga or King, but this gaming platform still punches well above its weight. Creators Robert Small and Tihan Presbie launched the site in 2001 with a budget of ¬¨¬®¬¨¬£40,000. It's now worth an estimated $178 million US, or almost ¬¨¬®¬¨¬£116 million.
Miniclip's design is simple but user-friendly, with key titles organized by category. Members can also easily download the site's most popular free games from its top 10 list. The site offers a mix of exclusive titles alongside more widely known games including the children's favorite Club Penguin and the fantasy epic RuneScape.
Membership is optional, but registered players can receive awards and achievements and find their name on the site's leaderboard.
PopCap Chooses Quality over Quantity
Buoyed by its Bejeweled franchise, the Seattle-based PopCap delivers what online players want. Puzzle and strategy games are the most popular with this kind of gamer, with 42 percent of online players and 47 percent of mobile users enjoying them regularly. It focuses on games of this genre, with just 10 titles in its repertoire. It's a case of quality over quantity here, with each one designed to be simple yet addictive.
The site is ad-heavy, but that's a smart design feature as it encourages players to invest in the premium versions. With a new copy of Bejeweled sold every 4.3 seconds, it seems the strategy's working.
Flash Driving Game Puts You in the Driver's Seat
It doesn't have the profile of many of the other sites on our list, but this driving game's superb graphics have helped it make the cut. It was developed as part of the New Zealand Transport Agency's Safer Journeys' campaign, but don't let those government roots put you off. The slick visuals and smooth game play make it feel more like a high-end console game than something you play in your web browser. The feature which allows fans to challenge friends via Facebook cleverly makes the most of Flash Driving Game's online delivery.
Sarien.net Brings Old School Gaming Back
Sarien.net allows anyone whose old Apple IIc has long since given up the ghost to enjoy a nostalgic gaming fix. While the site has its roots in the past, it's also embraced new technology with an iPad-ready version.
No matter whether you prefer solving mind-bending puzzles or simply shooting bad guys, these well-designed gaming websites offer hours of playing pleasure.
About the Author
Shaun Chatman is a well-published author on many authority sites. He lives in Dunedin, FL, and spends his free time playing with his kids or advising friends on tech, gadgets, t-mobile coverage, finance and travel.