In-Game Web Browsers

Check out what programs are available to browse the web in-game.

We've all had to Alt-Tab. Whether you're driving down the streets of Liberty City wondering how to pass a mission or twiddling your thumbs waiting for a raid to start in World of Warcraft, the temptation to Alt-Tab out of the game to switch to the Web browser is something we've all faced. Unfortunately, Alt-Tabbing is also a toss of the dice, but gamers are gamblers, willing to hit Alt-Tab with iron wills and steely gazes at the ready. When we're lucky, the windows flicker around in a voodoo-like fashion and take us to the desktop safe and sound. More often than not, the game will just crash on us or ignore the command altogether. And then there are times when lady luck spits in our eye, and the computer locks up completely--which is precisely the moment our steely gazes come into play.

A few companies have been toiling away on in-game Web browsers to make Alt-Tabbing a thing of the past. They figure you shouldn't have to leave the game and tempt lady luck to hawk a juicy one your way if you want to check a few scores, and find a FAQ. Programs like PlayXpert, Rogue, Xfire, and even Steam let you hit up the Web without leaving the action. All of the solutions are fairly young and consequently have their quirks (think gleek rather than loogie), but they are getting better over time. Read on to learn about four of the more promising in-game browsing applications.

PlayXpert

PXP in WoW With widgets On the desktop

More than just a browser, PlayXpert acts as your one-stop hub to the outside world all within the confines of a game. Through PlayXpert's taskbar-like menu, you can access all sort of tools. You can easily browse the Web, play music, and chat over IM with your buddies right out of the initial install. According to PlayXpert CEO Charles Manning, "The program has broad compatibility and minimizes hits to performance by injecting its UI into the DirectX command stream as the information goes to the GPU." When translated into English that means that PlayXpert does not trigger anticheat software, and it doesn't need an update for new games or recently patched games.

You'll find quite a few widgets to download on PlayXpert's Web site to further enhance the program. Examples include Gmail, Pandora, TeamSpeak, iTunes, and Google Gadgets, which unleashes many of Google's tools. Installing widgets isn't difficult, but the process isn't entirely straightforward. We had to rename the ZIP files we downloaded to .pxpwid files to get them to work. All the gadgets we tested worked as advertised after we renamed the files. We found the in-game IM support for Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, GTalk, and Xfire absolutely indispensible.

Our older Pentium 4-based system stumbled despite PlayXpert's lean system requirements. Counter-Strike slowed to a crawl, and interactions with PlayXpert felt like a breast stroke through molasses. PlayXpert more than lived up to our dreams once we were on a quicker quad-core machine. We lost a few frames, but the added functionality was well worth it in games with a lot of downtime. PlayXpert also worked in just about every game we tried it in, although performance in some games did waver. Most of the time frame rates stayed close to default, but playing videos through YouTube killed them. The folks at PlayXpert mentioned that a forthcoming update to the program should address the issue.

Steam

Valve has been steadily adding features to Steam, its popular game content delivery service. The company unveiled an in-game browser in the middle of January. It's a far cry from what either Rogue or PlayXpert endeavor to accomplish, but it's rock solid by comparison. The browser comes with Steam, so you don't need to install anything extra to get the functionality.

Steam's browser doesn't take a toll on performance, because you can't play the game and run the browser at the same time. You can enable the browser by pressing the Web button in the Shift-Tab menu. The entire screen darkens a bit and lets you interact with all of Steam's functions and the browser at the same time. You can use the browser in games that aren't on the service (like World of Warcraft) by using the add-game function in Steam.

Rogue

WoW! CounterStrike Source On the desktop

Rogue is purely an in-game browser that recently arrived in beta. The small company currently focuses on making the browser compatible with massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft and EVE Online. Once the company has those games nailed to the wall, it intends to focus on other popular games. The company has its work cut out for it with only a handful of employees.

Rogue works in World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike: Source. Eight other games we tested crashed to the desktop or completely halted the computer. We're not surprised, as the folks from Rogue essentially said as much. However, when Rogue did work, the performance hit was tremendous. Leaving the browser window up and running nailed performance somewhere in the 70 percent range. We recovered a handful of frames by minimizing the browser, but the hit was still atrocious. Representatives stated that a new build will be released shortly that should improve overall performance. Rogue is worth taking a look at if you play MMORPGs and is probably good to keep an eye on to see how the program progresses.

Xfire

Left 4 Dead On the desktop

Xfire started life as a gaming-oriented IM program, and it has been evolving ever since. Over the years the program has gained the ability to take screenshots, record videos, organize guilds, and more. Very recently (and by recent we mean February 9, 2009) Xfire got a new feature: an in-game Web browser.

Like Rogue, Xfire seems to be game dependent. We had luck with a few games, such as Left 4 Dead, but support was hit or miss. Enabling the browser seemed to be just as sketchy until we mapped the command to a key combination that didn't interfere with normal game functions. Once it was running, the browser worked like a charm. Much like with the other programs, performance dropped considerably if we left the browser window open during gameplay.

We're pretty far from a clear-cut winner, as none of these programs are perfect at the moment. Heck, half of them jumped onto the scene in the last 30 days. But unlike Alt-Tabbing, compatibility and performance for in-game Web browsers will keep improving. Hopefully that means our steely gazes will stay saliva-free. Depending on what kinds of games you play, the performance hit might be worth the trouble to check out a few of these programs, especially PlayXpert. For the frame rate nuts, it's probably best to keep these at the back of your mind until they're mostly snag-free.

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Discussion

152 comments
woonsa
woonsa

I've been looking for something like this! Awesome piece of freeware.

adam_zsoldos
adam_zsoldos

Okay, I've been testing Steam a bit. It really has a rather stable web browser, but it also lacks many basic functions, including mouse wheel support, multiple windows or tabs, configurable homepage and/or favorites, etc. Steam also has the annoying habit of not being able to capture the ctrl and shift keys correctly. If you want to press ctrl+c to copy or shift+d to type a capital 'D', you will need to hold the ctrl or shift key for about three seconds before it registers as being pressed. Also, I've encountered a few minor bugs that sometimes render all text areas frozen. You can still type in them, but you won't be able to see the changes on your screen. All in all, I'm not sure which is the better (or worse) choice for an in-game browser: Steam or Xfire. Both are basic and full of bugs, but they are also the only browsers of the above four that I've been able to get to work with Fallout 3.

adam_zsoldos
adam_zsoldos

Am I the only one who thinks all of these are unstable and sucky? All I wanted was a browser in Fallout 3 because the game crashes on alt-tab. I went ahead and tried some of these. Here are the results: I've tried Xfire first. It is very basic but that's not a problem. However, it randomly stops capturing keys and starts doing weird things as I type into a text area on a website. Put simply, it is buggy. Then I've tried Rogue. It didn't work in Fallout 3. The cursor went below the browser and the interface, and it didn't capture any keys or mouse clicks. Instant uninstall. Third, I've tried PXP. This has had to be the most buggy of all. I've tried both the web browser and an official Notepad add-on that I downloaded, and both had the same problem: every text area is extremely unstable, not capturing keys correctly, having text display errors and useless overall. Buttons kept disappearing and the save feature in the Notepad didn't seem to work. I've yet to try Steam. I read it's simple but stable, and it would be great if that was true. But i know it probably isn't. This article was not very useful to me as it failed to list all the bugs I've experienced with these programs. (And I've only listed a fraction of them, myself.)

JordanizPro
JordanizPro

i dont like steam very much but i luv xfire

shani_boy101
shani_boy101

i''ve wanted to use PlayXpert for ages, but those lazy programmers over there can't be bothered to make the damn thing work in-game for Vista. what's taking you so long??? xfire and steam (from experience) have done it, why not you??? i've been using xfire for a while now but then for some reason the in-game browser lost its ability to find a web page, so i've been forced to go to steam, which isn't great at any level, its a very basic browser. still much better than alt-tab.

Flipyap28
Flipyap28

who cares about surfing the web, I just need one for IM

peterfaj
peterfaj

All of these browsers are actually IE. And I hate IE.

kent6650
kent6650

Maybe not in the FPS games but it's pretty useful on MMORPG games. It's pretty much annoying when this things are enabled on FPS, it usually killed the game most of the time due to distraction. But this is nice info.

The_Weekend
The_Weekend

why would you surf and play FPS at the same time? just don't make sense!!

jeet_shek
jeet_shek

cool. i will use this one...

AkroyVenslaka
AkroyVenslaka

@rpgsuperfan It's not quite as cool to play a game in a little window instead of full screen. And I certainly take care of my OS, but there are some games that just don't work well with alt-tabbing. For example, Team Fortress 2 will let you change the focus away, but when you return the focus, it just sits at a black screen for a few minutes before bringing the game back, if at all.

rpgsuperfan
rpgsuperfan

Anybody that has issues when alt+tabbing needs to LEARN TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR OS. You could also just... *GASP!* play in WINDOWED MODE! The world has been using Windows for well over a decade now and there are gamers that STILL can't figure it out?

FremenSquid
FremenSquid

I've used the steam and xfire ones. The steam one is pretty nice, but the xfire one i couldn't get the work and the gamespot editor said he had trouble too. Never tried PXP but it sounds really cool so I'll give it a look. Rogue looks too, well, beta-ish. lol

gamewolf8090
gamewolf8090

I have used Steam, PXP, and Rogue. I have found Steam to work the best as of yet, but PXP has great potential. Steam's web browser I have works the best because you have to hit Shift-Tab to activate the overlay. When the overlay is up, the web browser runs well, but can start to lag when more than one window is open. As for game compatibility, it will work on almost all newer games. Older games such as Diablo, Command & Conquer, etc will NOT work. Hopefully they can get these working. One other thing is that the overlay has no other features. PXP was good, but I was fumbling with switching back and forth. It is still buggy in some places, but there was minimal performance issues. This has good potential. Rogue was just terrible. It slowed my game down incredibly and I immediately uninstalled it. I have not tried XFire.

blooice
blooice

METTLEWOLF - I was answering the question, not making it. I posted a link to the GS page instead of the title of the game.

METTLEWOLF
METTLEWOLF

blooice- It's called 'Defense Grid - The awakening' There is a demo through the steam client if you want to check it out. Basically it is a future based version of wow III tower-wars with restricted freedom on tower placement.

syzyty
syzyty

Rrrrr!!! PXP release update for Vista but not for the 64 bit Vista. I'm with 64 bit Vista. Rrrrr!!!

darkchaostitan
darkchaostitan

"gleek rather than loogie" that was a random and strange anecdote, but well said

blueliquidplus
blueliquidplus

Both of those look sweet, I have yet to try the Steam one nor have I downloaded the other. So far I've only used the XFire in-game browser which I love.. hope to see more of these and more options soon.

Eryxx
Eryxx

Xfire's ingame browser is still in BETA, and it's pretty prominently displayed as such. It only supports a limited number of games at the moment; trying to use it in any non-supported games is not advised, They're trying to work out the bugs before releasing it as working for ALL the games Xfire supports (which is a LOT of games, by the way.) I've used it within a few supported games, and it works very well so far. It is much more convenient than Alt-Tabbing out to an external browser and is less disruptive to game play. I have Steam but have not tried its browser or any of the others, so I am unable to comment pro or con.

amdreallyfast
amdreallyfast

What game is being played in the background of the Steam web browser?

BizSAR
BizSAR

PlayXpert would be nice, if it ever worked on Vista or 64-OS'. They've been at it for over a year and can't even seem to get it working properly.

burn6
burn6

i been using xfire since 2006, but they don't support an in-game browser yet. i also hope pc games support window mode, it is extra helpful when playing while using other applications or waiting for something else.

blooice
blooice

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

blooice
blooice

Nice stuff. I actually caught myself wondering a few days ago why no one made a browser addon for WoW yet. To the people thinking this is useless: Browsing while playing doesn't mean you're bored of the game. It could be anything. Spotting something that may be a bug. Needing some extra bit of info. Waiting for something to happen in game (A raid in WoW, respawn when playing online and there's a respawn timer or rounds, loading screens). I also saw a few comments about getting more RAM and having a better computer to alt-tab out of. Well some games just don't alt tab pretty good. Fallout 3 is one of them for me and I think 4GB RAM should be enough. Oh, and to uberjannie (yeah I know his comment was 2 pages ago): It's people like you, not Microsoft, that are keeping us tied down to 32bits. Microsoft is pumping out 32bit OSes because you're still using them. I'm currently sitting in a room with 3 computers, all using 64bit operating systems (Vista, XP and Ubuntu) and I have zero problems with drivers or software. Sure all my games on Vista64 are running in 32bit modes but if people started using the 64bit operating systems when they started appearing, we would be getting games coded in 64 soon enough. Do yourself a favor and buy a 64bit OS. You're wasting 25% of your physical RAM.

MrPink25
MrPink25

this deff could come in handy

bodylotion
bodylotion

ok first of all , having an in-game browser could come in handy but it's not like there's something missing if i dont have one unless games freeze when you press ALT+TAB. But can anyone tell me why i would use Xfire ? :P

Trimitri
Trimitri

What about Game Oxygen (www.gameoxygen.com)? It hasn't been updated in a while, it only supports certain games (no Fallout 3 :( ), but it certainly works. I've tried it with Civilization 4, HOMM V and Oblivion and it does the job without stressing my Athlon X2 4200+ that much

fattass21
fattass21

steam is a bit off, little bit laggy, but overall, it is great. unless its just me that lags when i use the steam we browser, then its all good lol

rohver
rohver

Very nice stuff. These browsers would be very handy indeed.

Dwarden
Dwarden

very nice article , thanks for publishing

Balidanny
Balidanny

Of you could just have a big monitor and play in windowed mode........

fat_boy_phil
fat_boy_phil

@ YellowJello my Steam browser loads just a little bit slower than what my usual browser does and thats not slow at all and mines never crashed, you need a new computer retard

kenkashijd
kenkashijd

steam browser suck needs inprovement

bishopphoto
bishopphoto

STEAM = HOT. This is a great towers type game. Very addictive. Though I would not recommend this for work. Inevitably someone will make you do work and you will have to put this down. I recommend you try this out at home, and game RESPONSIBLY

YellowJello
YellowJello

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

ocdog45
ocdog45

thats pretty tight. didn't know about this. im not a pc game player though.

LordAndrew
LordAndrew

I've found that the Steam browser has some stability issues on the machine I tried it out on. Too many crashes. I also run Xfire, but I haven't tried out the in-game web browser yet.

Ikarrus
Ikarrus

I have tried Pxp and i'm not really satisfied. I mean, yea it's a good idea but it;'s unstable. I tested it on different rigs with Burnout and some other games on PC an a couple of time crashed. I choose it because it has the messenger capability which is important cause is annoying to always alt+tab from game (which ultimately crashes) to chat with friends. But the browsing it's ok and of course it's better than nothing.

Wolfcp11
Wolfcp11

Steam broswer is perfect.