Facebook Messenger Instant Games Are gaining Traction, Are You Ready?

May 01, 2018


Adam Blacker

May 01, 2018

VP, Insights

After suspending app reviews following the public backlash from the Cambridge Analytica controversy, Marketing Land tells us Facebook is jumpstarting the review process for Instant Games and Messenger apps. If you want to know what type of game to build, check out an earlier post for us.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get data like this sent straight to your inbox

It’s a plus that Facebook has reopened the process since switching on the pause button in late March—and the waiting time will be long as Facebook works through a huge backlog. What winning games concepts are likely to top the list? We get some clues from this recent GDC interview with Leo Olebe, Global Director of Games Partnerships.

“While our initial selection of games at launch focused more on high score-based game play, we are continually learning as developers experiment with new genres and formats, from turn based games like Words with Friends to classic Match 3, progression games like Cookie Crush through to multiplayer card classics like Uno, all of which are finding an audience on the service,” he states. “Those games in turn are bringing in new audiences to the platform. The common thread across all of these games is a social element that makes them more enjoyable to play with your friends and family in Messenger.”

But some suggest the real question is not how long it will take your app to be approved, but rather, is it worth the investment in the first place?

The move to halt app reviews was what Marketing Land calls “Facebook’s way of showing it was performing due diligence around the very thing that caused its latest crisis.” But observers point out that precisely this crisis has cost it trust and audience.

Case in point: the number of people leaving the platform and—worse—embracing the option (first reported by TechCrunch) to remove apps in bulk from their Facebook profile settings. The new feature, which is accessible on mobile and desktop, will not only remove the apps but also will offer the option to delete any posts the individual apps have made to a user’s profile.

Chat app gaming gains traction

Some companies are moving the needle on their games by making them available via Facebook Messenger. After all, the opportunity to address and engage an audience of 1.3 billion monthly active users does have its advantages. This week updates us on the latest game to joins the fold. Disney Tsum Tsum is live on the platform. The Instant Games release was developed by Everwing developer Game Closure.

According to PocketGamer, the puzzle title has generated more than 75 million downloads and $1 billion in revenue on since its launch on mobile back in 2013. The title on Facebook’s games platform, is not the complete game. It’s been called an “introductory version” of the app, sharing the same basic rules and certain features but missing certain elements of the full mobile title, the post explains.

It’s clear that blockbuster games can afford to experiment and ride the tide of chat gaming—which is turning out to be one of the hottest emerging trends in the mobile games space. But does it offer promise and profits to indie developers?

The great folks at PocketGamer, who have dedicated all of April to news and views around the space, put this same question to some top indie studios.

Perchang Co-Founder Ben Murch expects that indies—given their enthusiasm for new ideas and opportunities—will step up to take advantage of new chat app gaming experiences. The aim, he says, is to “make our mark before the big companies realize the potential and ruin it for everyone.”

Strange Flavour CEO Aaron Fothergill sees it as another way to get games in front of users. “Theoretically,” he adds, it’s goal is supported by “the fact that you’re already in a multiplayer environment.”

Significantly, the game has better chances of success if it enhances (not interrupts) what users are there to do in the first place. As Aaron puts it in PocketGamer: “If you’re within a messaging app, your players aren’t 100 per cent focused on your game. They’re there to chat, so your game is likely to work better if it’s more casual.”

Where is the revenue?

Even more important than the fit with the players is the question: how to monetize them?

Right now, Facebook’s Instant Games platform supports monetization through advertising. In-app purchases are still in the experimentation phase in closed testing.

This literally changes the game for indie developers, who can’t ask players for cash. They have to think of other ways to generate revenue. One way is to drive more players to the app on the platform – in the hopes they will come in droves and stay to play.

But this simple strategy to grow your game can have hidden costs. Aaron sums it up, explain what he calls “the classic Facebook lock-in problem.” More users on Facebook costs more. “The more users/followers you have on Facebook, the more you have to pay them in advertising to be able to actually post anything to them,” he says.

Big studios naturally report bigger wins. Games studio FRVR tells Variety it’s “banking seven figures” for ads running on the Basketball FRVR version on the Instant Games platform. It has been played more than 4.2 billion times. “As a game developer, it’s rare that you have an opportunity to reach more than one billion people the first day your game goes live,” said FRVR founder Chris Benjaminsen in a statement. “We knew an investment in Facebook’s Instant Games would pay off — and it certainly has.”

Get in early

While it makes sense for agile indies and established studios to get on the Instant Games bandwagon, Ben Chong over at Gamesutra highlights the opportunities for brands that get in on the bottom floor before the real boom comes.

The popularity of casual games with high-power IP bodes well for brands that want to align their names with compelling games.As it turns out,” he writes, “games are a great way to get attention too. The act of playing a game itself, and getting rewarded for your actions is a great hook for attention.”

Put simply, brands license HTML5 games to help them get more attention. “The attention can manifest in a few ways, including time spent in the game, social media mentions, leads generated and possibly even revenue down the road.” More importantly, HTML5 games offer cross-platform interoperability and can be offered in forms and formats sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

  •       A responsive web game that runs on smartphone, tablet and desktop browsers
  •       A native app (on Android and iOS)
  •       Within a native app via the Webview element
  •       A playable ad to run on ad networks
  •       A component of offline platforms that are HTML5-compliant, such as airlines, taxis and more

Granted, Facebook's Instant Games aren’t a hit –yet. In fact, there are less than 200 games to date. But the outlook is positive and making games available in more places (and, at the same time, cutting down load times) makes games more accessible and audiences more addressable.

Facebook ups its game

Facebook didn’t just flip the switch on its Instant Games platform. It’s using the platform to compete with app stores, making a play to become what Newzoo market consultant Tom Wijman (in this interview) calls “one of the first real alternatives to the app stores for developers in Western markets.”

Users can browse titles from the Games tab on their Messenger app, and they can send challenges to friends, who in turn invite others. The result is a dynamic that can take advantage of Facebook’s built-in capabilities for social sharing and user acquisition. We learn from A-list that Facebook is boosting this capability.

“One of the most prominent new features is shareable links, where developers can post links that lead directly to their games on Reddit, Facebook or any other place they accrue traffic. In the coming weeks, developers will be able to supplement this traffic through paid acquisition using ad units. These ads are currently in beta but will be the same format as the ads already appearing on the Facebook News Feed and Messenger inbox, with support for images and video.”

Moving forward, Facebook is eying opportunities to a dynamic ranking system that uses machine learning to surface new games according to what users play. Think of a mash-up between News Feed and AI and you get where this is going. Facebook hints that it will be monitoring other signals around how well a game is performing. One outcome: popular games may be surfaced more frequently and shown to users. Retention is another metrics Facebook will consider.

Bots have an important role to play as well. Playing an Instant Game automatically subscribes players to related game bots, which send notifications through Messenger in the same way mobile games use push notifications.

This turns up the pressure on games app devs and marketers to focus harder on retaining and engaging players. Games that fail to move the needle may be virtually invisible to potential players as they will simply not surface in the News Feed.

But Facebook isn’t the only game in town

Newzoo’s data shows that there is a great deal of overlap between Instant Games users and other platforms, such as mobile, in the U.S. But there is also massive opportunity ahead if Facebook can bake more social into the platform.

Facebook is well aware of this – which is why it sharpened its focus on video. TechCrunch tells us Facebook ended 2017 on a high note, adding livestreaming and video chat. Now Facebook is working on a way to integrate gaming into Facebook’s personal video calling so that users can play together while talking face to face.

Against this backdrop, all eyes will be on news and developments from this week’s F8 conference. Expect new Instant Games features to be announced. No doubt updates for Messenger's bot platform are also on the table. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has hinted that growing organic Messenger interactions between consumers and businesses remains a priority, so we may just see this materialize.

And speaking of opportunity—keep a watch on Google now that it has announced Android users can "try" games before they download the app. The move is significant because it marks a milestone in Google’s wider strategy to expand its Instant Apps technology to include Play Store games. (The company first rolled out its Instant Apps technology for regular apps last year, combining Android platform with the best of the web. In practice, apps are streamed instantaneously over the Internet, and there is no need to install them on your device.

The bottom line: There’s massive growth ahead in the platforms that influence how and where users discover and play games. But there’s even greater pressure to connect with users via smart social strategies and targeted advertising. Intelligence to align advertising and audiences will become the source of your competitive edge. Use data to drive your campaigns and ideate the creatives sure to motivate and activate your audience.

Adam Blacker

VP, Insights