Facebook dominated social gaming around 2008 after its desktop app platform proved more popular for playing around than for utilities. It earned a peak of a quarter-billion dollars per quarter on its 30% tax on in-game purchases, and their addictive and viral nature helped Facebook grow its user count and engagement. Today, 15% of time on Facebook.com is still spent playing games, though payments revenue has declined to $196 million in the latest quarter.
As users shifted to mobile, Facebook found itself shut out of gaming. Only iOS and Android could run native app stores, so they were who earned the taxes on in-game payments. Facebook desperately tried to build an HTML5 game platform called Project Spartan in 2011, but it flopped because the mobile web standard wasn’t powerful enough to build games that could compete with flashy, downloadable native apps.
Over time, though, developers have figured out how to squeeze better graphics and responsive gameplay out of HTML5. You won’t be playing 3D epics like Infinity Blade on Messenger, but 80s arcade classics, simple puzzlers, and retro games like Flappy Bird would work just fine.
Facebook actually tested the potential for Messenger games by building its own. Its basketball shoot-out game was played 1.2 billion times, much more than the company expected. It knew people would play if Messenger gave them games. And chat apps like Line and KakaoTalk had already pioneered the idea of chat game platform.
Earlier this month, The Information reported Facebook was building an Instant Games platform, and we advanced the story with news about how the games would work and that the Candy Crush-maker King was building for the platform.
Though HTML5 games built inside Messenger platforms might not be as graphically powerful, they’re almost as engaging. A study by gaming network Gamee found that, on average, users played chat games 34 times per day for a total of 21 minutes over 2 sessions per day, while they played native app games 43 times for 33 minutes over 2.5 sessions per day.
Combine that level of chat game engagement with the lack of friction to get started, and there’s a big audience waiting for Messenger’s Instant Games.
It’s all part of Facebook’s two-pronged new approach to gaming. On mobile, there’s Messenger Instant Games. And on desktop, the new Facebook Gameroom downloadable desktop client is a cheap, casual, social alternative to the expensive, hardcore desktop game platform Steam.