Facebook is sidestepping the app stores by now allowing everyone to play no-download HTML5 “Instant Games” inside of Facebook Messenger. Launched in the U.S. in November, Instant Games are now globally available with 50 titles to play, from Pac-Man to 8 Ball Pool.
Plus, Facebook is rolling out two new features it announced at its F8 conference earlier this month. Developers can make game bots that communicate with players about new levels or rewards, like the game EverWing now does.
And fulfilling its most frequent feature request, Instant Games now support turn-by-turn games instead of just single-player games with score leaderboards. One of the first new turn-by-turn titles is Zynga’s Words With Friends, which allows simultaneous chat, and is well-suited for the back-and-forth nature of a messaging app. The dedicated Games tab in Messenger with a curated selection of top games is still in testing.
Instant Games give people a conversation starter, and something to do while they wait for friends to reply to messages. With the traditional app stores overcrowded with crap and the friction of downloads discouraging experimentation by users, Instant Games could make Messenger stickier while drawing people deeper into the Facebook family of apps. Instant Games were played 1.5 billion times in the past 90 days, Facebook said at F8.
For now, there are no ads or in-game purchases available, so neither Facebook nor developers are making money on the Instant Games platform just yet. Branded games like The LEGO Batman Movie’s Bat Climb could provide marketing firepower for other properties. But circa 2009, Facebook built a huge business and developer ecosystem around its desktop gaming platform. Now as its desktop payment revenue declines and Messenger grows beyond 1.2 billion users, it has a chance to foster a new games platform.
We reviewed the full slate of launch games and liked psychedelic platformer Endless Lake, puzzler Wordalot, and arcade classic Space Invaders the best. Since then, a slew of games like Basketball FRVR, Bingo and Solitaire have been added.
HTML5 was the source of Facebook’s biggest strategic mistake, as the company’s original mobile apps were sluggish as they were really just native iOS and Android wrappers around the mobile web standard. But HTML5 has improved and developers have gotten more skilled at wielding it over the years, allowing fast frame rates and explosive graphics despite not requiring a formal app download.
After years of neglect, Facebook has recently built out several new surfaces for games. Beyond Messenger, Facebook last year launched its desktop gaming platform called Gameroom, which feels like a more casual, social version of Steam. The new augmented reality Facebook Camera Effects Platform can also support AR games that interplay with objects in the real world.
Yet as it learned on desktop, the best games platform is where you’re already spending all your time. In 2017, when chat has become the center of the smartphone, that means Messenger.