Anticipating expansion as it opens for all developers, Facebook Instant Games is adding enhanced user acquisition features, hoping to better compete with the mainstream market and promote HTML5 mobile games across its different properties.
Newzoo market consultant Tom Wijman explained that Instant Games occupies a space between mobile and PC web gaming, describing it as “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, but the platform relies on word of mouth for discovery. Users can send challenges to friends, who in turn invite others.
Facebook product manager Michael Weingert points to social interaction as the key differentiator between Instant Games and other platforms, as friends play with each other in existing conversations on Messenger, allowing the games’ user acquisition and monetization features to take advantage of Facebook’s built-in capabilities.
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.
Since the games are created in HTML5, users don’t have to download an app—they can click on an ad or link and get straight to playing. But even though this accessibility is beneficial for audience growth, Wijman points out that HTML5 isn’t necessarily tailored for game development, suggesting that downloadable mobile games will still have their niche.
Additionally, developers will need to use an upcoming API called Game Switch in order to cross-promote their other titles. As the name suggests, the tool lets developers decide on the right time to encourage players to switch over to a different game.
The vast majority of titles on Instant Games are either puzzle or casual games, with standouts such as Words With Friends and Tetris.
While word-of-mouth will likely remain the platform’s primary growth driver for the foreseeable future, Facebook intends to supplement it with a dynamic ranking system that uses machine learning to surface new games. In much the same way the News Feed pushes up stories based on the pages users like, the ranking system will surface games according to what users play.
Bob Slinn, Facebook’s EMEA head of games partnerships, said that other signals will come from how well a game is performing, so popular games may be surfaced more frequently too. He also added that retention is a good signal as well, and on that end, Instant Games is taking another play from mobile gaming’s playbook.
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. However, the Instant Games approach may prove to be more flexible: Weingert explained that since game bots live within Messenger, a platform where users interact with bots on a regular basis, the format allows more options for customizing bot messages, such as including images along with the text itself.
Even with Instant Games’ steady growth, mobile is likely to continue growing as well. Although Weingert expects that many Instant Game players are new to gaming in general, Newzoo’s data shows that there is a great deal of overlap between Instant Games users and other platforms in the US. According to Wijman, of those who played Instant Games on mobile devices, 63 and 75 percent also play PC and console games, respectively. This overlap goes up with people who play from their News Feeds on computers, with 98 percent playing mobile games and 84 percent playing console games.
Wijman warns that the huge reach of the Facebook platform may become a disadvantage for some developers.
“A game can grow very quickly, but can die out equally as quickly,” he said. “Player retention is a major issue, especially because it’s essentially an app in an app. Players don’t have instant access to the game and are not reminded of it by seeing it on their home screens.”
Next steps for the platform include increased emphasis on Facebook’s video features. Instant Games added livestreaming and video chat in December, and the company is currently working on a way to integrate gaming into Facebook’s personal video calling so that users can play together while talking face to face.
Slinn said that Instant Games is also experimenting with livestreaming, allowing developers to better connect with audiences and strengthen community engagement. On Monday, Facebook launched a new livestreaming API that lets developers give out in-game rewards to viewers, smoothing the transition between watching and playing.