As developers and publishers around the world eye up the next big platforms, one of the most exciting new developments in the mobile industry is the rise of chat apps as a destination for games.
Facebook Messenger has 1.3 billion monthly active users, while chat apps like WeChat, iMessage and others also have substantial userbases. Perhaps more importantly than just the base number of users, many millions of these users are engaging with these apps on a daily basis.
And now these chat app companies are introducing HTML5 gaming - in the shape of Instant Games and Weixin - potentially heralding a new era for the mobile games industry.
One company eyeing up the opportunity is Coolgames, which has been developing and publishing HTML5 titles such as Snake, Tetris and most recently the soft-launched Angry Birds since 2010, distributing them on channels outside the traditional app stores.
Ahead of his talk at the White Nights Conference in Prague entitled ‘Games for Messaging Platforms in the Post-App Era’, Coolgames CEO Laurens Rutten tells us that while there’s still time to go before chat app gaming fulfills its potential, the future is bright.
“In terms of revenues, it is still early stage compared to more matured game platforms, but improving gradually,” says Rutten.
“The potential is enormous. More than four billion people around the globe actively use one or more messaging platforms. We already have seen large user numbers to most of our games on Messenger, with little promotion and no user acquisition. For example Snake reached more than almost two million daily active users at its peak.”
Making chat app games has some similarities with mobile games, but also some significant differences. There's a familiar focus on short, quick experiences, but there are no downloads for these titles, and there are also different user habits and social functions to consider.
Rutten says the main difference is the easiness of playing and sharing games with others - often regardless of whether the title is on iOS, Android or even desktop.
He adds that chat bots meanwhile can also be used as a tool to further enhance retention by sending rich media updates to players, friends or within chat groups.
“Other key differences are the technology used - HTML5 versus ‘native’ or Unity; file-size - messaging games are cloud-based so need to be more limited in size than native apps; and monetisation, which is not as developed yet as the traditional stores,” explains Rutten.
One of the key lessons Coolgames has learned from its experience developing chat app games is how different entry points to a game - such as via the games list, a friend invite, a group chat, a chat bot message, etcetera - can determine the context of the game and how the game-cycle starts.
The app stores will not disappear, but certainly should brace for some healthy competition.Laurens Rutten
Rutten explains: “In other words, there is not just one optimal game-flow, but many different flows per game. We are still learning to fine-tune our flows on a daily basis, and they are also very different between single and multiplayer games.
“Also, at its core messaging platforms are social. So truly involving your friends is key to its success.”
He adds: “Finally, live ops after first release is super important. As messaging platforms are still young, there aren't many benchmarks yet, so lots of testing and improving is essential. Also, the platform features and requirements can sometimes change on a weekly basis.”
As companies like Coolgames learn the lessons of chat app gaming, the market continues to grow and develop - Facebook for example is slowly introducing monetisation options for Instant Games.
But just how big can these apps be as gaming platforms? Rutten is of course bullish about the potential.
“We expect that over time, playing games on messaging platforms will definitely become as ubiquitous as playing downloadable apps,” he says.
“With so much rich media and all kinds of features added to messaging-apps, it is already not only about chat and text messaging anymore. Games are just a natural next step.
“The app stores will not disappear, but certainly should brace for some healthy competition.”
Ruttens will be speaking more about chat app gaming on February 13th at the White Nights Conference in Prague in a talk entitled 'Games for Messaging Platforms in the Post-App Era'.