Mobile Mavens

How big an impact will Facebook Instant Games have on mobile gaming?

Mobile Mavens discuss the HTML5-powered Messenger platform

How big an impact will Facebook Instant Games have on mobile gaming?

Last week, Facebook launched Instant Games on its Messenger app.

This means that users can now challenge their friends in a series of bite-sized HTML5 games - with no need for any additional installations - right within the app.

But what does this mean? Is this when HTML5 gaming finally comes of age? Is it a chance for Western chat apps to replicate those in Asia and increase their mobile gaming influence?

Or are we getting ahead of ourselves? To find out, we asked our Mobile Mavens:

  • Is chat app integration like Facebook Instant Games finally the breakthrough for HTML5 gaming?
  • Will chat apps eventually be as influential in western mobile gaming as they are in Asia?
Adam Telfer Consultant MobileFreeToPlay

Adam has been in the mobile game industry since 2007, creating games independently. He's since grown into a full 50+ person studio manager.

Recently he's taken a position at Wooga in Berlin to sharpen his design skills and work with the world's best to create amazing, well-crafted products onto the mobile marketplace.

Have any of you sat down and played the games?

The games are simple, but so far nothing that really captures the potential of the platform. Games are limited to just high-score competitions.

But the HTML5 performance is impressive! HTML5 on mobile has come a long way. It feels much closer to native than a few years ago.

It is also clear that Facebook has a lot of potential in this platform to create games that are inherently viral.

Facebook really delivered on the "instant" experience. Having apps that open up nearly instantaneously and require no install is a big advantage.

What will be interesting is if these games can get past the gimmick stage and provide a longer-lasting experience. Experiences that developers can actually build a loyal audience from.

I'm confident this can and will happen. It's just a matter of time.

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

I haven’t seen big numbers on Apple’s iMessage App Store yet (I co-designed WordDare, a iMessage game), but Facebook going with HTML5 may make the difference here.

I do believe chat apps are a great platform for two-player social games.

Consider what happens when you play a conventional social game with a friend.

Ideally they already have the app. Often they don’t. But even if they have the app I have to invite them to run the app (or play the game I want to play with them). Think of the best case scenario, you both have the game:

  • I have to invite you to play the game. The invite typically appears as a notification on your phone. At that time you may be doing something else.
  • You have to accept the invite, stop what you are doing, and play the game.
  • Ironically, during game play (say a word game), we may chat via a game’s own text chat system.

Now add to that the case when my friend doesn’t have the app or game. The invite ideally will take my friend to the app store, they will have to decide to download the game, and then they can play me.

The problem is when they haven’t seen the game before. They are going to have to trust me that it’s great.

The brilliance of Facebook going with HTML5 is all friction is eliminated.
William D. Volk

Or maybe the game is a huge hit and they have it already. That can work. But that still leaves the issue of “do they want to play now?”.

In the context of chat, you can ask if they want to play the game and they can decide right there to do that. And the game is available right then and there.

The problem with the iMessage App Store is that there’s still the entire install process to deal with. Apple IDs, passwords, etc. And then settings to enable iMessage to use the app.

The brilliance of Facebook going with HTML5 is all of that friction is eliminated.

I had always hoped that Google would have unified their Chromebook and Android ecosystems to bring HTML mobile apps into Play on mobile, but it seems Facebook has figured it out. Chat is the way to go.

Turning back the wayback machine to 2005, this was what we tried to do with The Dozens - but in that case we used SMS as a game platform.

Oleg Pridiuk Evangelist, Defold King

As usual, I have a set of fragmented thoughts for you.

I tried to assemble HTML5 roundtables at a set of major game development conferences with a major platform + small developer + big developer setup.

Tremendous work with lots of partner help found a single result in Moscow, where local platforms and explained no one cooks high quality HTML5 games these days, since there are no proper tools to facilitate the development within meaningful budgets.

Endless Lake, an Instant Games launch title from Spil Games

Or there wasn’t, as Defold is maturing as we speak.

Unlike other industry trends, the post-app focus is enjoying heavy investment by social networks.

And those have power to appeal to millions of users globally and regionally, evangelise new ways of doing things to mere mortals and raise a new wave of casual multiplayer gamers.

Another aspect we have discussed is player fatigue, where people are too overwhelmed to dive into new game worlds. Microgames might be a nice cure to this.

Over time and platform iterations, obviously.

Nicolas Godement-Berline Head of Operations Asmodee Digital

I am absolutely hooked on EverWing, as I was on the original DragonFlight it is based on.

The level of polish and performance is very high for an HTML5 game, as is the depth of the retention systems.

Overall it feels like performance is the real breakthrough for HTML5 gaming, and Instant Games are acting as a wonderful platform to showcase this progress.

Pac-Man seems to already have 200,000 players, not too bad for a game on a new channel that hasn't been forcefully advertised to Facebook users (yet).

How chat app games will evolve in the West is a big question. Consumers have been educated to play games on their mobile devices by going to the appstore, downloading an app and then launching it from their home screen.

Whether they will be interested in challenging their friends on chat apps remains to be seen. I am personally very optimistic, and I really hope Facebook rolls out more ways to surface new games and access the library.

Another point to consider is that I have the feeling Western casual gamers tend to attach less interest to social and competition features than Asian gamers.

That could partly explain why chat app games were faster to catch on in Asia. I hope Instant Games won't only be about challenging your friends, and that solo or light-social gameplay will also be possible.

Devin Nambiar Head of Product and Partnered Development Electronic Arts

Facebook is a huge boon for HTML5 games because of its massive userbase and ability to showcase the capabilities of HTML5.

HTML5 has come a long way, and as many others on this thread have said, the performance, stability and polish of the games being featured on Facebook Instant Games is quite high.

The performance, stability and polish of Facebook Instant Games is quite high.
Devin Nambiar

The seamless nature of being able to open a game on your browser or mobile without having to enter the app store, download an app, or worry about storage requirements on your device removes multiple barriers within the engagement funnel, and offers up a new portal for gameplay besides the app store, which adds a certain novelty factor.

What's more, the casual nature of the games and the inherent social aspects of friend vs. friend PvP gameplay attracts a mass-market userbase.

From a gameplay perspective, however, the games are very shallow and there doesn't seem to be anything here right now for 'core' gamers.

Lastly, the elephant in the room is that monetisation has not been integrated into these games yet, and while this is on the roadmap for Facebook Instant Games in the future, integrating monetisation will change the landscape drastically for HTML5 games on Facebook's new platform.

To your second question, chat apps will become influential in western mobile gaming only when chat apps themselves become influential in the West - and right now they definitely are not.

Chatting, texting and posting pictures/video on things like Snapchat are already ingrained behaviours in the West, but chat apps are not integral to daily life in the same way they are in Asia.

The product quality of chat apps in the West is also orders of magnitude behind the products in Asia.

Comparing WeChat, for example to WhatsApp or even Facebook Messenger is like grade school T-ball vs. the New York Yankees. It's not even close.

Kakao and LINE are also far superior offerings. Facebook's mobile messenging team led by David Marcus in Menlo Park is making progress, but there is a lot of ground to make up and simply throwing features into the app will not bridge the gap.

Facebook Instant Games integration with Facebook messenger is a great first step, but I'd say that it will take another five to 10 years to tackle the dual challenge of making chat apps relevant in the West, while also increasing the competitive appetite of gamers there, in order to achieve a similar dynamic which already exists in Asia.

Matthew Wiggins CEO MojiWorks Limited

I have a vested interest in this, as at Slush last week we announced the formation and funding of MojiWorks, a new developer/publisher dedicated to games on iMessage and other chat platforms such as Facebook Messenger.

Facebook Instant Games is a perfect use for HTML5, and it’s likely other message apps with platform dreams will adopt the same approach.

It’s likely other message apps with platform dreams will adopt the same approach.
Matthew Wiggins

It’s the only way that they can build their own distribution system across the hardware platforms, and it also enables the (reasonably, depending on download size) seamless install experience.

The initial roster of games are very light, and the high-score-comparison gameplay model is basic, but it’s a strong starting point.

Note that there’s no monetisation support in there currently but it’ll likely be coming as incentivised ads - on iOS, it’s hard to see how IAP would fit with Apple’s guidelines.

Also, in marked contrast to 2011/2012 when this was first talked about, devices (iOS in particular) are fast enough now that HTML5 can provide a good experience - including 3D.

Chat apps are already bigger in the West than people realise (they are the leading apps by daily usage on both iOS and Android), but until the last few months none of the big players have been a platform.

That all changed with iMessage in iOS 10 where Apple made a massive leap forward in one go, which few in the industry noticed the potential of.

With Instant Games now rolling as well, we think that the stage is set for these to be the next big app distribution platforms.

It’s early days, and there are plenty of friction points to improve and user education to do, but we see the early trend being towards major adoption by players.

Messenger has enviable reach

Apart from the distribution potential, this is also a fascinating design space to work in, as we believe it enables a much more personal style of multiplayer gaming for both pairs and groups.

There’s a lot for developers to learn and discover, which is why we’ve made the leap very early with the goal of being a leader in the space as it matures over the next few years.

(Also note: Eric Seufert blogged the very relevant Facebook Instant Games and the Balkanization of the app economy.)

Harry Holmwood CEO Marvelous Europe

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

Harry was European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

Harry is CEO of Magicave.

I think it has the potential to be huge. Right now, it's a little flawed (you really have to try to find the games before you can play) but the process can be so much quicker than going to an app store and installing.

The friction currently of going from Facebook ad to app store to install is very high.

The ideal is to use Instant Games as a way to get players into your game very quickly and incentivising them to download the full app to continue, and to provide the monetisation and retention for developers.

I'm interested to watch how this progresses, as clearly there's built-in tension in the business model between Facebook and Apple/Google - who exactly is calling the shots, whose virtual currency will ultimately be used, etc.?

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.