Facebook continues to build on its interactive AR tools, this time through the addition of group games in Messenger video chats.
The option will be available at any time during a video chat, with up to six people able to participate in a game at once. To try it out for yourself, start a Messenger video chat as normal, then tap the new star icon on screen and select one of the AR games. This will then trigger a notification to everyone in the video chat that the game is about to start.
There are only two games available at launch, but more additions are planned - as explained by Facebook:
“You can challenge your friends around the world to two games: see who can hold a serious face the longest with “Don’t Smile”, or see who can better navigate their spaceship with “Asteroids Attack”. We’re planning to roll out more games in the coming weeks and months – including passing a beach ball back and forth with “Beach Bump” and a matching cat game with “Kitten Kraze” – so make sure to check back often!”
As reported by TechCrunch, there will be no advertising or sponsored branding in the new games at launch, nor will they be available as a creative option for developers via AR Studio, but Facebook will obviously be able to explore such opportunities in future.
It makes sense for Facebook to add more options for Messenger video chat. Since adding the group video chat option to Messenger in late 2016 (in addition to one-on-one video calls), video usage in the app has grown and grown – Facebook says that over 17 billion video chats were conducted on Messenger last year.
That aligns with the broader trends around group video chat tools, especially among younger users. That’s what saw group video app Houseparty generate big time early growth, which Facebook has since tried to emulate with its own standalone video app (Bonfire), while it’s also added group video chat to Instagram to keep up with evolving usage behaviors.
I mean, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise – as Facebook has continued to heap pressure on Snap Inc., the common theme has become that Facebook follows up Snap’s latest option with a slightly bigger, slightly better version.
And while many have questioned the approach Facebook has taken on this front, it’s clearly having the desired effect – Snapchat actually lost three million active users in the last quarter, while the app’s growth in markets outside North America, where it has never put a lot of focus, and where Facebook dominates through both Messenger and WhatsApp, is receding, and seems unlikely to bounce back.
When Snapchat rejected Facebook’s $3 billion takeover offer back in 2013, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was not happy, and gave them what equates to a “you’re either with us or against us” speech.
As Spiegel later explained to Forbes:
"It was basically like, 'We're going to crush you'"
It’s taken some time, but maybe, Zuck was right. Maybe Spiegel and his team would have been better off taking the money, because while Snapchat is still generating revenue, and is still viable as a solo platform, now that they’re losing audience share, and Facebook has them against the ropes, you can bet that The Social Network won’t let up.
Given this, you can expect to see Facebook ramp up its AR efforts in the coming months, as well as pushing new tools through to WhatsApp Status (its version of Stories) and especially Instagram Stories.
With a much broader share of attention on its apps, Facebook is now in the best position to follow-through on Zuck’s threat and really put the pressure onto Snap Inc. - because if Snap posts another drop in users next quarter, the narrative around the company will really get bleak.
As such, the new Messenger AR games serve a larger purpose than just a fun addition. It’ll be interesting to see what Facebook comes out with next as it works to deliver the knockout blow.