Facebook Adds Addictive New 'Instant Games' Feature to Messenger
Remember back in the early days of Facebook when every other person was sending you Farmville notifications and updates?
It got annoying, sure, but the frequency of those notifications underlined just how addictive those games were, till the switch to mobile eventually saw Facebook lose out in the casual gaming market. But now, The Social Network may have found an even more addictive way to get back in - from today, Facebook users will be able to load and play a whole new set of games within Messenger and Facebook's News Feed.
Straight away you can see the potential. The new Instant Games don't require any additional downloads and load within seconds. You can almost foresee your productivity being sucked away as you get locked into a competition to beat your friends' high scores.
To access the new games in Messenger, you click on the new controller icon at the bottom of any message thread.
This then creates a high scores leaderboard of all of those people in the message thread - if you access a game within a group conversation, for example, you can go head-to-head with all of the group participants.
Each participant plays the game independently, competing over top scores, as opposed to being turn based - the games are built in HTML5 and designed to load quickly, so there's no capacity to save and come back later.
On News Feed, users can also recommend and share games which can be played instantly. Facebook's also adding a new dedicated Instant Games bookmark where you can view and instantly replay all the games you've previously played across both platforms.
Thus far, the most impressive element users have noted is the speed - the games and scores load within seconds, making it very easy to register a quick top score in Pac Man and challenge your friends to beat it.
As noted, Facebook once dominated this type of casual gaming - back in 2008, Facebook was earning $1 million p.a. from in-game purchases. And while games are still played on Facebook, the dominance of mobile games like Angry Birds and Clash of Clans eventually took over much of that casual gaming market, and Facebook was never able to develop their own mobile games approach. Messenger games look set to change that - with more than a billion users, Messenger is already the key messaging platform of choice for many, and the quick, competitive nature of Instant Games will make it an easy option to switch to whenever you have a free moment on the train or in a waiting room.
And if you're wondering whether people are interested in playing games in Messenger, Facebook says that its recent test of a simple basketball game within Messenger was played more than 1.2 billion times, well more than they'd expected.
All the signs point to Instant Games being a popular addition, and the variety of games on offer will also make it even more enticing - there's a total of 17 games to choose from in the initial Instant Games release.
No doubt at least some of those awaken your childhood memories.
In terms of monetization, the new Instant Games won't feature ads and won't allow in-game payments. This is in-line with Facebook's normal three-stage approach to monetization - the first step is to build a product that people love, which is then followed by facilitating business behaviours. The concern, of course, is that this will provide less incentive for game developers to use the platform, as opposed to guiding people back to their own properties where that can generate ad dollars, but Facebook's Head of Messenger David Marcus has told TechCrunch that they're committed to helping developers monetize their apps, with new options set to come early in the new year.
This will likely come in the form of new levels and tools, though how, exactly, they'll be built into the lightweight HTML5 experience is yet to be seen.
Facebook's making a bigger push into the gaming market - earlier this month, they introduced the new Facebook Gameroom for desktop, their attempt to take on Valve's Steam for a share of the lucrative PC gaming market. And considering the global gaming market is expected to reach close to $100 billion this year, it's not hard to see why Facebook - with its huge platform reach - would be looking to tap into that growth.
And one last thing - Facebook says they're confident people won't get inundated with innane notifications and updates this time around. They've learned their lessons - you can hit up Instant Games without too much concerns about annoying your friends.
The launch could be perfect timing too, with the work year winding down for many.
Say goodbye to whatever free time you had left.
Follow Andrew Hutchinson on Twitter