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The game industry isn’t done breaking down barriers to make games more accessible. That’s the view of Jason Rubin, vice president of play at Facebook, as expressed in a fireside chat at the GamesBeat/Facebook: Driving Game Growth event.
By knocking down these barriers, companies like Facebook can help create a “post-app store” world where it’s easier to access games with your friends, he said.
More than 30 million people are playing on Facebook’s old platform, Canvas, on the desktop. Instant games have drawn more than 350 million players. Such games require no download at all and use tech such as HTML5, the lingua franca of the web. Those are instantly playable, with no download time required. All told, Facebook has 2.7 billion users.
When you include people watching streamers or tournaments or talking about games in groups, then more than 700 million monthly active users on Facebook engage with games.
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Cloud games coming
“I think that number can get bigger,” Rubin said. “I think there are people that aren’t currently playing games on Facebook that our cloud technology will” attract to the platform.
Facebook acquired its cloud technology when it bought Madrid-based cloud gaming startup PlayGiga for $78 million last year. Then Facebook launched the beta version of its cloud gaming service in October, enabling players to play high-end games on Facebook with no download required. More than 200,000 people a week were using the cloud games at the outset.
Once people start playing, they will start watching gameplay and start talking with each other in groups, Rubin said.
“Those things play off each other,” Rubin said. “It’s really exciting work.”
The sweet spot for Facebook is its ability to draw people back over and over, sometimes to catch up with friends, watch a video, read the news, or otherwise find things of interest. Now Facebook will give them a reason to come back by connecting people with games they want to play, instantly. The weakness in the past was that HTML5 games were small and didn’t deliver the experience a lot of gamers expect.
“The beauty of the cloud product is that it allows us to deliver that kind of experience with the same instant play the consumer wants,” Rubin said.
The power of free in a post-app store world
Facebook’s games are free-to-play, and so the starting price gets over a barrier. They have no subscription or time limit. Things like going to an app store or making sure you have enough memory to install a game are also barriers. Erasing those barriers will help people find more games they like, learn what their friends are playing, get people to spend more money on games, and help developers make more money, Rubin said.
“If your friend is playing a game and they post a high score, that’s another great way to find games because you know it’s good because your friend is playing it,” Rubin said.
He added, “Right now, free is perfect for us.”
Rubin said that the quality of the cloud games available will become better over time, and the company is currently streaming PC and Android games. But the cloud games won’t replace HTML5 games, which are easier to play when you don’t have a good connection to a cloud. HTML5 has a wider reach than the cloud today for many international audiences.
“When I was growing up, finding new bands was difficult,” he said. “You went to the record store. You looked at an album cover. You had to think about whether you want to spend $15 or $20 on a flyer based on the art work. … The whole thing was a mess.”
Now it’s so much easier. Digital downloads for games has helped take us further. But download times are still a barrier.
“The beauty is we are finally removing that final barrier,” Rubin said. “It makes it as easy as possible to do it. We’re not trying to lock you into anything. You can play that game on any platform you want.”
The fact that people can access these free games during a pandemic and share them on social media with friends helps people cope better, and it also helps gaming reach people that it wouldn’t otherwise reach.
Facebook is taking baby steps onto the cloud, starting with games that already exist elsewhere like Asphalt 9 or Mobile Legends. Once finding games on Facebook becomes more popular, developers may start to target Facebook’s audience in a “post app store” world, Rubin said.
Experimentation with Rival Peak
They will target games that can be spread more easily via virality, such as games that influencers can play and spread. An example of this kind of game is Rival Peak, the cloud-based interactive reality show Genvid Technologies and Pipeworks recently launched on Facebook.
“Rival Peak is the beginning of what is going to be an extremely diverse set of experiments to see how connected, massive, multiplayer events can happen,” Rubin said. “You’ll see a lot of attempts at things like Rival Peak that are all very different from each other. They will ultimately share the fact that they are neither game nor video nor live nor play-it-all-the-time. It’s a mix up that leads to incredible emergent experiences.”
Using the cloud to connect with streamers in the same platform will make it possible for a streamer to announce they’re playing a game and then immediately jump into a match with their fans. People can share a link and start to play, even if they don’t own the game, Rubin said. Then it gets shared to people watching, and those viewers can influence the game.
“You throw a thousand developers at it and someone comes up with something genius,” Rubin said.
Rubin said that if you operate a successful ecosystem, then developers will make games for it on their own. For virtual reality, Facebook had to kickstart the ecosystem with funds, he said. Over time, he hopes developers will have enough tools to start investing on their own to reach players via instant and cloud games.
Facebook has taken a more cautious approach to launching the cloud games than other tech giants. It hasn’t heavily advertised or hyped its cloud games yet, and it is still testing to make sure it works properly wherever it is available. Rubin said many players won’t know they’re playing cloud games. Rather, they’re just playing something that works on Facebook, he said.
To reach everyone who isn’t currently a gamer, developers and Facebook will have to create games that appeal to the broadest audiences and the broadest types of devices, so more people have the opportunity to play games, Rubin said.
“Pushing the limits in all directions is something Facebook has always done in its main product, and it’s something we’re doing in gaming,” Rubin said.
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