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Lotum has been building native mobile games on Facebook Gaming platforms since 2012, including its launch of 4 Pics 1 Word. Later on, they were able to launch games like Quiz Planet and Word Blitz, not just on Instant Games but on the Apple and Google Play stores. With the number of changes happening in the native mobile ecosystem, especially in iOS 14.5, the company, which is on the smaller side at 40 employees, has had to recalibrate its monetization and user acquisition strategies.

The launch of Facebook Gaming’s more robust cross-play features is aimed at breaking down the silos between user bases, whether they’re the players who come in through the Gaming tab on Facebook or those on native who were acquired through ad strategies.

“[Before], this resulted in two separate friend graphs, and with Facebook, there was no way for us to link these together,” said Jens Abke, co-founder and CEO at Lotum, during this year’s GamesBeat and FaceBook Gaming Summit. “We’re happy that with cross-play, that’s now the story of the past. It’s no longer true. Now we see a much better user experience for all of our players.”

The connection in social play and friend graphs is what Facebook Gaming is trying to solve with cross-play, said Andrew Mo, play product lead, Facebook Gaming, who joined Abke on stage. It comes down to three scenarios: The first is the player who starts playing on Facebook, who now has the option to pick up their progress and friend graph and move over to mobile. The second is the player who’s already discovered the game on mobile, who now has a way to connect with friends who are playing on Facebook.

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The third is a vision they’re building toward: Regardless of the platform you’re on, being able to play on the platform that makes the most sense for you as a player. That would enable users to play anywhere, regardless of which platform they started on first. It means allowing players to take their friend list, achievements, purchases, level history, and so on with them, wherever they are.

“Many developers out there consider Instant Games just to be extended, very capable playable ads, but there are so many more things you can do with Instant Games,” Abke said. “It’s very interesting for many developers to really dig into the capabilities of the platform to see what the APIs allow you to do, what kind of experiences you can create.”

Among them is the fine-tuned control over what the audience sees, such as whether a player can see that there’s also a native version of an instant game. Another misconception is that developers would need to transition all their players from Instant Games to native to have the best monetization, and that’s far from true, Abke said.

“Of course, when you heavily rely on in-app purchases, specifically on iOS, then it might make sense to see which players might want to do in-app purchases and try to prompt them to the native version,” he said.

They’ve found that the vast majority of players that are monetized through ads prefer continue to play in the social-first environment that the Instant Games platform enables.

“Even some very engaged players who’ve played our games for years, when we show them there’s now a native app, they still like to stay and use these very direct one-tap experiences where the fun is just one tap away,” he said. “It’s fantastic, that as a developer, you have that flexibility. You can experiment and test what types of players you might want to show that you have a native version in the stores, and which ones you might want to keep on the Instant Games platform.”

But they’ve had a strong retention level for players who started on native and then embraced the cross-play experience. These players have a high average number of friends — for instance, on Quiz Planet, players who have activated the cross-play experience have about 20 friends within the game. The bigger friend graph strongly correlates with higher retention numbers, he said, and those players outperform in retention.

“Therefore you have all of the added social value of this bigger friend graph, but also, some of it’s easier to share, and it’s easier to create experiences like tournaments, where you create a piece within your news feed that your friends can interact with to start playing right away,” he said. “It’s a fantastic enhancement to the feature set of the native versions.”

Cross play also dramatically reduces friction in re-attracting users who might have churned. A player who once had the native version installed now has many more potential entry points to come back to the Quiz Planet franchise, for instance. It might be through their Facebook feed, which most people open dozens of times a day. They’ll see things that are happening within their guild or clan, will be able to open chests and take minor actions in the game that keep them engaged throughout the day. The community is also a powerful draw.

“If you’ve stopped playing a mobile game, you’ve most likely already deleted the game, and it’s difficult for a developer to show you all the cool new things that have been happening in the game, or all the new friends and friend activity that’s been happening,” Mo said. “Being able to bridge that and try to re-engage churned players through the instant version is quite compelling.”

The vision that Facebook Gaming has in the long run is for Instant Games to play a pivotal role in how developers acquire new players into their games. This is especially important given the fact that the cost of acquisition through ads is increasing over time, and the increased drop in conversion from ads to the app store.

“Our vision is that for developers who are running the same ads on Facebook today, they’ll take you directly to an instant version of the game where you can play immediately, interact with your friends, and start having fun,” Mo said. “Not just the Instant Games platform, but the cloud gaming platform we launched roughly a year ago to expand mobile free-to-play games that we already offer.”

The biggest impact for developers may be how much easier it is for developers to take the games they’re building natively with Unreal, Unity, and so on, and be able to launch them on Facebook without the need to rebuild or port those games to HTML5, Mo added.

“Players care more about what kind of experiences you enable, they don’t care about the technology, whether it’s cloud-based or built in HTML5,” Abke says. “They don’t care. They want to have a fun experience. They don’t even think about it. It just works.”

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