In its announcement, Facebook is using aggressive language to ensure that people don’t confuse it with competing cloud gaming services, like Google’s Stadia and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass. The company boasts 380 million people a month play games in Facebook, and they’re hoping to satisfy and grow that audience.
“We believe in the long-term future of cloud gaming, but we aren’t going to try to wow you with the wonders of our data centers, compression algorithms, resolutions or frames per second,” said Jason Rubin, Facebook’s vice president of play, in a prepared statement. “Cloud game streaming for the masses still has a way to go, and it’s important to embrace both the advantages and the reality of the technology rather than try to sell you on a promise of where it’ll be in the future.”
There’s no cost for anything to participate in Facebook gaming. The games, and the service, are all free and should be available on your Facebook app by today.
“We’re not trying to replace any other platform, we’re trying to improve the ecosystem as a whole,” Rubin tells The Washington Post in an interview. That line is a reference to Google’s marketing pitch for Stadia as a console replacement. Stadia also sells the digital games at retail price. “No investment. No joypad. No subscription. No paywall at the beginning. We’re coming at this from a very different angle. We’re farther from the other apps than they are from each other.”
Facebook’s cloud gaming service also won’t work on iPhones, thanks to Apple’s app store policies that block competitors from offering cloud services like Stadia and Xbox Game Pass.
But Rubin said any games that can cross platforms should work across them and that users can also install the Facebook games, so you can keep playing even with a spotty connection like on the subway. Rubin demonstrated this by playing “Alphalt 9,” a popular racing game on iOS that’s also on Facebook. The cars he owns on his iPhone made the leap to his desktop Facebook game.
“If you want to install it, you can install it,” said Rubin, who before joining Facebook co-founded Naughty Dog, now a marquee PlayStation studio, and was director of the original “Crash Bandicoot” and “Jak” games. “And your progression, and any of your [in-app purchases], will come with you to any of the app stores, even on iOS where we’re not going to have the cloud function. If you want to play on desktop, you can come back to desktop and your cars will still be there.”
Rubin said in an interview with The Washington Post that because Google and Microsoft have already created expectations for cloud gaming experiences, Facebook hopes that people will realize they have an entirely different business model, which is basically the Facebook business model.
“Consumers are going to stumble upon this, that’s Facebook’s way of doing things,” he said, explaining that he hopes people will discover the feature as they scroll through their regular feed of friends and family updates and other posts.
Rubin said he’d like developers to see the opportunity to advertise their games on the Facebook feed, where users will be one click or tap away from playing their game within the Facebook app or site. And because all the games are free, there’s no friction between hearing about a game and immediately playing it.
“To install games right now, they have to go to an app store or client, have to decide they want to download, it takes three to five minutes to download, organize their home screen and have the memory on their phone,” Rubin said. “It sounds like these are small problems, but the actual funnel from that ad to the install is quite a large drop off. Not a lot of games get installed based on knowledge. If we can get rid of that funnel drop or at least greatly minimize it, developers will be able to reach more consumers, and consumers will be trying more games.”
The social media giant is no stranger to the gaming space, having offered games in the app since 2007. “Farmville” by Zynga was the platform’s runaway hit before mobile gaming via the app store started to take over.
Rubin said Facebook is going to continue to focus on games that are “latency tolerant,” which many free-to-play games already are, to focus on the smoothness of the experience. While it’s not impossible that Facebook will start offering a retail experience to purchase games, Rubin said it’s not part of the current strategy to offer premium-priced titles.
He also said Facebook isn’t going to play the “exclusives” game and won’t be seeking them. He’s hoping that if Facebook’s cloud gaming takes off, other developers will want to add social functionality to their existing titles.
“Eventually some developer will say, ‘You know, there’s a game I can make for this platform that’s not really gonna work in other platforms,’” Rubin said. “Exclusives is the wrong word, that’s not part of our strategy. We don’t need that. But ‘made for Facebook features and games’ probably will happen as we get critical mass. As a designer, I have a couple of ideas on paper myself."