We always knew this day was coming. It’s been many years since Facebook was ‘just’ the world’s largest social media network. Mark Zuckerberg’s company has ambitions to move into every sector of technology and entertainment and has been demonstrating those intentions more and more in recent years. Just twelve months ago, we heard that the company was trying to break into the cryptocurrency market with a product called Libra – one that still might appear someday despite running into trouble with regulators in the United States of America. Now, they’re finally taking their first few steps into the ultra-lucrative world of gaming.
Technically, this isn’t the first time Facebook has tried to make money from gaming. Those of you who have held Facebook accounts for a long time will remember using them to play basic games like “Farmville.” If you’re a gambler, you might also be aware that Facebook launched the equivalent of an online slots website about twelve months ago. While there might be thousands of online slots websites out there in the wild, Facebook thought it could corner the market by allowing players to play online slots without leaving the ‘safety’ of the Facebook website to do so. Thus far, it hasn’t proved to be an especially popular platform. Facebook hasn’t been able to make huge amounts of money from people who play Playtech slots, but it’s hoping to do far better with traditional gamers. That’s why it’s announced the launch of a brand new cloud gaming service.
Getting into gaming seems like a trend that’s going around major tech companies at the moment. A sector that was once dominated by Microsoft and Sony has now seen entries from Google with its fledgeling Stadia platform, Amazon with its newly-announced streaming platform Luna, and Apple, with its family-orientated Apple Arcade. Even Nintendo has been making a comeback with Switch, and Atari is back in the industry, too. The crowded market doesn’t appear to concern Facebook, who apparently want to tackle the competition head-on with a revamp of Facebook Gaming. In the initial stages of planning, all the company appeared to want to do was to provide a streaming environment that would rival Twitch. Now the platform is going to host games in a manner that’s directly comparable to Stadia.
In order to challenge Stadia, Facebook needs platform-specific games to attract players with. They’re starting small with just five free-to-play games, but they’ll presumably be adding more in the not-too-distant future. All five titles are games that have crossed over from the mobile format, including “PGA Tour: Golf Shootout,” “Arthur’s Tale,” “Asphalt 9: Legends,” Mobile Legends: Adventure,” and the wrestling-themed “WWE SuperCard.” “Dirt Bike: Unchained” will be joining them in the next few days, and the company has indicated that it’s looking to add several PC games to its collection. It’s not immediately clear whether the company intends to charge for access for the more substantial games, but that’s to be assumed if they want to make any money from their new venture.
The company’s sudden and aggressive more into the gaming sphere has been masterminded by Jason Rubin, who was recently appointed as the company’s Vice President for gaming. In a statement, he said that they’re starting with ‘free to play’ games but will look to expand on their offering as time goes on, and they’re not ruling out offering access to every type of game – including those that are currently only available on consoles. No additional downloads are required to make the games run – all of them can be accessed from the ‘gaming’ tab that already exists on the homepage of every Facebook account. The move means that, for the first time, games that have only been available to owners of Android mobile phone handsets can now be played by anybody with a Facebook account.
At the time of writing, this new version of Facebook Gaming is in the ‘beta’ stage, and as such is only available in the United States of America. It’s not even available in all fifty states yet, and the path to a wider-scale rollout is unclear. Plans to introduce the service in Europe and Japan exist, but the company won’t yet commit to timescales. Presumably, they’re going to see how many players they can attract in their home country first and then invite the rest of the world to join the party if the numbers indicate that the platform is going to be a success. That might take time. Google has recently found out the hard way that gamers are sometimes suspicious of new platforms, and they tend to hang back to make sure that any new platform is going to stick around for the long term before they dip their toes in the water.
One demographic who won’t have any access to the new gaming service is iPhone and iPad users. As we’ve seen with Google, Epic Games, and other gaming services other than Apple’s native Apple Arcade, the tech giant is reluctant to offer availability to any gaming platform that it cannot control. That means that Facebook Gaming is currently blocked on iOS even to people who already have the Facebook app installed. The wording of Jason Rubin’s statement makes it clear how Facebook feels about this restriction. In it, he says that Apple is attempting to “exert control” over gaming, whereas Facebook wants to make gaming available for anybody to play whenever they want to, no matter which device or hardware they’ve purchased. Apple’s stance is unlikely to change any time soon (unless a court forces them to change it), so if you’re an iPhone user, you can assume that you won’t get the chance to find out whether Facebook Gaming is worth your time to check out.
With so many big-name companies getting involved, it looks like we’re about to enter a whole new golden age of gaming. Not since the 1980s have so many different companies attempted to make so many games for so many platforms, so we’re hopefully about to see a huge upswing in creativity and ambition. That’s good news for the video game industry, but more importantly, it’s good news for players. As and when great new games become available for this new Facebook product, we’ll try to bring you the news here.