In 2012, Draw Something became the fastest-growing app of all time, gaining 24 million daily users in 50 days. In comparison, after Facebook opened its Instant Games platform to developers earlier this year, a game launched by Supergene called OMG had a whopping 137 million daily users within 30 days of its launch on 19 October.
Five years ago, such apps wouldn’t have made any sense, but technological advancements like HTML5 have changed the equation. Now, it’s the most exciting market for mobile games: they require no download or installation; load instantly; and grow through social sharing.
Users access them through social media ecosystems including Facebook Messenger and WeChat (though this blog mainly deals with the former).
These ecosystems are a powerful resource for the new generation of games: Facebook Messenger alone boasts over 1.3 billion users who already interact with the app all the time, which allows games to catch on much more quickly than was previously possible.
With so much readily available kindling, what causes such games to catch fire?
Data from research company AppChart.co, a product of Silicon Valley Software Group, revealed that quick installation and sharing play a key role.
The most obvious advantage is that Instant Apps are easy to start playing. Thanks to the magic of HTML5, from the moment a user decides to play an Instant Game on Facebook Messenger, all it takes is one tap and ten seconds and they are playing the game. For native apps, that process requires four or more taps and a password; far too big a barrier for users with so many competing ways to spend their time.
Successful games also take full advantage of the Facebook platform by allowing users to share their games with only two taps. This allows savvy developers to create games that skyrocket their user base, propelled by the greater weight users give to recommendations they receive from people they already know and trust.
ComScore reported in 2017 that a majority of mobile users were downloading zero new apps every month, so the ease of shareability is a great argument for why Facebook Messenger could use Instant Games to compete with Google and Apple’s app stores.
New channels for retention
The second reason Instant Games are becoming so explosively successful is that they offer new opportunities for retention. Users may forget about native apps they’ve stored on the third page of their home screen or in a games folder, but ignoring an Instant App is like ignoring your friend. Each app gets its own bot on Messenger and if it can avoid sounding like spam, an app can remind users to keep playing as often as a user checks their messages.
That may not be very frequent for some users, but Instant Games can also be installed on the home screen and some users will presumably opt to interact with the game through that mode.
Instant Apps are on their way to extending their success with usage and reach to the area of monetisation. Many Instant Apps are already launching fully compliant with the Google and Apple app stores standards for in-app purchasing (IAP).
On the advertising side, Facebook has created the Audience Network tool to allow advertisers to integrate their Facebook ad campaigns with interstitial ads and rewarded videos on Instant Games. The resulting cost per thousand (the price an advertiser pays for every 1,000 impressions) is highly competitive.
Beyond the strong fundamentals that Instant Apps enjoy, they have powerful backing. Facebook appears committed to compete with the major app stores and has consistently rolled out new features supporting the growth of the market since it opened the platform to developers earlier this year.
One of the initial struggles was that, other than word of mouth, there was no way for games to be discovered. Facebook addressed the user acquisition problem by rolling out a dynamic ranking system that surfaces new games with machine learning. It is so invested in the success of Instant Games that it agreed to forgo its cut of IAP for Instant Games on the Android Market, so that apps designed on Instant Games could be competitive on Google’s platform, which charges its own fees on IAP.
If you’ve ever wanted to watch a gold rush play itself out, now’s your chance.