Facebook Rolls Out Instant Games in News Feed, Messenger

In its newest effort to keep users on its site and amp up gaming, Facebook introduced Instant Games, which allows users to play 17 different titles in its News Feed and messaging app Messenger. Currently, 15 percent of the time people spend on Facebook is for gaming. The game titles, which will be available on iOS and Android devices and the Web for free, include Bandai Namco Entertainment’s “Pac-Man” and Activision Blizzard’s new “Shuffle Cats Mini.” Instant Games will debut initially in 30 countries.

The Wall Street Journal reports that by placing games in Messenger, “Facebook is partly playing catch-up to Asian messaging services such as Tencent’s WeChat, which act as sticky one-stop shops for entertainment and online services like payments.” The company is also trying to regain its December 2011 peak of $65 million in gaming revenues, says Piper Jaffray, which notes that, currently, Facebook “generates about $45 million in monthly revenue from gaming.”

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Facebook director of global games partnerships Leo Olebe says that gaming is an important tool for engaging users and attracting advertisers. That is underscored by the fact that, says Newzoo BV, revenues from videogames are “expected to rise 8.5 percent this year to $99.57 billion worldwide.”

This isn’t Facebook’s first effort to expand its footprint in gaming. In August, the company inked a deal with Unity Technologies “to make it easier for developers to bring games to its website,” and earlier this month debuted the free desktop app Gameroom. With Instant Games, Facebook will “bake” games into the News Feed and Messenger, so users “won’t have to launch separate apps or pages to play.”

Without advertising or virtual goods, monetizing Instant Games will initially be challenging. “Monetization will come at some point,” said Olebe, adding that participating companies will “benefit from the exposure that comes with being a part of Facebook’s News Feed.” Zynga will debut a new version of “Words With Friends” on Instant Games, having launched another version on Apple’s iMessage app last month. In the latter application, Zynga “lets developers charge for downloading games playable there and allows in-app purchases.”

Zynga chief executive Frank Gibeau notes that, while this isn’t a “major audience or revenue driver … the experience has created more ways to engage existing consumers and bring new players to our network.”

Facebook’s other efforts to keep users on the site include “adding the ability to hail rides, stream live video and read whole articles,” as well as letting third-party developers build chatbots in Messenger to “field customer-service questions and help people order goods.”