With so many people turning to video games to while away their newfound time stuck indoors, Facebook is releasing a dedicated mobile app for Facebook Gaming months ahead of schedule to try to capitalize on the recent surge of viewership seen on other livestreaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube.
The free app launches on Monday in Google’s Play Store, the New York Times reports, and a corresponding iOS version is set to follow once “Apple approves them.” While Facebook’s latest foray into the $160 billion gaming industry was originally set to debut in June, the company decided to bump up its release date after noticing “a big rise in gaming during quarantine,” Fidji Simo, head of the Facebook Gaming app, told the Times.
“Investing in gaming in general has become a priority for us because we see gaming as a form of entertainment that really connects people,” Simo said. “It’s entertainment that’s not just a form of passive consumption but entertainment that is interactive and brings people together.”
Currently, you can watch and stream games through the core Facebook app, but even with Facebook’s 2.5 billion monthly users, it still struggles to compete with the streaming landscape’s biggest contenders. According to Streamlabs, Facebook Gaming is number three in total hours watched after Google’s YouTube Gaming and Amazon’s Twitch. It lags even further in terms of the amount of content offered, with Facebook Gaming averaging less than 5 percent of the 121.4 million hours streamed on Twitch so far this year.
Through the release of this app, Facebook hopes to carve out a larger foothold by focusing on content often overlooked on these platforms: mobile gaming. It’s a smart move that both leverages Facebook’s massive mobile audience and avoids a tug-of-war over prominent PC and console streamers, which is what’s happening between Twitch and Microsoft’s competitor, Mixer.
Users will be able to stream their play sessions through the app by simply clicking a “Go Live” button that “lets users upload streams of other mobile games on the same device by pressing just a few buttons,” per the report. Other platforms require additional third-party software to stream mobile games, as they’re primarily tailored to support players on PC, their predominant userbase.
“We don’t want to be the background window in a Chrome tab while someone is doing their homework or doing something else,” Facebook’s vice president for gaming, Vivek Sharma, told the Times. “With mobile, if you have the app open and you’re using the app, it’s in the foreground. You can’t do anything else on your mobile phone, and that is extremely powerful.”
That same Facebook Gaming stream can also be broadcasted to a user’s personal Facebook page to attract viewers both on and off the app. At the moment, the company told the Times that the app won’t feature advertising, and revenue will instead rely on commissions from an extension of its “stars” system, Facebook Gaming’s name for the real-world cash that viewers can tip individual streamers (in the same vein as Twitch’s “bits”).