A new app called Playbyte wants to clone TikTok’s vertical-scrolling experience to make it easier to discover simple, user-developed 2D games.
The app, which recently launched on iOS, offers a vertically scrollable interface that’s virtually identical to TikTok’s, with “like” and “comment” buttons to the right and the added ability to launch a a fullscreen feed where it’s possible to actually test drive the games you’re scrolling past. According to TechCrunch, that feed, like TikTok’s, is algorithmically designed to become more personalized to your tastes over time, meaning the games that come up are more likely to suit your preferences the more you interact with them.
Playbyte’s offerings are rudimentary, to be sure, so don’t expect PlayStation 5-level graphics or gameplay anytime soon. In fact, it would probably be better to prepare for the most primitive gaming experience imaginable, as most of the creations featured on Playbyte are some stylistic variation of the cowboy hat emoji dodging falling blocks. Actually, scratch that: These games are straight up weird, so there’s probably nothing you can do to prepare yourself for how surreal they are.
Scrolling on Playbyte is like entering that bizarre YouTube wormhole where people make videos that are designed to look and sound like they’re for kids, but then Elsa starts talking in an inexplicably gravelly voice and whips out a cartoon machete. Because all of the games are user-generated, and, presumably, because Playbyte just launched, the extent to which this content is actually being vetted isn’t immediately clear. What that means in practice is that the app’s standard fare so far is emoji-based games where users can navigate mazes to beat “levels” at best, and simulated bank robberies and murder scenarios at worst.
Playbyte has been intentional about its configuration, setting itself up not just as a game development platform but also as a social media space in its own right, where users can follow and support each other and also trade game assets and custom logic. That means that assets can be easily recycled by other creators, leading to gameplay that simultaneously feels suspiciously familiar and unfamiliarly weird.
“Basically, we want to make it really easy for people who aren’t as ambitious to still feel like productive, creative game makers,” CEO Kyle Russell told TechCrunch. “The key to that is going to be if you have an idea—like an image of a game in your mind—you should be able to very quickly search for new assets or piece together other ones you’ve previously saved. And then just drop them in and mix-and-match—almost like Legos—and construct something that’s 90% of what you imagined, without any further configuration on your part.”
Eventually, Playbyte wants to monetize its feed with the help of a patronage model and some form of branded advertising, but those developments are still a ways off. For now, the app is just a weird little pioneer in the video game space, trying to do for games what Instagram did for photos and TikTok did for videos.