I’ve been quiet for a while because I’ve been incredibly busy trying to break into the Facebook Messenger Instant Games market, unfortunately that has proven to be an impossible task. I have thus far released 5 games onto the Instant Games (IG) platform and all 5 have flopped within one week, despite only around 2600 games being available to date.
My current crop of IG games:
Higher or Lower Cards
Nine Card Pontoon
Wordy Pop Wizard
Each game that I created became progressively more complex and utilised more of the Instant Games SDK features (possibly the main place things started to go wrong). The last game Friend Falls took 3 months to develop at a cost of around $15,000. It was a fair old investment to make in a platform that I found exciting but I also felt could be a potential flash in the pan, I wanted to discover if it was possible to create a mobile sized game with full IG integration, lots of social hooks etc and make it a success. And….. it failed, the game flopped within the week (just like the other 4), in fact it never really took off. It managed to climb to just over 100 users per hour then within one hour fell to 10-20 users per hour and continues to fall (that is the death sign for a game on the Facebook Instant Games playform).
Even though there are only just over 2600 games available on Instant Games, most of the MAU (monthly active users) are concentrated at the top of the chart with 70% of all available MAU going to the top 100. The system works like this:
- When a game is released it is fed a very small number of users over a short period of time
- If the day 1 retention is low then the game doesn’t receive any more users
- If the day 1 retention is high then the game receives more users
- Social and virality factors are also allegedly taken into account (no one is sure of how any of it works really) but I have seen no evidence of this, games with zero IG integration regularly shoot up the charts for example
Discovery on IG is its biggest problem right now. There is very limited space available in the list of games across all platforms. The IG UI in Messenger consists of:
- Featured games list (usually 3-5 games shown at the top and rarely ever changes)
- Playing with friends list (a few games that you are currently playing with friends)
- More games (a bunch of other games usually games in the top 100)
So where does this leave new games? Your game is cycled into the more games section on occasion, the better your retention etc the more times you are cycled in so the more exposure you get. These lists vary from country to country and player to player. As soon as your game is seen by a player it will never be seen again in their lifetime because the lists change quickly and the lower you are down the charts the fewer times your game is shown to users. I need to add, there used ot be a boost for all new games, the boost fed a few thousand users to your game for a couple of days to gauge metrics, but that has now been shut down. The idea now is that you climb from the absolute bottom of the well and earn your way up.
So basically you are given the players you are given and no more. There are ways to help retain players such as home screen shortcut creation (its a bit flaky) and Messenger bots. Messenger bots are basically bots that message the player at some point in the future after they exit the game. They can remind the player that they have quests waiting, get free coins etc.. In reality they don’t help much for most developers that already have low retention and they feel very much like spam (they actually put me off trying out new games because my Messenger inbox looks like a battle of the bots), they can lift your retention around 2%. I know that sounds incredibly bad but when the average day 1 retention on IG is as low as 4-5%, 2% is a fair bit, although it doesn’t really push any more players your way (seems once you drop to around 10% day 1 retention you are thrown into a special crap bucket where you are fed a couple of hundred low value players worldwide every day). When you consider that my mobile games are seeing day 1 retention of upwards of 60%, you can see where the major issue is with IG.
There are no ways to drive users to your games, you have to rely on an AI (which I believe to be faulty) to feed users to your games based on certain markers such as daily retention, sharing, user to user interaction etc.. I do believe Facebook are working on a paid user acquisition system but from my calculations it is just not economically viable and will fail very quickly.
I am of the mind that IG is quite broken right now. Here is just one example. My day 1 retention for my latest game Friend Falls is just over 8% (yes that’s awful, but better than most), drilling down into my stats its easy to see why. The vast majority of the users shown my game live in none English speaking countries. Obviously user retention and engagement is going to be much lower in none English speaking countries), so is the IG AI giving every game a fair chance? No, when 90% of the users of my English Only game are from none English speaking regions, my retention and engagement factors are going to be low. But can’t I fix this by limiting the countries that my game is shown in? No, I limited my game to just English speaking countries and my game had all users cut off, I’m now currently running at 0 users per hour. GG
So what is revenue like? My eCPM for Friend Falls is resting at around $0.8. Some of my other games do see around $5 but only a handful of users are viewing ads at that eCPM so they are also worthless. You won’t make any eye brow raising money from IG, maybe a little pocket change but nothing more.
Developing content for Facebook Messenger Instant Games feels very much like living under a dictatorship ran by a mad AI .
Mistakes I made? The first and probably biggest mistake I made was trying to create an original mobile quality game for IG, without the backing of Facebook (see Angry Birds etc.. for reference, this is what happens when Facebook do push your game because you are important enough ) its just not gonna happen. The second mistake I made was there is just so much to the game its crazy which means it needs a tutorial to get the players deeper into the game. I don’t think games with much depth are really going to succeed on IG again without being pushed into players faces by Facebook.
I will continue to develop small social games for IG for now because its fun, but I will not be putting the same levels of time and money into the endeavour because it is pretty much a lost cause for an indie game developer trying to keep their head above water. I suggest that indie game developers stay clear of the platform until it has matured. If you do want to dabble then I suggest that you create small fun games, short dev times, small risk. Do not do what I did and waste vast amounts of time and money.
Advantages of developing Facebook Messenger Instant Games? Its fun, quite easy and its great as a prototyping platform to try out new ideas, just limit your liability and do not invest too much.