Adventures in Facebook Messenger Instant Games Land

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:

Shuffle Match
Higher or Lower Cards
Nine Card Pontoon
Wordy Pop Wizard
Friend Falls

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 :D .

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.

Shuffle Match live on Facebook Instant Games in Messenger

Shuffle Match Facebook Instant Game

Shuffle Match Facebook Instant Game

My first HTML5 Facebook Instants games is now live on Messenger. I actually finished this games a couple of months back, but because of the Facebook privacy saga all further game reviews were put on hold, so hundreds (potentially thousands) of games have been sat in limbo. Its good to finally see a product live on the platform however.

Shuffle Match is basically a memory matching game where you are shown a bunch of numbered tiles, you memorise them then they slide off screen and you have to try and remember where they all were. The game is monetised by offering the player the ability to continue by watching an ad if they run out of lives. Its a simple, fun game that’s great to play against friends.

Play Shuffle Match on Messenger Now

Just released my latest cross platform game Idle Gangsters on iOS, Android and Facebook Gameroom. The game is an experiment o see if it was possible to mix Idle Incremental and Match-3 game play styles and it seems to have worked.

Rise through the ranks of the mafia in this fun, addictive idle incremental match-3 game.

Start out as a low life punk and work your way up through the mafia ranks to Godfather using every manner of lie, trick and scheme possible.
Muscle in on cities, launder goods, build up illegal rackets and generate cash, gaining the respect of your fellow mafians and rising through the ranks of the mafia. Hire bosses, kit them out, order hits, bribe cops, fight off rival gangs and the feds and much more.

  • Launder loot for the mob using Match-3 generating large amounts of cash and respect
  • Buy into 20 rackets to earn cash without lifting a finger
  • Free upgrades for all rackets
  • Smash your way through 10 ranks of the mafia from Punk to Godfather unlocking exciting new content
  • Muscle in on and take over 10 different cities from Brooklyn to Las Vegas
  • Hire upgradeable city bosses to increase cash flow, reduce racket costs, generate cash offline and use perks
  • Equip bosses with up to 16 perks to boost city rackets and laundering
  • 20 loot laundering boosts / hazards
  • 10 global powerups which affect time and cash flow
  • Unlimited missions for big cash boosts
  • Unlimited special missions for huge cash boosts which take place across 10 unique minigames
  • Extra 5 daily bonus minigames which generate cash, respect and diamonds
  • Stats tracking, over 150 individually tracked stats
  • Around 300 achievements to earn
  • Facebook connect with invites, gifting and leaderboards
  • Cloud save game backup and restore

Idle Gangsters is available for free on the App Store for iPhone and iPad

Idle Gangsters is available for free on the Google Play for Android

The game is also available for free on Facebook and Facebook Gameroom

Idle Gangsters Title Screen

Idle Gangsters Title Screen

Idle Gangsters Match-3

Idle Gangsters Match-3

Idle Gangsters Idle Incremental

Idle Gangsters Idle Incremental

Thinking of Making an Indie Game?

So, I’ve been making Indie games for years, with very little success, usually because I write obscure little games that don’t usually see much action. So I decided to write something that many gamers do love, an Idle Upgrade Cookie Clicker. I decided to go with the same format as the original by Orteil because IMO its the best and I much prefer the straight forward layout compared to modern idle games. I also decided to theme it around climate change as it’s something that I care about (hoping that it rubs off on a few others). I decided to make it free to play (because obtrusive ads are horrible and paid is DOA) with the option of video ads to generate coins for those that don’t want to spend any money on coins. I opted to integrate Facebook for backup / restore and the usual social features such as login, inviting friends, sharing, gifting, leaderboards.

So how does a cookie clicker perform these days? Lets take a look at some numbers since release a couple of months ago:

Note that the above mobile downloads required me to spend around $200 across Apple search ads and Google Adwords, so I’ve made quite a loss.

So the game wasn’t performing well, but was performing slightly better than most of my other games. With this I decided to put out a version on Kongregate and Newgrounds, (both great game portals with some pretty decent games) to boost the games visibility, which is ok as long as you can put up with the extremely toxic communities. Seriously some of the users (calling them gamers would be a serious stretch) on there were absolutely dropped on their heads at birth, if you are fine dealing with petulant kids then you can turn it into a pretty fun pass time.

Today I have:

After placing the game onto those portals I did see a nice jump in mobile installs, but it was very short lived (a couple of days), its just not an effective marketing tool, especially considering the toxicity of the community and the abuse that you will have to deal with. Also, take note, when you do place a game on a web portal, expect it to be lifted (without permission) and placed all over the place so that some blood sucker can earn ad revenue from your hard work (the word cunts springs to mind).

So in summary, paid ads do drive installs works, but you will need a LOT and I cannot stress this enough a HUGE AMOUNT of money to get your game noticed. Web portals like Kongregate and Newgrounds help the game initially but once the toxic community has done with you, your game will have 0 visibility, so any visibility gains will be short lived. Take a look at the ratings for my game:

  • iOS – 5 stars
  • Android – 4.5 stars
  • Facebook – 4.8 stars
  • Kongregate – 2.65 stars
  • Newgrounds – 2.68 stars

Indie game development for making money is dead, will I still continue to make indie games? It’s fun creating games, so maybe, do I expect to ever earn money from it? No, very unlikely.

If you are thinking of becoming an Indie game developer, I recommend only doing so if you get enjoyment from it, if you expect to earn a living then try something else.

Big List of Popular Flash, HTML5 and Unity 3D Web Gaming Portals

Big list of web game portals / sites that accept games mainly from Flash, HTML5 and Unity 3D developers:

Facebook Alexa rank 3
Y8 Alexa rank 761
Kongregate Alexa rank 1375
Miniclip Alexa rank 1750
Kizi Alexa rank 1816
Newgrounds Alexa rank 2624
Poki Alexa rank 2985 Alexa rank 3449
Armor Games Alexa rank 3472
A10 Alexa rank 4164
Pogo Alexa rank 4955
Big Fish Games Alexa rank 5113
AGame Alexa rank 6009
Addicting Games Alexa rank 6657
Paco Games Alexa rank 8024
Girls Go Games Alexa rank 9280
Zepak Alexa rank 9516
Ninja Kiwi Alexa rank 10681
io Games Space Alexa rank 11295
NotDoppler Alexa rank 14516
Games Games Alexa rank 15194
Yepi Games Alexa rank 21526
Nitrome Alexa rank 24779
KHBG Games Alexa rank 24690
Game House Alexa rank 28541
Free Online Games Alexa rank 28628
Games Freak Alexa rank 35802
MAD Alexa rank 36964
Box10 Alexa rank 43227
One More Level Alexa rank 48128
Mouse Breaker Alexa rank 52226
Games 2 Girls Alexa rank 54837
io-games Alexa rank 56104
Fun Brain Alexa rank 57127
Frip Alexa rank 60455
Puff Games Alexa rank 65496
Crazy Monkey Games Alexa rank 68705
Flash Games 247 Alexa rank 72799
Game Gape Alexa rank 76718
Mind Jolt Alexa rank 78550
Bubble Box Alexa rank 80294
Cool Games Alexa rank 90502
Zapak Alexa rank 95136
GameZ Hero Alexa rank 109726
Spil Games Alexa rank 152091
Game Garage Alexa rank 1295785

* Alexa rank accurate as of 2nd October 2017

Cookie Clicker Save the World free game for iOS, Android and Facebook Gameroom

Just released my latest mobile and Facebook game Cookie Clicker Save the World targeted at raising awareness of climate change in a fun and challenging gaming environment. Gamers playing the game are gradually introduced to various climate issues and what can be done to help, such as recycling, using wind power etc..

The game is an idle builder / tapper based in the near future where current day currencies have been replaced with a new cryptocurrency called cookies. Players have to research and buy new technology to reduce carbon emissions reducing mankind’s impact on the environment.

Game features include:

  • Bake cookies by clicking on the cookie moon, use cookies to purchase items and technology that help the climate and produce more cookies.
  • Use cookies to buy over 200 upgrades and mods to speed up carbon reduction and cookie production.
  • Earn over 200 achievements.
  • Use powerups to speed cookie cooking production.
  • Evolve your cookie mastery to gain extra benefits.
  • Daily bonus awards.
  • Login with Facebook, invite friends, share progress and compete with friends in the cookie master leaderboards.
  • Offline cookie cooking.
  • Random blessings boost your play.
  • Deal with random curses such as striking workers, maintenance shut downs and more.
  • Endless play allows you to play an indefinite amount of time

Cookie Clicker Save the World is available for free on the App Store for iPhone and iPad

Cookie Clicker Save the World is available for free on the Google Play for Android

The game is also available for free on Facebook and Facebook Gameroom

You can find out more about the game at the official Cookie Clicker Save the World website.

Upgrading from Unity 5.4 to 5.6

Recently had the need to upgrade a couple of projects from Unity 5.4 to 5.6 and after much trial and error and scouring the net for solutions I finally managed it. My project uses two plugins which do not play well with Unity 5.6, these include:

  • TextMeshPro – Do not use the version that is currently on the asset store (Version: or your project will explode, instead grab it from here. If you already have a version of TextMesh Pro installed into your project then delete it (backup fist!), then install the version this link
  • Chartboost – Update to version 6.6.4 as previous versions do not compile with Unity 5.6!
  • Facebook SDK – Deleted old Facebook SDK 7.8 including the Facebook related stuff in the Plugins folder, installed latest Facebook SDK from fresh!

By the way, if you see errors appear, shut Unity down and reopen the project them allow, most of the time the errors just disappear.

From Unity 3D to Facebook Hosted!

So I decided to have a go at getting one of my mobile games up and running on Facebook’s site, chatting to other game developers they warned me to steer clear as its a pain and it will eventually break when they change to the next API release etc… Of course I didn’t heed their advice and went ahead and gave it a try. The main reason being that Facebook now host game content for you, so you no longer need to host it on your own web site using up your own meagre bandwidth and best of all you do not need to buy and manage SSL certificates, whats not to like.

Exporting to Unity WebGL

So the first thing I did was export a build to WebGL gave it a quick test. However I didn’t like the Unity logo, app name or full screen button at the bottom of the screen so I opened up the exported index.html and commented out the following lines of html to remove them and provide a clean clutter free view of my game:

      <div class="logo"></div>
      <div class="fullscreen"><img src="TemplateData/fullscreen.png" width="38" height="38" alt="Fullscreen" title="Fullscreen" onclick="SetFullscreen(1);" /></div>
      <div class="title">Tens Junior</div>
    <p class="footer">&laquo; created with <a href="" title="Go to">Unity</a> &raquo;</p>

Set the screen resolution

Ok, I wasn’t happy with the default screen resolution that Unity exported my game at so I changed it, taking into account that my game will be shown in a frame on Facebook, so I changed the canvas width and height in the Unity WebGL export settings dialog to 480×800. Lovely, it now fits on a 1080 display.

Create a Facebook App for your game

So I now have an app that I can submit to Facebook and have it hosted by them, the next thing to do is to go and create a Facebook app. To do that head over to the Facebook Developer Site and create an app. When creating the app ensure that you add the Facebook Web Games platform and in settings ensure that you have WebGL and Simple Application Hosting enabled. In general settings also ensure that you at least provide App Name, Email Address, Privacy Policy URL, App Icon (1024×1024) and select the Games category.

Uploading your game to Facebook to be hosted

In the Facebook Web Games section, locate the Simple Application Hosting section, just beneath that there is a link named “uploaded assets”, click that link, a new browser tab will open which takes you to the Manage Hosted Asset section, click the add and setup button to the top right then under Hosting Type select Unity (WebGL).

Now go to your Unity exported WebGL folder and zip up all the files, this should include index.html, TemplateData and Release folders, ensure that index.html is in the root of the zip. Go back to Facebook Manage Hosted Assets section and click the Upload Version button, select the zip you just created then upload. The file will show up as processing, after a while this will change to Standby, at this point you can push your app to production by clicking on the small Move to Production button (If you want to later replace the build with a new version, simply move the build back to Standby by clicking the Move to Standby button, delete the build then re-upload a replacement.

Once the build is live you can visit your app url (see the Facebook Web Games Page URL in the Facebook Web Games section of your apps settings). Visit this URL and you will be able to test the game. Note that your game will not go live however until it is reviewed by Facebook and approved.

Getting reviewed

I am quite lucky with my game because I do not require any extra permissions. The game only logs into Facebook, uses the players profile picture and shares the players progress via the share dialog. To get the ball rolling you need to click the Add Products button to left hand side of the screen in app settings then select “App Centre”, fill out a bunch of info about the app including short / long description, app icons / screen shots etc. Once that is added you can submit for review. Note that if you need any additional permissions such as publish_action then you will need to provide additional info during submission.

Finally don’t forget to make your app public (go to the App Review section of the apps settings and click the button at the top of the screen, this will toggle your app between live and development mode).

The end result can be seen by taking a look at Tens Maths IQ Challenge on Facebook.