Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and Microsoft's xCloud services are all competing to become the top dog in the cloud gaming wars. These platforms don't require a traditional console to play games; Instead, players can simply stream the games via the internet. Now, Facebook is entering the ring, but it's doing so in a different way than its competitors by targeting more casual gamers.
While this change in strategy is risky, it might allow Facebook to succeed where other services like Google Stadia have failed.
Facebook revealed the cloud gaming initiative via a Monday morning blog post. It spends a lot of time explaining what the service isn't. It distances itself from Google Stadia by claiming that it's "not going to overpromise and under-deliver" because "cloud game streaming for the masses still has a way to go." It also doesn't have a spiffy name like Stadia or Luna and is not going to feature AAA console games like Marvel's Avengers or Control.
Instead, Facebook is implementing the concept in a way that doesn't change that much for those that already use Facebook Gaming. There's no special controller required to play games through the cloud, and right now the service just features free-to-play mobile games like Asphalt 9: Legends, Mobile Legends: Adventure, PGA Tour Golf Shootout, Solitaire: Arthur's Tale, WWE SuperCard, and Dirt Bike Unchained.
Facebook is also improving the Gaming tab of their website and app, which is how users currently access these games. Player names and avatars specifically for when people are playing games are getting added, and games on the service now support cross-play and progression with the iOS and Android versions as long as a Facebook account is connected to them on all platforms. Facebook is also teasing a new feature that lets players access games right from ads.
While Google Stadia and Amazon Luna seem like they are trying to be substitutes for game consoles, Facebook is taking a different approach by targeting the casual players who already play free-to-play games like Solitaire frequently. The current game selection certainly won't do much for hardcore gamers. Facebook has also already burnt bridges in that community too by starting to require Facebook accounts for Oculus users.
That said, that hardcore crowd doesn't seem to be who Facebook is trying to court with its cloud gaming efforts.
"We’re trying to improve the ecosystem as a whole," Rubin said. "We’re farther from the other apps than they are from each other."
A glance at the responses to Facebook's tweet about this announcement shows why this might be a smart approach. Platforms like Google Stadia and Amazon Luna just gain a lot of hate right out of the gate as many gamers are worried about the digital-only future, especially as Google Stadia requires people to pay full price for games on their platform.
By avoiding that community and focusing on free-to-play games that aren't impacted as much by input delay, Facebook Gaming might be more enticing to the casual gamer who might just play slot machine games or FarmVille on Facebook.
Still, there are some long term issues that Facebook's mentality could run into.
Rubin told Launcher that exclusive games were "not part of our strategy" and that he expects that casual Facebook users will just "stumble upon" these capabilities.
Cloud games aren't marked on Facebook Gaming, and Rubin explained on Twitter that this choice was made because "cloud is an awesome expansion of our capabilities to deliver high fidelity games but ultimately ... it is just a delivery mechanism." This less-serious, all-in approach to gaming hasn't really paid off for any other big tech companies that have tried to break into the industry, especially Amazon.
Because of this, the longevity and robustness of this service seem questionable if casual gamers don't flock to it and Facebook doesn't make many games for it intiially. Obviously, the problematic ways in which Facebook collects and uses user data aren't going away, and playing games via Facebook only gives the company more ways to collect data on people.
Over time, all of those issues could stack up and ultimately hurt Facebook's cloud gaming efforts just like they have for Google Stadia. Still, the free, casual-first approach may be the key to making cloud gaming popular with the masses, and it's something that only Facebook is doing right now.
With Google Stadia, xCloud, Amazon Luna, and Facebook Gaming all working differently and all now in the hands of players, it's a very exciting time for cloud gaming as we see which approach works the best.
Facebook Gaming is available in certain North American territories now.