Facebook launched a dedicated gaming app earlier than expected, in its latest attempt to grow its presence in the world of online games.
Facebook said the “accelerated” launch was a direct response to the Covid-19 blockade.
The app allows users to follow high profile players, watch live game streams and leave comments without interacting with the rest of Facebook.
It also allows players to cast their smartphone screen.
While Facebook remains the largest social network on the planet, it has struggled to compete against the dominant Twitch and YouTube players when it comes to streaming games and eSports.
Competition in space is heating up, with Mixer and YouTube funding players and franchises in recent months.
Until now, the Facebook gaming brand was accessible as a tab within the main Facebook app and as an independent website.
The company said the stand-alone app was “a focused, game-only experience for people who want deeper access.”
The app, which has been tested in Asia and Latin America for about a year and a half, was launched on the Google Play app store on Monday. An iOS version of Apple has yet to follow.
In common with competing apps, users can follow the streamers and comment on the gameplay live, as well as interact with Facebook groups on individual games.
But the Facebook app also allows people to play from the company’s “instant games” library from a tab within the app, without installing the software separately.
Another feature is the ability to “go live” from the app and transmit the smartphone display to Facebook.
The feature allows you to stream the mobile game directly without any additional equipment. YouTube has a similar feature available for channels with over 1,000 subscribers.
Bringing all these together “helps differentiate yourself from other apps only for live streaming,” said Piers Harding-Rolls, director of research for Ampere Analysis games.
“Facebook’s approach is to democratize the streaming process, which means that any user can go live with streaming very easily.”
The approach could provide him with some advantages in markets where mobile games are much larger – such as China and Southeast Asia – he said.
Facebook claims to have had five million app installs during the 18 months of testing in limited markets and that over 700 million people have already interacted with its gaming products.
“The Facebook gaming app is an excellent example of the revival of games on Facebook in recent years and we are just starting out,” said Vivek Sharma, vice president of Facebook Gaming.
But Harding-Rolls has warned that a dedicated app strategy “has its pros and cons.”
“Allows Facebook to position its offering relative to other game-focused live streaming sites and helps improve the visibility of game content on Facebook, but requires users to download a dedicated app, which will likely hinder adoption” , he has declared.
“But it’s also a channel of user acquisition for consumers who may not be interested in the Facebook app, including young consumers,” he said.
The number of game streaming viewers is estimated to have increased by at least 10% during the coronavirus block period. But competition in space had already increased before the virus emerged.
In August last year, Microsoft secured an exclusive deal with the world’s most watched streamer, Ninja, which forced him to leave Twitch.
In January, YouTube purchased the rights to the Overwatch League and Call of Duty summer sports tournaments.
Facebook has also made another recent offer for players’ attention the release of a game tournament feature earlier this month, designed to allow amateurs to organize their eSport competitions more easily.