Sensor Tower data shows that in 2019, the most downloaded app in the world was WhatsApp, with approximately 850m installs. The No.3 app was Facebook Messenger – followed by Facebook itself in fourth – while Snapchat was ranked No.10 with a bit over 275m downloads.
Facebook claims its Messenger platform has 1.3bn monthly active users, while Snapchat boasts 210m daily active users.
Other huge platforms such as TikTok, which racked up close to 739m downloads in 2019, offer the ability to message friends – owner ByteDance is currently investing into games – while Discord is another large chat service that works cross-platform, generating 64m downloads on mobile last year.
The sheer number of users and level of engagement on these platforms is hard to reach anywhere else, and in theory, it holds a lot of opportunity for games.
Facing a challenge
The current key players in the Western market for chat app gaming are Facebook Instant Games and Snap Games. Discord had initially moved into becoming a distribution platform for PC games, but has since stepped back on those plans.
First launched in 2016, Instant Games later allowed developers to monetise through in-app purchases and advertising. But in the face of powerful platform holders including Apple and Google, even a tech giant like Facebook faced some difficulty in taking a revenue share, given it was releasing its own games platform within apps served by other storefronts.
It was not allowed to utilise IAPs on iOS, while it also reduced its share on Google Play to zero after initially trying to take a cut on top of Google’s, which resulted in developers getting a minority split of the revenue.
Last year, Facebook made the decision to pull Instant Games from Messenger and migrated it to the social network itself. The company said at the time it wanted to make its app “faster, lighter, and simpler.” Messenger users can still be directed to Instant Games, but they are sent to Facebook.
Another contender in the chat app gaming space is Snapchat, following the launch of Snap Games in 2019. The new platform launched with titles from a few big mobile companies such as Zynga and ZeptoLab.
Snap has also shown some commitment to its ambitions in this space with the acquisitions of developer Prettygreat and London tech firm PlayCanvas. The company likely sees games as a way to increase monetisation of its platform, as well as engagement.
While just a few years ago it looked like chat app gaming was about to explode onto the scene, progress has been much slower in terms of their popularity and ability to generate revenue at the levels seen on the App Store and Google Play. If this business was significant – you’d hear about it.
There’s still promise in the idea of chat app gaming, but there are proven difficulties of working around the two major platform holders and convincing users to play games in these apps, as opposed to the other easily accessible apps on their phones.
Craig Chapple is mobile insights strategist, EMEA at mobile intelligence firm Sensor Tower and was senior editor at PocketGamer.biz.