Facebook joins Microsoft, Google, and Amazon in cloud gaming

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Facebook, like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, is betting that the nascent business of cloud gaming will become a huge hit.

The social networking giant on Monday premiered a handful of video games that are streamed to people’s smartphones and personal computers.

Users can find the games in Facebook’s “Gaming” section or via their News feeds. Some of the games that will be available for cloud streaming include the racing game Asphalt 9: Legends, PGA TOUR Golf Shootout, Solitaire: Arthur’s Tale, and WWE SuperCard.

Over the past couple of years, a long list of companies have piled into cloud gaming, a business that involves providing users with high-quality video games through online streaming. One of the advantages, according to the companies, is that players don’t need to buy expensive gaming consoles.

Unlike companies such as Google and Microsoft, Facebook is pitching cloud gaming as an incremental step. For instance, Facebook isn’t selling monthly cloud gaming subscriptions or hardware like game controllers.

Another difference, Jason Rubin, Facebook’s vice president of special gaming initiatives, said is that Facebook has no partnerships with game publishers for so-called AAA games, the equivalent of Hollywood blockbusters. And instead of courting avid gamers, Facebook is courting occasional players who otherwise relax using simple online puzzle games and the like.

These kinds of casual games are generally free to play, but people who want extra features must pay.

With its cloud gaming service, Rubin said that Facebook users will be able to see if a friend is playing a certain game, and then instantaneously join them. They’ll also be able to click on online ads for streamed games to automatically play without leaving Facebook.

Facebook hopes that game publishers looking to increase the their users will therefore spend more with Facebook on online ads.

Although Facebook’s cloud streaming will be available through Facebook’s desktop app and Android mobile app, it’s not available on iPhones and iPads. Apple has barred cloud gaming services, including those from Google and Microsoft, from its mobile app store because it says it cannot screen individual games to make sure they adhere to the company’s policies.

“It’s just highly unfortunate and something we have to deal with,” Rubin said about Apple iOS users being unable to play Facebook’s cloud-based games.

“Apple treats gaming differently, and everybody just understands that,” Rubin added. “We have a large user base, so it’s not like we can’t find some users, and there’s people on desktops—there’s still value there.”

Lewis Ward, a gaming research director for IDC, said that cloud gaming is currently just a niche business that could take another 10 years to become a hit. Ward characterized Facebook’s cloud gaming initiative as an evolution of the company’s last big video game push called Instant Games, which made it easier for consumers to play more basic games that they had seen in their News feeds.

But the technology powering Instant Games is limited, making it difficult for Facebook to offer more complex games that several people can play at the same time, Ward explained. To improve its gaming technology and offer more compelling games, Facebook in December acquired the small cloud gaming company PlayGiga for an undisclosed amount. 

Ultimately, Rubin said Facebook must invest in gaming because people are increasingly forming “communities” with others who play and watch video games together. The idea is close to Facebook’s core social networking roots.

Said Rubin, “We have to be involved in games.”

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