Facebook may try to compete with Steam, or at least win back revenue lost when casual gaming shifted to mobile. Today Facebook formally announced it’s working with game engine Unity to build a dedicated, downloadable desktop gaming platform, plus it’s broadening the Facebook.com experience for gamers. Both will allow publishers the offer their iOS and Android games on desktop in addition to the casual games Facebook is known for, while the desktop PC app could support more hardcore games.
Starting today, game developers can apply for instant access to a limited alpha to a version of Unity 5.4 that will allow them to build and export games to Facebook’s website and desktop app. Previously, Unity developers had to work with a more code-intensive Facebook SDK to bring games to its web platform. Facebook has also worked with Unity to support Oculus VR game development
Facebook was once the home for social gaming, earning a peak of $257 million in payment taxes in Q4 2014. That’s slipped to $197 million last quarter as gamers moved to mobile app stores. But Facebook still has 650 million users who play games each month, and it’s paid out over $8 billion to game developers since 2010. The new and revamped Facebook gaming platforms could restrengthen the social network’s control over a huge part of how people use the internet.
Facebook first announced its foray into a downloadable desktop platform in May. It was calling the test the “Facebook Games Arcade” though the company has ditched that name and now just refers to it as the “new Facebook PC gaming platform”. You can watch a demo of Facebook Games Arcade here:
Facebook was apprehensive to reveal details about the specs and plans for the PC platform, but here’s what we know from talking with Facebook and Unity:
It will run on different types of PCs, not just Windows like the Games Arcade test
The desktop platform provides a distraction-free gaming environment uncluttered by other Facebook features like the News Feed
It will support the traditional casual Facebook games, mobile games ported from iOS and Android, and Unity says it will likely support more “immersive” hardcore games like you typically see on Steam or consoles, as there’s no plans for a limit on genres or specs right now
It will offer discoverability so gamers can find titles to play
Facebook will provide a revenue split for game publishers, though it’s unclear if it will deviate from the industry standard 30% it’s used in the past
Facebook’s enhanced web and new PC platform could allow it to compete with Valve’s Steam marketplace. Though Facebook might start by focusing on more casual titles rather than the big console blockbusters, it could move in that direction eventually.
Meanwhile, these platforms’ support for mobile could allow Facebook to earn taxes on mobile games without owning its own mobile operating system.