Updated Nov. 29, 2016 12:39 p.m. ET
Facebook Inc. on Tuesday launched a new way to play games on the social network and in its messaging app, the latest effort to get people to spend more time in its ecosystem.
Instant Games will start in 30 countries with 17 titles, including arcade classics such as Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc.’s “Pac-Man” and new games such as Activision Blizzard Inc.’s “Shuffle Cats Mini.” The games, available on iOS and Android devices as well as the web, will be free.
Facebook is trying to reignite its presence in gaming while transforming Messenger into a hub for shopping, news and entertainment. Messenger’s evolution resembles that of its parent, which years ago moved beyond its role as a place for friends to share status updates. Messenger, which launched as a separate app in August 2011, has a billion monthly users.
Gaming is an important tool for engaging Facebook’s more than 1.79 billion users and attracting advertisers, Leo Olebe, Facebook’s director of global games partnerships, said in an interview. Videogame industry revenue is expected to rise 8.5% this year to $99.57 billion world-wide, according to research firm Newzoo BV.
In August, Facebook struck a partnership with Unity Technologies Inc. to make it easier for developers to bring games to its website. Earlier this month, it launched Gameroom, a free desktop app for games.
Facebook generates about $45 million in monthly revenue from gaming, down from a peak of $65 million in December 2011, according to investment bank Piper Jaffray Cos.
Still, 15% of the time people spend on Facebook’s website involves games, Mr. Olebe said. Instant Games will try to build on that interest by baking games straight into the news feed and Messenger, so people won’t have to launch separate apps or pages to play.
Facebook is experimenting with other ways to entice users to stick around, adding the ability to hail rides, stream live video and read whole articles. In April, Facebook said it would let third-party developers build so-called chatbots in Messenger to field customer-service questions and help people order goods.
One challenge for Instant Games is monetization. There will be no ads to watch or virtual goods to buy, at least for now, meaning developers will have no options for generating revenue.
“Monetization will come at some point,” Mr. Olebe said, declining to be more specific. He said companies using Instant Games will benefit from the exposure that comes with being a part of Facebook’s news feed.
Zynga Inc. is bringing a new version of its popular “Words With Friends” to Instant Games. It launched a different version last month on Apple Inc.’s iMessage app, which lets developers charge for downloading games playable there and allows in-app purchases.
“While it’s not a major audience or revenue driver for the Words franchise, the experience has created more ways to engage existing consumers and bring new players to our network,” Zynga Chief Executive Frank Gibeau, said in a letter to shareholders earlier this month.
—Deepa Seetharaman contributed to this article
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Tags: Activision Blizzard, Facebook, Gameroom, Games in News Feed, generating revenue, Instant Games, messaging app, Messenger, Monetization, Pac-Man, Shuffle Cats Mini, Social Network, Unity Technologies, Zynga