June 19, 2020
Facebook has waded into the content creation and video game streaming space with its new Facebook Gaming app, and users reportedly clocked in 291 million hours in April.
The strong start likely has to do, in part, with timing: the launch of the app came as people across the globe were looking for safe activities during COVID-19-related lockdowns and quarantines.
"What they want is social interaction," said Vivek Sharma, head of Facebook Gaming, about the audience and creators on the app. "They miss that from their time in their communities. So what we've done is really amplified the efforts of the Facebook team and the Facebook Gaming team around what we're about."
The service launched on Android devices on April 20 and immediately began competing with other streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube. The app combines some gaming services already available on Facebook's main platform, but also allows for mobile broadcasting from the dedicated app.
Sharma attributed the app's popularity to the existing community features of Facebook itself, a ubiquitous platform where so much of the audience and their social networks are already included.
"Facebook is unique because your social network is already here. You don't have to rebuild it again, so your friends are there, your contacts are there," Sharma explained. "What we find is that many, many people are first-time game streamers on our platform. In fact, over a third of the streamers on our platform are completely new to streaming, which means that there's so much pent up demand in the universe for people wanting to get on and stream as creators."
Along with quickly growing such a platform, the head of gaming also acknowledged that the many controversies and social issues surrounding Facebook, and the video game industry itself, needed to be addressed in a more robust way on the app.
"Gaming had Gamergate which was a huge, horrible scandal. It was terribly handled by a lot of companies involved, by a lot of people involved," he stated, recounting a conflict over issues of diversity and inclusion in gaming that erupted in 2014. "One of the things we have done is to provide tools to prevent toxicity in our communities, directly to our creators, and they go way beyond even what Facebook standards are."
"We worked with the Fair Play Alliance to make sure that these rules can actually be adapted by the entire industry, so we're not alone," he said, referring to the coalition of gaming industry professionals and companies set up to encourage a healthier community. "We believe we should be uplifting gaming way beyond Facebook."
Sharma also touted Facebook Gaming as empowering its creators amid the difficult economic times fostered by the pandemic, noting that the video game streamers largely create content as side projects to existing jobs — employment they may no longer possess.
"The first and foremost responsibility we have is to make sure that our creators can make money," he said. "What we've decided, actually, is we want to hand that money more to our creators — essentially they're small businesses — than necessarily think of this as a profit generation vehicle for Facebook itself. That might sound like a corny answer, but really we think if the community is healthy, Facebook eventually down the line will be healthy as well."
As for a long-term vision for the platform, Sharma offered up the potential of working with publisher sand developers to allow direct streaming of video games over Facebook's app rather than just watching streaming content.