You can now play Pac-Man and Space Invaders on Messenger…if you disable encryption first

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Instant Games works perfectly well in chats with just two partners, but comes alive in group chats – between housemates or co-workers, for instance. Each group gets its own leaderboard, and you’ll be able to tease your rivals with reaction GIFs as you trounce their records. You can also screencap your victory screens, add doodles, and share them to a chatroom for bragging purposes. Friends can then tap on a link to take their turn and try to regain the lead.

The social side of gaming is a large part of how Facebook is trying to engage players with the new feature, in fact.

“What we see is the conversations that you have with Messenger create these unique experiences where you talk to the people you really care about, in small groups, and those groups become this private space where you can have games and contests with one another,” Andrea Vaccari, product manager of Messenger at Facebook, told WIRED. “So we partnered with games developers but added the special ingredient of that personal space.”

The idea started back in March when Facebook trialled a hidden basketball game in Messenger, triggered by emoji.

“We launched the basketball game for March Madness, and a soccer one a few months later,” says Vaccari. “Initially, it was built as a delightful experience that was made to scale to the platform. When we saw the success of these two games, we decided to take a bigger approach.”

“We started to get serious about games in June and it took about six months to work with our teams across Facebook and developers to really create the right experience,” he adds. “Once we understood how to do this right, we found game developers who were very eager to work with us and test new ideas, so development picked up quite quickly.”

Developers and publishers already involved include Bandai Namco, King, Konami, and Zynga, and the number of partners and titles available is set to expand as the service grows.

The Instant Games on offer are all free to play and redesigned for simple touch controls (or arrow keys on desktop). While there’s no cost attached to play, there may be some form of monetisation in future, though this may be at each game publisher’s discretion.

“All the games are free, and we expect them to stay free, but we will explore monetisation opportunities,” David Marcus, vice president of Messaging at Facebook, explained. “We want the games developers to have incentives to continue to invest in the platform and deliver great experiences.”

Earlier in November, Facebook launched its desktop gaming service Gameroom, bringing a Steam-style experience to casual games. However, while certain games overlap, the two initiatives aren’t directly linked.
“Facebook is a big company and there are different initiatives [we’re] exploring. One is Gameroom but this is a different experience,” says Vaccari. “Gameroom is, of course, a desktop experience, this is more of a mobile experience. The goal here is to take the best aspects of social gaming that were available on the web years back, before the transition to mobile-first, and bring those back to mobile.”

“The way we’ve built encryption in Messenger is as a mode, not for all conversations at all times,” says Marcus. “As a result, it presents more flexibility for us to abide by all local regulation and at the same time build experiences like these and be confident they won’t be impacted by such a change in regulation or directives.”

“Currently, if you turn on encryption, the options you have are more limited,” Marcus continues. “You can send photos, stickers, normal messages, voice messages, but that’s it. All the fancy features are not available when using encryption.”

“Performance is something we’re very focused on – we’ve massively invested in making Messenger blazing fast this year – and end-to-end encryption actually slows [communications] down because every time you have to decrypt the packets and encrypt them again,” he explains. “That’s why we built it the way we did, rather than have it turned on for every conversation. It’s a more stripped down range of things you can do when you have it switched on, and games is not one of them.”

Still, as encryption can be switched on and off for chats, and Facebook promises server-to-device encryption in normal circumstances, players could turn the feature off and on depending on their gaming needs.

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Adeline Darrow
By Adeline Darrow

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