Facebook Gaming has now joined the cloud gaming arms race with the launch of its own game streaming app.
The company announced its cloud gaming platform today with a word from Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin, who's joined the company for its streaming endeavors after working with Facebook on Oculus in the past. In contrast to previous contenders, Facebook game streaming will be free, with in-game purchases and ads supporting it "depending on game format and developer choice." Games will also be featured in playable ads, which are essentially bite-sized demos spliced with targeted marketing: hit "tap to try" on a game's ad, and find the full version if you want to see more, sort of like the Twitch-powered discovery feature in other cloud services.
Facebook game streaming is only available in the US for now due to data center restrictions, and while Facebook Gaming can be accessed on PC, the streaming app is only available on Android for the time being. Why? "Because, Apple (sigh)," as Facebook Gaming said in a tweet. This echoes Microsoft's thoughts on Apple's streaming restrictions, with a company spokesperson previously calling them "a bad experience for customers" with regards to cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass.
In contrast to other services, Facebook is pushing mobile games over streamable AAA games, at least for its initial launch. This makes the service feel less like a competing cloud service and more like a download-free hub for mobile games, but Rubin says the company will "increase the variety of game genres" starting in 2021 "with the addition of action and adventure games." For now, here are the games available via Facebook Gaming this week:
- Asphalt 9: Legends
- Mobile Legends: Adventure
- PGA Tour Golf Shootout
- Solitaire: Arthur's Tale
- WWE SuperCard
- Dirt Bike Unchained will arrive "in the coming weeks"
Getting ahead of the challenges and questions that Stadia and Luna continue to wrestle with, Rubin discussed Facebook's approach to game streaming in a blog post. For starters, he explained how the service's library will expand, and how its cost may be adjusted to match.
"We’ll start with the format people enjoy playing on Facebook: free-to-play games," he says. "That’s one of the reasons why we’re starting with games typically played on mobile devices. In the future, our systems and infrastructure will improve to deliver more types of games – possibly all types of games. Until then, rest assured that the cost of trying our cloud games is $0."
The words "until then" and "all types of games" are doing a lot of work here. Facebook could conceivably expand its streaming footprint to offer the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, Destiny 2, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, or the other big-hitters on other cloud services, but we don't know that for sure, nor do we know when games like those may arrive. And if they are added to the service, Facebook streaming may ditch its purely free-to-play model. Likewise, while Facebook says in-game progression (and purchases) will stick with players "regardless of where [they] start or choose to play," we don't know that cross-progression will remain constant if big games are added in the future.
"We believe in the long-term future of cloud gaming, but we aren’t going to try to wow you with the wonders of our data centers, compression algorithms, resolutions, or frames per second," Rubin continues. "Cloud game streaming for the masses still has a way to go, and it’s important to embrace both the advantages and the reality of the technology rather than try to oversell where it’ll be in the future."
Rubin stresses that Facebook is "not trying to replace your favorite gaming hardware." Facebook's game streaming will be available directly through the Facebook Gaming interface on PC, the Android app is free, and it won't require a controller. At least for now, all games support touch controls and can also be played using a keyboard and mouse.
Facebook cloud gaming will initially roll out in California and Texas, as well as northeast and mid-Atlantic states including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and West Virginia.
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