Facebook released a dedicated gaming app for Android smartphones on Monday (April 20) so users can take part in live gameplay or watch others play, according to a New York Times report.
“Investing in gaming, in general, has become a priority for us because we see gaming as a form of entertainment that really connects people,” said Fidji Simo, head of the Facebook app. “It’s entertainment that’s not just a form of passive consumption but entertainment that is interactive and brings people together.”
Simo added that the coronavirus pandemic prompted the social media giant to accelerate the move to launch additional gaming projects, like its new tournament feature. “We’re seeing a big rise in gaming during quarantine,” she said.
The app is initially being introduced on Android, with plans to include iOS as soon as Apple approves it.
Over 700 million of Facebook’s 2.5 billion monthly users interact with gaming content. The app is primarily for live gameplay, which is dominated by Amazon’s Twitch, and to a lesser degree, Google’s YouTube and Microsoft’s Mixer.
The worldwide gaming business is valued at $160 billion and growing fast, according to the report. Facebook was set to release the app in June but stepped up the timing in the wake of the pandemic. The app was trialed in Southeast Asia and Latin America over the last 18 months.
Facebook has invested in gaming for years and has started to grow its streaming community through partnerships and eSports tournaments. Its Go Live function lets users upload streams of other mobile games. Once people are live, the streams appear on their personal pages so people can watch.
“People are watching streams and they’re like, ‘I want to be a streamer,’ and with Go Live it’s literally just a few clicks and then live, you’re a streamer,” Vivek Sharma, Facebook’s vice president for gaming told the NYT.
Facebook ranked third in total gaming hours watched from February to March, according to Streamlabs, but year-over-year, its gaming has “experienced massive increases.” Twitch had the most hours streamed, followed by Mixer.
In the age of the coronavirus, more people than ever are turning to social media and gaming.