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And it should look familiar.
As soon as Facebook announced it was spinning its Messenger chat app into a standalone platform with its own apps, it was only a matter of time before someone built a game for it. The countdown clock reached zero this week when developer Clay released Doodle Draw, the first game for Facebook Messenger—available for Android and iOS.
For dedicated mobile gamers, the concept will be familiar. Essentially a derivative of the hit Draw Something (now essentially dead and without an update in two years), Doodle Draw cribs on the game that cribbed on Pictionary by prompting users with a topic or item to draw. The player’s digital doodle is sent to a friend, who then has to guess what the picture is. Correct guesses earn in-game currency for players, which can then be used to purchase more colors.
“We wanted to keep the game as simple as possible since it’s in the context of a Messenger app,” Clay CEO Austin Hallock told the Daily Dot. “Users should be able to tap the link and understand the game right away, and I think we’ve achieved that.”
Mobile games have a rich history of knocking off other popular games that came before, often repurposing popular Web-based flash games for phones and tablets. Angry Birds is often cited for repackaging popular Web title Crush the Castle, for example.
But Doodle Draw has turned the tables. The primarily Web-based developer snagged the concept of Draw Something, which had been laying dormant, and applied it to the new Messenger platform. “For us it was a bit different because we’ve always built games for the Web,” Hallock said of making the game for Messenger, “but still easy enough.” Those who don’t want to play the game via Facebook’s chat app can play Clay’s Web-hosted version instead.
Even with a cynical viewing of Doodle Draw, which may peg it as little more than a ripoff, it’s hard not to see the potential the game is tapping into. The direct connection between people makes it easy to strike up a game. Rather than opening a standalone app, connecting with friends, and awaiting replies, the action is built right in to conversation.
Hallock sees a chance for Facebook Messenger to go the way of WeChat, a massively popular messaging service based in China. “WeChat accounts for 40, 50 percent of game revenue in China, and four of the top five apps are WeChat games,” Hallock said.
WeChat recently reached a plateau of more than 500 million monthly active users; Facebook topped 600 million earlier this year. “I think the platform will ultimately be different from what WeChat has,” Hallock explained, “but the WeChat numbers showcase the potential.”
There’s another advantage for developers when it comes to Facebook’s new platform outside of just being an untapped market: WeChat curates its content and develops much of the available apps and games in-house; Messenger is open for developers and, according to Hallock, “building for Facebook Messenger was pretty easy.”
Facebook, for its part, wasn’t necessarily encouraging games to pop up for its new platform, but it appears welcoming enough to the development. A Facebook spokesperson told the Daily Dot, “Currently, we think Messenger Platform is best suited for apps that focus on content creation and curated content. But, one of the reasons we were excited to announce at F8 that Messenger Platform is open to all developers is to see what people build. From there, we’ll think about what else might make sense.”
Being the first to test the waters comes with some issues, of course. Hallock said there have been some bugs along the way, and a feature has already been removed: Initially users could gain extra coins by inviting friends to play. “People were worried this would lead to spam invites, so we removed it. We’re trying to create a fun experience, and if people think it’s spammy, it’s not fun,” he said.
Historically, games bound to Facebook have been a source of irritation for users. Constant invites, sent to entire friends lists, make popular games an ongoing eyesore for people who don’t play. Messenger doesn’t allow for blanket invitations, and if other developers are as sensitive to potential spam concerns as Clay, the platform may just sidestep the traditional pitfalls of Facebook games.
Photos via Doodle Draw/Google Play Store
AJ Dellinger is a seasoned technology writer whose work has appeared in Digital Trends, International Business Times, and Newsweek. In 2018, he joined Gizmodo as the nights and weekend editor.