Facebook is launching a new hub for gaming content as it attempts to lure gamers away from rival platforms like Twitch and Discord.
On Wednesday, the California-based social networking company announced a new Gaming "tab" inside its main app. The new tab will house video game-related content ranging from livestreams of gamers playing to video game-related content posted on the app and casual games playable within Facebook itself. It will also be available as a standalone app, which is currently in beta on Android.
Facebook says more than 700 million people use Facebook for gaming-related activity on at least a monthly basis - whether that's groups, watching livestreams, or playing HTML5 games. But it has a far lower public profile than competitors like Twitch, the Amazon-owned game-streaming platform; Discord, a chatroom and voice chat service for gamers that has since broadened its appeal to other internet communities; and YouTube's gaming-related content.
And the move is indicative of how Facebook is attempting to focus on specialised communities and interests and alternative ways to share following years of scandals - many of which focused around its News Feed.
"We're trying to build a highly engaged and participating community on Facebook," Facebook's VP of gaming Vijaye Raji told Business Insider in an interview ahead of the announcement. "Our mission is to make our gaming platform a safe and inviting place for people to come in and enjoy gaming content."
The shortcut tab won't appear in all Facebook users' apps - just those that the company has noticed regularly do gaming-related activities on Facebook (in the same way the Groups tabs shows up for people who use Groups a lot, Marketplace for people who buy and sell stuff more, etc.) So if you have no interest in Fortnite and have never touched a Facebook game, you probably won't see it.
It'll also be personalised based on users' interests; someone who exclusively plays HTML5 games won't be bombarded with Apex Legends streams, and vice-versa. Initially, only a small subset of Facebook users will have access to the new hub, with the plan being to grow over time.
In doubling down on gaming community features, Facebook is wading into politically sensitive territory. The gaming community can be infamously fickle and casuistic, and in 2014 a purported dispute about ethics in video games journalism - "Gamergate" - saw widespread harassment campaigns targeting women working in the industry.
"That's definitely on top of our mind when we started thinking about the gaming community," Raji said, arguing Facebook's gaming products differentiate themselves by how "healthy" and "non-toxic" they are, and pointing to Facebook's real-name policy as helping tackle anonymous and potentially abusive accounts.
There's a huge and growing market for gaming content - but Facebook's relatively late entry puts it at a disadvantage to some of its competitors. It lacks any A-list gaming personalities like Ninja making it their primary platform, and the current maximum audience for streamers is much lower than the likes of Twitch: The current top live streamer on Facebook as of writing has 1,600 concurrent viewers, while the top streamer on Twitch has 60,500.
This risks making the platform less attractive to top gaming talent deciding where to focus their efforts - which in turn makes offerings less compelling for potential viewers and users. Raji said an appeal of Facebook is that it means Streams can "reach an audience that has authentic identity tied to them," and that's Facebook's total potential audience - 2.3 billion monthly active users across the globe - is far greater than any other platform out there.
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