Back in ye olden days of 2009, Facebook did double duty as a social network and a gaming hub. FarmVille and other Facebook-centric games dominated many users’ news feeds, and an ecosystem of game developers—most notably Zynga—grew in response.
But Facebook games’ meteoric rise led to an equally spectacular fall. “Gaming on Facebook isn’t doing as well as I’d like,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a company earnings call in 2012. Around that time, Zynga started letting staff go.
That doesn’t mean Facebook lost interest in the gaming market, however. The company owns Oculus Rift, one of the most prominent virtual-reality platforms at the moment. Now it’s also launched Gameroom, which may represent an attempt to compete with Valve’s Steam portal.
Facebook’s Gameroom is a free Windows-native client, which means it’s only for PC gaming. Offerings include Web games as well as native games built “exclusively for the platform,” according to the company.
If you’re a games developer interested in exploring what Facebook has to offer, a developer site (still in beta) offers documentation, a demo video, and testing. Unity is the development platform of Facebook’s choice for native games. (Earlier this year, Facebook announced it would collaborate with Unity to make Facebook a build target for the Unity Editor.)
Provided your game is under 500 MB, Facebook will host it for free. Developers can add payment solutions to their games. As with other app and gaming platforms, Facebook will review all games to make sure they pass muster before launch.
Can Gameroom compete against Valve’s Steam platform? The latter has 125 million registered accounts, along with thousands of games for Windows, OS X, and Linux. That easily makes Valve the largest host of a digital distribution platform for games.
Should Facebook want to play in that particular market, it does have one big asset to leverage: more than a billion users, many of whom have demonstrated (thanks to the work of Zynga and other developers) that they will play games on Facebook—and try to get their friends to do the same, in many instances.
Does Facebook envision Gameroom as a “Steam Killer”? Perhaps not at this stage—but if enough developers become interested in the platform, anything is possible. Unity could play a major role in attracting those developers.