The WeChat Mini Games platform is a hot topic. The platform is an extension of Tencent’s gaming business, particularly the Mini Programs platform, designed to target the casual mobile gamer. Tencent has long used WeChat as a marketing and distribution channel for its gaming business. Adding Mini Games will help grow both the number of mobile gamers and mobile games revenue.
WeChat Mini Programs
Tencent originally launched its Mini Programs initiative on December 28th 2016, allowing app developers to create an instant application that resides within the WeChat mobile client. This allows users to instantly jump from a chat with their friends about a new product release to a store page to buy that product without ever leaving the WeChat app itself. Mini Programs are usually faster than native apps, provide smoother experiences and have full integration with all WeChat features. Developers for WeChat Mini Programs have the ability to reach and engage with an audience of 980 million active WeChat users, to date there are more than 580,000 Mini Programs within WeChat.
During the Mini Programs launch, Allen Zhang, the creator of WeChat, noted that Mini Games was not something that Tencent would be implementing at launch. The reason for this was because they wanted to build on Mini Programs first to gain experience before looking at the gaming side. Exactly one year later, on December 29th 2017, the company announced that it had started to roll out Mini Games and the feature has since been extremely well received. At the WeChat developer conference, held on the 15th of January 2018, the company announced that more than 310 million users had already played a WeChat Mini Game.
WeChat Mini Games
WeChat Mini Games are one of the types of Mini Programs. The games can be accessed from the ‘Discover’ section of WeChat and the games do not require a download to play them. In this sense they are very similar to HTML5 games, as you simply tap the icon for the game and, after a short loading screen, begin to play. As well as being faster to access than traditional mobile games, Mini Games fully integrate with WeChat and allow players to compare their high score with friends in their WeChat circle.
The company launched 17 Mini Games in December and has plans to launch more through self-developed titles and partner developers in the future. The majority of games launched on the platform are simple to play and contain a strong competitive element. Some of the most popular games are simple card or chess games that users can play with friends. Tencent has ensured that all games on the platform play off the social nature of WeChat itself.
One of the most popular launch games is called ‘Jump Jump’. This game, which has players jumping from one block to the next, has accumulated more than 100 million daily active users due to the addictive nature of the game as well as the social features built in. Players can compete against their friends’ high scores and are encouraged to play each day, via notifications that are sent from the app. The app does not have any form of monetization just yet, but it has driven WeChat engagement.
Drawbacks to Mini Games
While Mini Games have a number of advantages, there are still a few issues that developers need to be aware of and that could limit the impact that WeChat Mini Games have. For example, WeChat Mini Games have a size limit of 10mb to ensure loading times are brief. This means that large or resource intensive games cannot run on the platform and still need to be distributed via the iOS or Android app stores.
Another drawback is that WeChat Mini Games cannot be shared to WeChat Moments like traditional games. Also, given the closed nature of the platform, all updates must be submitted to Tencent before being approved for distribution. Thus, this initiative is ideal for small casual mobile games, removing the barrier of app stores for new gamers as well as casual gamers, and allowing them to instantly and easily jump into a game.
Importantly, and probably temporarily until a fix is established, Mini Games are currently vulnerable to certain cheat software that can be used to obtain a high score unfairly. Tencent has stated it is already fixing the problem and working to prevent future cheats.
HTML5 and Instant Games
The WeChat Mini Games product is not Tencent’s first attempt at an instant gaming platform. In 2013 the company experimented with HTML5 games built into the WeChat browser. While these games reached a large number of players, the games were held back by a lack of features and integration with WeChat itself due to the limitations of the browser. Mini Games solves some of the issues seen in older HTML5 games on WeChat.
The limitations of older HTML5 games led to low retention rates and difficulty with monetization. With technology improvements in the past couple of years, we’ve seen a number of companies start to take another crack at the concept of instant games, the biggest of which is Facebook. Facebook rolled out its instant games program in 2017 and recently added in-app purchase (IAP) support, ad support and live streaming support. Whilst WeChat’s Mini Games platform doesn’t have all the same features yet, the company intends to surpass Facebook instant games in terms of features and social integration.
Tencent has not begun to monetize WeChat Mini Games, but IAP and ads are coming soon. One of the issues faced by browser based HTML5 games was that once they had played enough, players closed their web browser and could never find the game again. The popularity of WeChat as an everyday app, the social features integrated into Mini Games and the notifications should help with retaining and monetizing players.
This is backed up by statistics released from Tencent during the developer’s conference. ‘Jump Jump’ retained 65% of its total players on day 1 with 1-week retention of 52%. This compares to an average 20% 1-week retention rate on typical HTML5 games. 40% of traffic to ‘Jump Jump’ was driven by friend recommendations within the WeChat messaging app.
The Mini Games pipeline includes self-developed and third-party titles, including a partnership with Ubisoft. Ubisoft’s Ketchapp developed many popular casual games that would be perfect for the platform. We expect Tencent to work with a number of overseas and domestic developers in the casual game sector to expand the library of titles available.
The ultimate all-in-one app
Tencent is aiming for WeChat to become the ultimate all-in-one app. Mini Programs and Mini Games are two more steps toward that goal, and should attract more WeChat users to become gamers. We expect Tencent to see strong growth from its mobile gaming division in 2018, driven by both its core and casual offerings.