In 2019 the world of mobile gaming was truly flying at breakneck speed. Millions of titles weighed down Apple’s App Store and the Android Play Store, covering all bases, from massively popular leaderboard titles to critically acclaimed one-offs such as Monument Valley, artistically directed to absolute perfection.
Within this market launched Snap Games, a new gaming platform that would exist natively within Snapchat, the social app with 229 million daily active users. Capitalising on a massive userbase, they would collaborate with hand-picked studios to create games that held friendship and playability in front. Additionally, there was the unique challenge of making games that worked inside the Snapchat ecosystem.
Nowadays Snap Games have been played by over 100 million users (for reference, the Game Boy Color sold around 50 million units), making it one of the the world’s largest contemporary gaming platforms. Though for many gamers who prefer to keep their eyes on the next AAA release, or perhaps due to its total integration with Snapchat, it still flies under the radar.
We spoke to Phil Larsen, head of Snap Games, to find out more about how the massive platform connects gamers, how exactly it plays into Snapchat’s existing systems, and what’s in store for the future.
Whether you realised it or not, Snap Games has covertly become one of the world’s largest gaming platforms. Find out how it has connected over 100 million users to date.
HAPPY: For those out of the loop, can you give us the background on Snap Games plus when and why it was implemented?
PHIL: Snapchat is all about staying connected with your closest friends. But friendships aren’t just about conversations, they are often also based on things you do together – shared experiences. We wanted a space within the Snapchat platform that gave our community a way to deepen their friendships not just through expressing themselves or through the conversations they have with their friends on Snapchat, but through a whole new experience they can have together. With that in mind, Snap Games was launched in April 2019 as a way for Snapchatters to continue engaging with their friends. As we know Gen Zs are digital natives, they prefer to communicate visually and connect with friends in fun and engaging ways, Snap Games provides them with the space to do just that.
Snap Games features a curated selection of both first-party and third-party titles that are designed for gameplay between friends. To enhance a Snapchatter’s experience, over the past year and a half, we have added text and voice-based Chat features, bringing live conversation and way more fun to the user experience. Since April 2019, the response to Snap Games has been phenomenal, more than 100 million Snapchatters have played Snap Games globally.
HAPPY: There’s a pretty massive responsibility coming into a platform like Snapchat. Are there any core values that you had to guide you, walking into the project?
PHIL: Play as we know it is a universal language, this aligns with our mission to empower our community to live in the moment and have fun together. In light of the uncertainties and social distancing measures implemented in 2020, this mission has never been more important.
Snapchat is definitely a destination where our gaming community – including partners, creators, and Snapchatters – can play, watch, and discover all kinds of gaming content. In addition to that, developers are able to tap into Snap’s strengths through Augmented Reality (AR), avatars (Bitmoji), and our expertise within the gaming space to reach their audiences.
HAPPY: Are there any examples of games – old, new, mobile, or otherwise – that you think really demonstrate those values well?
PHIL: At the start of 2020 Snap Games launched Ready Chef Go! in partnership with developer Mojiworks. This real-time multiplayer game is the first time a third-party game developer has used 3D Bitmoji for games. Bitmojis allow gamers and their friends to implement their own personalised avatar into a game. The use of personalised avatars in Ready Chef Go! reflects Snap Games’ core value by providing engaging and creative ways for users to virtually connect with their friends. Bitmoji avatars for Snap Games have since been used in other multiplayer Snap Games including Color Galaxy.
As part of the recent Snap Partner Summit, Snap Games announced Bitmoji for Games. The new feature will bring the power of the 3D Bitmoji avatars to third party games. With Bitmoji for Games, gamers will be able to use their own Bitmoji in various games across mobile, PC, and console devices. This will heighten Snap’s ability to create a more personal, social, and fun experience for all.
HAPPY: I’d bet COVID-19 was a pretty interesting moment for Snap Games. How did users react to the pandemic on the platform?
PHIL: Truly these are troubling times; as millions of lives around the world are affected by COVID-19, many are using Snapchat to stay connected with their close friends and family. Across the globe, we’ve seen a sharp increase in group activities across Chat, calling, and, of course, Snap Games.
Snap Games saw highly elevated engagement during the peak of the lockdown measures with the highest figures since launch in overall time spent, player count, and usage of in-game social features like Voice and Chat. On the platform more as a whole, communication with friends increased by over 30% in the last week of March compared to the last week of January, with more than a 50% increase in some of our larger markets.
HAPPY: How did Snap Games take part in the #PlayApartTogether campaign alongside WHO?
PHIL: Snap Games utilised its gamification tools to assist in promoting the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) fact-based public health messaging. We partnered with WHO and 17 other game industry leaders to launch the #PlayApartTogether campaign. #PlayApartTogether encourages Snapchatters to stay home and follow the WHO’s health guideline, including physical distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and other powerful preventive actions people can take to fight COVID-19.
Beyond joining #PlayApartTogether and launching creative tools to raise awareness for public health, Snap Games did its bit to encourage Snapchatters to stay home by offering new games to play. Recent Snap Games launched include: Sugar Slam, from Australian game developer Mighty Kingdom, the fast-moving Flip The Egg, where players attempt to carefully flip an adorable, fast-moving egg – without breaking it – to unlock a series of rewards and move up the leaderboard, and Mergelings, another leaderboard game challenging players to unlock different shapes in this highly-addictive merge puzzler.
HAPPY: Are there any unique developer-side challenges when it comes to making games for Snapchat?
PHIL: As Snapchat is focused on connecting close friends, one challenge some developers face is ensuring that the game factors in the Snapchatter and their friends. Even with a relatively simple game like Slide the Shakes, despite not having any real-time multiplayer, the developer must always consider how the experience can be enriched with friends. For example, using the Leaderboard function in creative ways enables players to always compete with their friends’ scores, while the Snippets tool allows Snapchatters to show off their accomplishments directly within the core Snap creation flow. There’s always more potential connectivity to unlock between friends, which is where we believe our developers are rising to meet such a challenge.
HAPPY: On the flip-side, are there some unique features you can only implement because these games are built for Snapchat?
PHIL: Snapchat has always been a place to communicate with your real friends quickly and creatively, whether that’s through sending fun AR Lenses, or simply through talking with pictures. In line with that, we built friendship into the core of the Snap Games experience – whether that means you’re playing one of our real-time multiplayer games like Bitmoji Party, or a new Leaderboard Game like Find My Bitmoji, which is super social by nature but is more about challenging your friends for the best score.
We’ve also put a lot of emphasis on the quality bar for Snap Games, which is indicative through our closed platform approach. While other game platforms might offer hundreds, if not thousands of games, we’ve chosen to work with a few select developer partners to make sure that the quality bar remains high and to ensure that we’re offering a variety of games that appeal to different groups of friends that have different interests and genre preferences.
Also, almost all of our games today feature your Bitmoji as your in-game avatar, helping our community to represent themselves in an authentic way, as well as helping them to connect with friends through the shared experience of playing games together.
HAPPY: I don’t know if you’re allowed to say… but do you have a favourite Snap Game?
PHIL: It is hard to pick just one game! However, I am a big fan of the recent release, Sugar Slam. Created by Adelaide-based game developers Mighty Kingdom, Sugar Slam lets players challenge their friends and Snapchatters all over the world in 1vs1 match-3 blitz play sessions. Within a week of its launch, Sugar Slam was a hit, with players squashing over a billion gummies. Really proud to see another Aussie brand doing well.
Looking ahead, the Snap Games team and I are very excited about the arrival of Bitmoji for Games , which was announced at this year’s Snap Partner Summit. Bringing the power of the 3D Bitmoji avatars to third party games devices, including PC and consoles, Bitmoji for Games will see Snap Games help gamers on any device enjoy a more personalised gaming experience with their own avatar.
We have already partnered with a number of international developers and production houses to announce six Bitmoji for Games. They include: Uno! and Scrabble GO which will bring the iconic multiplayer games to devices featuring users’ own avatars, AR musical experience SingHeads, Super Brawl Universe where gamers will join iconic characters from Nickelodeon’s most popular shows to battle it out in the ultimate action showdown, Perfect Master 3D with Gismart where users solve insane puzzles and test their brain speed, and Voodoo, a soon to be announced mobile game created alongside publisher Voodoo.
Find out more about Snap Games here.