TikTok’s Play For Games

Like many others in big tech, from Microsoft to Google and Amazon, TikTok owner ByteDance is making a play for the games market.

Its strategy is two-fold: it has steadily spent the past few years acquiring studios and launching its publishing label Nuverse to build up its in-house development and publishing expertise, and it’s also creating a gaming ecosystem within its globally popular video sharing app TIkTok.

Instant Games

Earlier this year, TikTok began following in the footsteps of Facebook and Snapchat by testing out instant games in the United Kingdom.

Titles can be found directly in the main For You feed and, as with all instant games, can be accessed without the need for an install. Titles being tested included Barricade Yourself Inside from Voodoo, Basketball from FRVR and Color Galaxy from Gismart. In total there were at least 14 games being tested in the UK from a host of different publishers. Instant games on the platform have also been tested in Vietnam.

As with the early rollout of Facebook Instant Games, TikTok games currently operate without any monetization features such as in-app purchases.

TikTok Head of Global Gaming Assaf Sagy told MobileGamer.biz that despite this tests, it currently has no plans to become a gaming platform or launch a dedicated games section. However, that doesn’t mean the company won’t continue testing instant games in users’ personalised feeds and launch a global rollout in its current form, or that developers won’t be able to generate revenue through such experiences in the long-term.

Sagy said one possible implementation of HTML5 games on the platform could be through TikTok Live, where creators and users can interact in real-time.

“It’s part of that same family–how do we give consumers the ability to go deeper with a product, a vertical, a creator?” said Sagy. “So in that sense, a gaming company is a creator even if the content is a mini-game.”

Major Games Investment

News of TikTok’s foray into gaming within the video-sharing social app first emerged last year, with the Financial Times reporting that titles on the app would be able to serve ads while also monetizing through paid-for additional content.

Notably, the China version of TikTok, Douyin, has already integrated instant games for a number of years now, complete with its own section, and even partnered with U.S. game engine and services provider Unity to power them. The first ‘mini-game’ for the platform, Music Jumping Ball, was released on the app in China in 2019. ByteDance has also tested cloud gaming in China through titles like match-three game Anipop, which, like instant games, negate the need for users to download and install them. According to a report by Naavik, ByteDance’s non-advertising game revenue was estimated at approximately $300m to $500m in 2020 (prior to some of its major studio acquisitions).

ByteDance has continued to invest heavily in games over the years and has come to see it as an important growth pillar of its business. The company acquired Mobile Legends developer Moonton Technology and Girls Chronicle: Idle Heroine studio C4games in 2021, and has also launched subsidiaries such as Ohayoo and Nuverse. According to Sensor Tower data released in June 2022, during the 12 months prior to that report, ByteDance’s portfolio of mobile games generated an estimated $1 billion worldwide from player spending across the App Store and Google Play.

Meanwhile, TikTok has become an increasingly popular platform for marketing and user acquisition in the mobile games space. Scopely’s Stumble Guys (originally developed and operated by Kitka Games before the IP was acquired), harnessed TikTok to help scale the game to hundreds of millions of downloads, becoming a hit title in an increasingly challenging mobile UA landscape.

ByteDance has been upfront with its ambitions for gaming inside and outside of its TikTok app, and the investment, combined with the significant scaling of its internal gaming team in recent years, shows it’s putting its money where its mouth is.

Highly Engaged Users

 Should TikTok continue with the rollout of instant games in global markets, it offers a significant audience base as one of the world’s top social media apps. To date, TikTok and Douyin have generated a combined 3.5 billion+ installs worldwide across the App Store and Google Play, according to Sensor Tower. In 2022, Apptopia data shows TikTok was the No. 1 most downloaded app globally, above Instagram at No. 2 and WhatsApp at No. 3.

A report from Morning Consult delved deeper into the makeup of the most engaged users of TikTok and how they use the platform. Data showed that 14% of Gen Z adults (pulled from a sample of 2,199 U.S. adults) began researching about a major news event on TikTok—more than any other demographic, rather than a search engine like Google, which 39% of Gen Z consumers used—lower than other audiences.

Meanwhile, Sensor Tower has previously reported that, in Q2 2022, TikTok had the second-most engaged userbase on Google Play when compared to its competitors in the Social Networking space. Some 29% of its active worldwide Google Play installs were opening the app every single day during Q2.

Clearly, TIkTok has a varied, highly engaged global userbase that engages with the app for a variety of reasons, not just watching entertaining videos. TikTok’s emergence as a global games ecosystem would provide yet another enormous audience for publishers to engage with.

It should be noted that large userbases don’t always result in successful games platforms, with Facebook and Snapchat rolling back some of their ambitions of the instant games space. But TikTok offers a significant audience that publishers can market their games on and potentially release games for. And TikTok has its own incentives to make this work, having invested so heavily in its own games companies.

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