As casual gamers move to mobile, Facebook eyes the hardcore crowd

Blake Soberanis

In May, Facebook announced it would release a downloadable desktop app for games—a new competitor for PC gaming platforms like Steam. And last week, Facebook said it was teaming up with Unity, a popular game development system, to make it easy for Unity developers to release games to the new platform.

If Facebook is looking to expand into the more hardcore PC gaming market while staying relevant on the web, Unity makes sense. The system’s major selling point is that a developer can use it to make one game and distribute it to multiple platforms, including PCs, Macs, consoles, mobile devices–and the web browser as well.

Upon the launch of its new app, Facebook may very well focus on casual games, but the Unity partnership indicates that larger, more traditional PC games could be on the menu as well. Games made with Unity range from simple to highly complex, and many—such as the Kerbal Space Program—have been big hits on Steam, which is the most prominent platform for PC gaming.

As casual gamers move to mobile, Facebook eyes the hardcore crowd

Instagram’s Stories Inspired by Snapchat

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Everyone has a story to tell, and Instagram on Tuesday announced Stories, a new way for users to tell theirs.

Stories allows Instagram users to string together images and videos for a dynamic slide show presentation that can be shared with friends or the entire Instagram community.

Rather than sharing pictures and videos individually with others on the platform, a user can choose to share them through a story. Someone following the story simply taps the new story icon on the Instagram interface to see the latest addition or to watch it from beginning to end.

Story content can be enhanced with a number of text and drawing tools. The content is ephemeral: It disappears in 24 hours unless a user chooses to preserve it.

Stories from people a user follows appear in a bar across the top of the app’s feed screen. When there’s something new to see, a colorful ring appears around the person’s profile photo.

For Snapchat users, Stories no doubt seems familiar.

“It has the same name as Snapchat’s stories, and it seems to be a direct copying of what someone else has done,” noted Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.

Stories meets a need for Instagram users, said Jackdaw’s Dawson.

“If you spend a day doing something, you may have a bunch of pictures you want to share, but you don’t want to ‘overgram.’ So you only post one or two pictures and you feel sad you didn’t post more,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“This allows you to post a bunch of material with people without crunching up their feed,” Dawson added.

Instagram’s Stories Inspired by Snapchat

Facebook Lets Messenger Conversations Go Dark

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Facebook last week said it would begin testing long anticipated end-to-end encryption capabilities in its Messenger app, enabling users to have secret conversations.

The new level of security means that a message will be visible only to the sender and the recipient — Facebook won’t even be able to read it.

Users can set a timer to limit the amount of time that a message remains visible during the conversation. Facebook has employed Open Whisper Systems’ Signal Protocol technology to provide the encryption.

One major caveat is that an end-to-end encrypted conversation can not be viewed on multiple mobile systems at the same time — however, the encryption is an optional feature.

Many users want to be able to switch devices during a conversation — for example, move from a mobile phone to a tablet or desktop computer. With the current technology, secret conversations can be read only on one device.

In addition, sending rich content like GIFs or video and making payments will not be possible using the encryption.

Facebook Lets Messenger Conversations Go Dark

Facebook Messenger Lets 50 Friends Get In on a Call

Facebook last week announced that it had rolled out group calling worldwide in its Messenger app. Members engaged in a group conversation can tap the phone icon on their screen to initiate a group call. They can manage individual participants on the next screen.

Members of a group who miss the initial call can tap the phone icon in the group chat to join the call while it’s in progress.

The feature allows up to 50 participants and is available only in the latest version of Messenger.

Move Over, Phone Carriers

The announcement likely will cause concern among telecommunications companies because “if you consider that social media’s a form of asynchronous communication, then Facebook is the largest telecom on the planet, with about 1.3 billion subscribers,” observed Michael Jude, program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

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Facebook Messenger Lets 50 Friends Get In on a Call