When Allen Zhang, father of WeChat, sat down to explain WeChat’s new Mini Programs on December 28, 2016, the question every developer wanted to know was whether Mini Programs could be used to develop games?
Zhang’s answer was simple and straightforward: “Not for now.”
The answer disappointed countless games developers. Games have inherent retention and WeChat has a huge number of users. A popular WeChat game could bring enormous data flow with little cost. But it’s precisely this reason that games are not being allowed at this stage, Zhang said.
Imagine if WeChat had opened Mini Programs for game development from the beginning, WeChat would have been flooded by various games, causing the development team to lose control while WeChat was still in the exploration phase. Also, it does not conform to Tencent’s goal of “connecting all”.
But exactly a year later, on December 28, 2017, WeChat announced game Mini Programs would be available through its official account. After upgrading to version 6.6.1, WeChat shows a new page recommending a game called Jump. In some users’ Game column, there are other small games such as Fight the Landlord Lite and Carrot Fantasy.
On December 28, WeChat released Jump and the other games after the update.
In addition, WeChat unveiled a public platform for game development. Developers can use tools to create games and submit their creations for audit on the WeChat public platform after registration.
TMTPOST discussed the possible benefits of Mini Programs for tools, content and e-commerce in past articles. The opening of games offers entrepreneurs new opportunities. But WeChat’s existing draconian rules and Tencent’s strong dominance in the game field make the opportunity full of uncertainty.
To this end, TMTPOST interviewed several game industry persons and contacted the WeChat small game team to explore the commercial potential and challenges of WeChat “small games”.
Are Game Developers Ready?
“The greatest advantage is the entrance. Many peers value this opportunity, and we are ready to make games suitable for WeChat,” a senior professional in the gaming industry told TMTPOST.
Unlike traditional mobile games, client-end games and H5 games, small games are built on Mini Programs within the WeChat client. Mini Programs increase the entrance, greatly increasing users’ hit rate. WeChat added Mini Programs to the bar in the main interface in the last update and upgraded the Mini Programs menu. Users can now enter Mini Programs through a pull or a click.
On December 28, Mini Programs received multiple entries in both the QQ browser and WeChat.
In the latest version 8.1 for Android, QQ Browser added a search entry for WeChat Mini Programs to its search box.
The head of QQ Browser said the platform would invite high-quality developers to enter the QQ Browser. This is the equivalent of adding a multimillion-level daily flow platform to WeChat.
Some traditional HTML5-based games such as Catch the Mad Cat have proved their potential in WeChat. But HTML5 game entry is too scattered. Players often leave game pages after playing, which makes it hard to derive commercial value. On the contrary, WeChat has unified portal, unified account and support to skip between Mini Programs and official accounts. It enables developers to retains users through games and transforms data flow into e-commerce products or virtual products.
The HTML5 game Catch the Mad Cat had a record of 100 million visits within three days, and its birth in 2014 was considered to be the start of HTML5 gaming.
“The existing ‘Jump’ game was designed to familiarize users with the entry. Then WeChat can launch larger games to improve user retention,” the games industry professional said. He also said WeChat was in talks with Apple for profit sharing of virtual goods, which is likely to be applied to Mini Programs.
Because WeChat game support is so new, most game developers are waiting for more information. All industry professionals TMTPOST contacted refused to be named or to offer projections about their participation. WeChat has not shown a clear attitude to games, they said. If they promote the product and attract users, they could be banned by WeChat. In May, 2017, a Mini Program named Anonymity Chat released by Friends Impression was very popular on WeChat Moments. It had a record of 17 million views within 5 hours. It was soon banned by WeChat.
“Maybe our company has more products banned by WeChat than others. We have a lot of experience being banned. It is a false impression that users willingly left the Mini Program after using it. Don’t be fooled,” Li Haoyang, the founder of Friends Impression, said.
He said if a Mini Program wants to be popular, in addition to a real-name registration system, sensitive word monitoring and other management tools, it must value the social relationship chain and exploit a user’s need to vent their hormones, emotions, loneliness and bad feelings, or offer a platform for showing off.
Why ‘Resurrect’ Game Mini Programs?
According to the White Paper on Ecology published by the third-party platform Aladdin Mini Programs in November, among the Top 200 Mini Programs in terms of comprehensive activity, tools accounted 30 percent, retail apps for 21 percent and games only accounted for 2 percent.
However, the paper showed that when game entry wasn’t open, Arena of Valor, Brain Tests and other games ranked in the Top 200. With the entrance open, games will greatly enrich the Mini Programs.
The White Paper predicted game Mini Programs are “about to explode”.
Aladdin’s founder, Shi Wenlu, said WeChat opened the channel because it understands the relationship between data flow and WeChat ecology.
“For developers, apart from adhering to the WeChat specification, they will use WeChat’s social chain to generate flow rather than ransack WeChat’s existing flow,” Shi said.
That is to say, a Mini Program following WeChat’s ecological rules should be able to stretch into each link of WeChat like a “capillary”. It could be linked with group chat, WeChat payment,and official account to form a closed loop. The Mini Program can connect WeChat and revitalize data flow.
So, what is the attitude of the WeChat team to game program?
“We expect game developers to be creative and offer more fun games. Development specifications will be published later,” the game team said.
If so, WeChat would welcome game programs. Based on speculation, the rules will be announced at a WeChat open class on January 15, 2018.
In addition, a written reply from the WeChat game team to TMTPOST emphasized the importance of socializing. “Small games invite onlookers, initiate friends play and compete, and other functions. It can provide users with more social interaction, which is strongly related to the social attribute of WeChat.”
The following was the reply from the WeChat game team to TMTPOST for the launch of the game Mini Program:
TMTPOST: When did development begin on the “Jump” game Mini Programs? Why have you launched game Mini Programs? Why did you choose the “jump” game?
WeChat Game Team: WeChat is a way of life. Front payment and games is a way for WeChat to express its attitude toward life. The new version of the WeChat is just like previous updates, providing updated games and front pages.
You may have noticed that “Jump” is very much like the childhood “Hopscotch” game, which many people rarely play now. “Jump” pays tribute to the classic game. When life is occupied by work and information has become fragmented, it is hard to focus on one thing. WeChat developed the game to remind everybody to stop and relax. Invite friends to compete. Give yourself a chance to focus and enjoy the fun.
TMTPOST: Inside the Jump Mini Program, there are entrances to many other Mini Programs, such as inviting onlookers and issuing challenge, Please talk about the characteristics WeChat game Mini Programs and how they combine with these social attributes.
WeChat Game Team: Small games support inviting onlookers, inviting friends to play and compete and other functions. It can provide users with more interesting social interactions, which is related to WeChat’s core social attributes. For its characteristic, you can refer to our official definition: a game is a Mini Programs category. With one click, players can play the game without downloading or installing new software. Users can play with friends in WeChat, such as competing or watching.
TMTPOST: Will the WeChat Mini Programs launch more small games after Jump? What is the standard? What can game developers do and what isn’t allowed?
WeChat Game Team: Tencent launched dozens of games together with Jump. WeChat has already released its public platform for game development. Developers can use tools to create games and submit their games for audit in the WeChat public platform after registration. We expect game developers to be creative and offer more fun games. Development specifications will be published later.
TMTPOST: WeChat specifically proposed a ban on Mini Programs that consume too much data flow. Will “Jump” and other game Mini Programs go against this statement?
WeChat Game Team: Since Mini Programs were launched, it has been an important segment of WeChat. It has gradually infiltrated offline catering, retail, transportation, medical, education and other scenarios, as well as e-commerce, online tools and reading. Small games are just a Mini Programs category. We believe each category has its corresponding services and scenes. As long as users need them and can meet the needs of the scene, they will be valuable.