Facebook launches cloud gaming — but it's not what you expect

facebook gaming
(Image credit: Facebook)

Facebook Gaming is the latest cloud gaming service on the market, and the whole project already feels a little understated. According to a VP at Facebook, Facebook Gaming won’t offer many titles at launch; it won’t replace traditional gaming hardware; it won’t offer any paid games; and it won’t even replace Facebook’s current gaming options. Instead, the real innovation lies in Facebook’s potential to sell interactive ads — even if the company wants to downplay that angle.

Information comes from a Facebook blog post, written by Jason Rubin, VP of Play. In the post, Rubin outlines five main points about the Facebook Gaming cloud initiative, as well as four breakout sections on game selection, player profiles, interactive ads and program interface. While the post downplays what it calls “cloud playable ads,” it may actually be the most important thing Facebook Gaming has to offer.

“Cloud gaming announcements are prone to hype,” Rubin writes, possibly referring to the big launch of services such as Google Stadia that ultimately fell a bit flat. He explains that cloud gaming is generally not on a par with console or PC gaming yet, that Facebook Gaming is going to stick with free-to-play titles that are already available through its Gaming tab, and that iOS compatibility isn’t on the table, for now.

Essentially, Facebook Gaming, in its current form, is just a way to stream Facebook games on Android devices. (Technically speaking, you already stream them to your computer, since there’s no download required to play them.) That’s good news if you play F2P Facebook games and want to continue your progress on your phone, no downloads required, but it’s still a fairly narrow application at present. Within the next few weeks, Facebook Gaming will roll out in California, Texas and the northeastern United States.

For the record, the launch lineup includes Asphalt 9: Legends, Mobile Legends: Adventure, PGA Tour Golf Shootout, Solitaire: Arthur’s Tale and WWE SuperCard. Dirt Bike Unchained is up next, with more titles to follow over the next few months. For the record, every single one of those games is already available on Android; Facebook Gaming will simply let you stream them to your Facebook app rather than download them from the Google Play Store.

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What’s more interesting is the section on “cloud playable ads,” which will launch on both Android and iOS in the coming weeks. “Demos are some of the most effective gaming ads out there,” Rubin explains, and cloud playable ads allow developers to advertise games using code from within the games themselves. That means a developer can include a snippet of a mobile game directly in a Facebook app, rather than having to design an interactive HTML5 demo from scratch.

“For developers, creation of cloud playable ads takes less time and is less expensive, and allows for more options,” Rubin writes. “Players get a better sense of games before they commit precious money, download time, or storage space.”

It’s no secret that Facebook makes considerable amounts of money by aggregating and monetizing personal information, and selling ads is a huge part of that. Building ads with native game code is a huge step forward for mobile games, and it’s not hard to see how both Facebook and mobile gaming companies could see cloud playable ads as a major moneymaking opportunity. Already, 2K, FunPlus, Gameloft, Glu Mobile, Gram Games, Rovio and Wildlife Studios are on board with the program.

In short, expect modest things from Facebook Gaming in the near future, and not something to rival Stadia, Amazon Luna or Xbox Game Pass streaming. But expect bigger things from cloud playable ads over the next few years. If the program works, the line between advertisement and actual game could blur to an uncomfortable degree.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.