The Wall Street Journal has an interesting report on a new “YouTube Playables” feature that it says is currently in testing. Google recently killed off one YouTube-adjacent gaming service, Stadia, but that was AAA games streamed frame by frame over the Internet. “Playables” would take more of a Facebook approach, offering more casual, simple games that run in a browser. Think Farmville or Angry Birds, but on YouTube.
One example game from the report is Stack Bounce, a brick-breaking game that has a smartphone app but can also run in a browser. I know the Flash platform has been dead for years, but in my mind, these are still “Flash games”—simple, 2D, addictive games on a browser.
Why exactly would anyone want casual games on YouTube? It says YouTube “is already a popular destination for gamers and competes with Amazon’s Twitch for viewers of livestreamed footage. By hosting a selection of online games, the product would give YouTube a larger footprint in the sector.” Do people play Flash-style games on Twitch? If you look at a “time watched” game tracker for Twitch, what you get are almost exclusively the AAA games that Google opted out of when it shut down Stadia. Aside from gambling games, everything in the top 50 is a AAA title.
Maybe looking at it from a customer standpoint is wrong. Pretend you’re an executive at Google: YouTube is already the de facto standard for web video, which is a challenge for the “eternal growth at any cost” mindset of most businesses. Since video can’t be dominated any more thoroughly (you’ve already got a TikTok clone), and you’ve just got to grow your year-over-year metrics, maybe growing YouTube means branching out into completely unrelated areas. It’s all about the hunt for absolutely anything to increase the amount of time people spend on the site. This seems like more of a Facebook competitor, where if people go to your site to be entertained, why not also give them a few playable games to waste away the hours with? Facebook probably thought the same thing when it added games.
Between the comments, accounts, and the “community” tabs that exist on channels, YouTube is the closest thing Google has to a social network—at one point, there was even person-to-person messaging. Following that logic, you could argue copying Facebook’s homework makes some amount of sense from a raw metrics standpoint. The report says games are meant to “easily be played and shared between users,” which all sounds very Facebook-y. Imagine a video ad playing before each game and a 30 percent cut of in-game purchases, and you have a solid monetization strategy.
Google PR did not do much to quell the rumor, telling The Wall Street Journal, “Gaming has long been a focus at YouTube. We’re always experimenting with new features, but have nothing to announce right now.”