Is Playbyte the Future of Mobile Games?

And what you may be missing about Facebook's Ray-Ban Stories camera glasses

You are reading Social Signals, Greg’s weekly email about creative, digital, social, and cultural signals worth noting (and sometimes a dumb viral video worth sharing with your friends). Today’s email was written to REWORK, remixes of Philip Glass. Follow @gregswan on TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.


Okay, real talk --> it’s easier to just try Playbyte than read about it. So start there. Or at least watch this TikTok about it. Now then…

With the rapid rise of UGC metaverse games like Roblox and Minecraft, we’ve reached an era where the democratization of game design and social networking have coalesced to redefine the notion of  a “game.” Partner that trend with the mainstream adoption of mobile gaming in the U.S. and the rise of disposable content shared via discovery algorithms, and we’re poised for the next level of social gaming. Playbyte may be a signal where that could be headed.

Unlike Subway Surfers or Candy Crush, which require mobile app downloads and a full game studio to develop new levels, Playbyte serves up user-created mobile games in a vertical scroll feed that can be casually browsed via a TikTok-like swipe up. After selecting and playing a game, users can Like, Comment, or Share, with many of the comments are begging for “Like for Part 2” or “Comment what should be in the next level.” Or you can just swipe to the next game.

The Playbyte games themselves are designed via blocks, emojis, and images from your camera roll. They feature single screen, multiple-screen, or puzzle-based plots, and can be remixed or built upon by other users. Similar to Roblox and Minecraft’s UGC games-within-the-game, many lack instructions or require intuitive skills to discern how to play and win. They borrow from gaming tropes, Among Us-style missions, classic puzzle games, or can be completely chaotic and indecipherable.

Playbyte’s selling point is a low-effort, disposable game design that requires little effort to create or play, matched with discovery algorithms and social sharing. It’s easy to imagine major platforms adding this kind of gaming experience to their product stack (e.g., TikTok, Facebook, YouTube). It’s like Newgrounds for 2022.

Unfortunately, like a lot of early UGC metaverse games, there is a lack of moderation and a startling amount of violence (e.g., bank robberies, plane hijackers, murder) and dark humor in these initial Playbyte games. To be fair, that maybe says more about the world Gen Z is growing up in and how they process compounding stress and trauma through games, humor, and content than anything else. But it will need to be addressed.

But its creators are building Playbyte to a social app for the long term and more than just a casual gaming engine, telling Tech Crunch:

Basically, we want to make it really easy for people who aren’t as ambitious to still feel like productive, creative game makers… The key to that is going to be if you have an idea — like an image of a game in your mind — you should be able to very quickly search for new assets or piece together other ones you’ve previously saved. And then just drop them in and mix-and-match — almost like Legos — and construct something that’s 90% of what you imagined, without any further configuration on your part.”

That sure sounds like the future of gaming to me. -Greg

Are you buying Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories glasses, Greg?

They’re stylish. Moderately affordable. Subtle. And they have the world’s largest and most important social and advertising platform pushing them. They’re called Ray-Ban Stories, and they are Facebook’s first consumer-forward product in “the race to the face” (my term – sorry; not sorry) for smart glasses.

While I’m incredibly bullish on smart glasses (read my editorial in SHOTS about the future of augmented reality glasses here), I already own sunglasses with video (Snap Spectacles, see my video) and eyeglasses with audio (Amazon Echo Frames - read about my experience here) and was a Google Glass Explorer (interview here). But these are different, and comparing them to early adopter technology is missing the point of this launch. The legacy of the launch of Ray-Ban Stories will be about mainstreaming an inevitable technology through stepping stone training products at a global scale.

Partnering with Luxxotica + Ray-Ban for specs that look good and aren’t bulky or awkward was a significant choice. Making Ray-Ban Stories available in-store and online (not invite-only or through some weird vending machine) will drive significantly more adoption than competitors. And the price point is on par for the brand and category.

In fact, I’m seeing people in my feed who hated on Google Glass immediately order these. Soon you’ll see face-camera content on your feeds, and you can imagine the Facebook algorithm may prioritize that content in your newsfeed. This is the power of a company the size of Facebook pushing technology into the mainstream. And I have to say that face-camera content is pretty damn compelling and fun. Especially when it’s your own.

Yes, Facebook is behind compared to competitors. This is a make-up product, true. But it’s also a training product. A stepping stone toward AR specs but not yet the actual smart glasses we think about putting a digital layer on the physical world all around us a decade from now (or less!). Apple has famously been working on smart glasses for some time, but just like iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone, they are content holding back until they have the perfect product and consumers are ready to adopt.

So at the moment, Facebook is setting the pace. They are unlocking the idea of cool-looking and easy-to-use face technology at a global scale unlike we’ve never seen. And with that globoal attention and adoption will come the privacy implications. Bad people using these for bad things. People filmed without their consent. All the things Google’s PR couldn’t push past with Glass in 2013. Apple will be watching. We’ll all be watching what post-launch adoption, fallout, and/or pivots come in Q4.

So will I buy v1 of Facebook’s smart glass product line? Well, I’m not the target audience. The technologists and early adopters like me were initially disappointed with how basic Stories are and cannot wait for v2 with AR built in (like the new Snap Spectacles). But they are not targeted to me. They’re for everyone else. So maybe I’ll buy them, but not today. After all, the new iPhone 13 comes out next week, and I need to buy that! Furthermore, if you’re buying Ray-Ban Stories, I would love to hear why.

Reads of the Week: 1) What brands can learn from LGBTQ+ storytelling in gaming; 2) Millennials and Gen Z Are Hooked on a $46 Billion Shopping App; 3) Fluid audio is here, and music is about to meet its next mp3 moment; 4) Six Strategies for Exhausted Working Parents.

Quick Hits:

See you on the internet!
Greg

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