FB Messenger Instant Games: A new era of friendly play (except for iOS/Android)

November 30, 2016

Quick primer for the millenials in the audience who weren’t yet born: computing used to be performed by these (relatively) powerful, monstrous machines called mainframes. Mainframes were programmed and accessed via dumb terminals which resembled not much more than a keyboard, screen, and wired connection to the mainframe, kind of like on those portrayed on that old retro-futuristic TV show Max Headroom (oh nevermind, you were still in diapers).

Then one day, the personal computer was born. The aforementioned dumb terminals became intelligent, with their own memory, storage space, processing power, etc. Also thanks to Moore’s Law, mainframes shrunk in size while simultaneously becoming more powerful. Somewhere along the way we started calling the mainframes servers, and increasingly created software applications that would harness both the distributed PC resources of robust clients and the centralized server resources. The era of client/server computing had dawned. (not to mention the age of client/server consultants, err I mean advisors for strategic transformation of pretty much any enterprise that fit into cool new categories like ‘commediatainment’).

Unbeknownst to those of us without sufficient security clearance, some wizards at DARPA were staying up late building something that Al Gore would later “reinvent” as The Internet, which was really just a bunch of tubes, until a really smart dude named Tim created the world wide web and then another smart dude named Marc added a graphical interface allowing regular people to navigate the whole internet landscape. The point is, the web swung the pendulum back toward the centralized configuration of concentrating most of the computing processes into powerful, centrally-located servers, which were in turn accessed by relatively dumb terminals (now called thin clients) in the form of web browsers.

Trends like ASPs, SaaS, and eventually Cloud computing (which were essentially fancy buzzwords for the same basic concept) further reinforced these centripetal forces (as opposed to centrifugal forces) on the centralization of computing. Client/server became old school, and the paradigm of the thin client was back in vogue.

However, as you millenials know all too well, the equivalent of client/server has been alive and well since 2008 when a super smart dude named Steve released the iPhone and opened the App Store. The pendulum had swung back yet again, this time with the client machines manifesting themselves in the form of smartphones.

It’s no secret that the computing resources in our pocket are more powerful than those original mainframes. We’ve become so accustomed to finding a mobile app for everything that thought leaders began debating whether the mobile web was in irreversible decline.

I personally couldn’t accept this thesis that the universal cycle of life omnipresent in IT systems had been permanently knocked out of kilter. Not because I’m particularly insightful but more because I’m a fan of Herman Hesse, Star Wars, and Eastern belief systems that acknowledge the transcendental concept of duality.

Yesterday, Facebook confirmed recent rumors by launching Instant Games inside FB Messenger. One billion Messenger users can now play HTML5 games directly inside their chat feed with their friends. No need to hunt among the thousands of native games in the app stores, no need to suffer app download fatigue.

Granted, this is a relatively modest development for the moment, restricted to casual, snackable games. Yet something tells me this initiative may foreshadow potentially monumental implications for the app stores.

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posted in technology by mark bivens

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