The big problems with Facebook Messenger Instant Games

In case you missed the news, games are now included on the ever-growing list of Facebook Messenger features. There are a lot of them, too, with arcade classics such as Arkanoid and PAC-MAN joining newer titles like Bust-A-Move Blitz and Words with Friends: Frenzy. It's frankly an excellent idea that makes Messenger more attractive as a chatting platform, but it's not without some glaring flaws at this early stage.

Before we delve too far into what doesn't work, however, let's tackle the good. I have a group of friends I chat with regularly on Messenger, and being able to challenge them with Messenger's Instant Games has proven to be a lot of fun. Competing to beat one another's high scores has caught on in a big way among my friends, and these games offer a good diversion from the stresses of the daily grind.

Some of these games are actually really good, too. I haven't played all of them yet, but titles like EverWing and Endless Lake stand out against the arcade games of the 80s that will likely draw people in. EverWing is a grindy bullet hell style game while Endless Lake is a tricky endless runner, and both offer simple, addictive gameplay that pushes you to keep trying to top the leaderboard.

Adding in thread-specific leaderboards was a great idea as well. Each time someone moves up the leaderboard, it's posted to the Messenger thread, tempting others in the discussion to hop back into the game and try for a high score. Showing these leaderboards to everyone each time someone closes a game and submits a score keeps the competition between friends alive, which is definitely a positive.

Facebook has laid down a good foundation with Messenger's Instant Games, but the feature is still quite rough around the edges and lacking in some important areas. For instance, my friends and I were all pretty annoyed when we discovered that the Messenger versions of PAC-MAN and Arkanoid only offer a small part of the full game. For PAC-MAN, completing the first screen ends the game, whereas the first boss serves as the finish line for Arkanoid.

If Messenger Instant Games was launched with competition among friends in mind, then it's disappointing to see that the well-known titles arcade titles where high score is everything have had most of their content stripped. Even if these games were offered with all of their content, it wouldn't really matter, as you only get one life before the you see the words "game over" flashing in front of you.

I'm not sure what the thought process was behind that. Will more levels be added to these games as Messenger Instant Games matures? Has content been removed so we seek out other versions of the game to get a more complete experience? Whatever the reason, discovering these pared-back Messenger versions was a major let down.

There's also a rather enraging bug that seems to be affecting some of these Messenger games. Stability is a big issue here, as games will crash unexpectedly. Being a PC gamer, I don't have a problem dealing with the occasional crash, but the number of crashes here borders on the absurd, since some Messenger games fail when the leaderboard is posted to the chat.

Since that happens whenever someone moves up in the standings or exits the game and submits a score, it can cause a major headache when you're trying to play a game in a thread with a lot of people. This bug isn't present in all games, but we've noticed it in both EverWing and Arkanoid. Luckily, the bug seems to be limited to playing on PC, though the mobile versions do tend to lag whenever the leaderboard is updated.

I think that this is a good first step if Facebook wants to make itself a games platform on top of everything else, but it was clearly rolled out too soon. Some post-launch problems are to be expected, of course, but Facebook needs to improve Instant Games quickly if it hopes to stand a chance against the giant that is mobile gaming. Otherwise, it'll see the audience for Instant Games dry up quickly.