We don’t blame you if the name Facebook Gaming causes panicked flashbacks of family members poking you to water their virtual crops or friends begging you to spell words with them. Gaming’s presence on the social media juggernaut has historically had a more casual bent. However, Facebook Gaming is a video game live streaming service, a relatively more hardcore type of service where users broadcast themselves playing games and watch others doing the same. It’s a fine streaming option, anchored by an intuitive mobile broadcasting feature. But when it comes to rich features and a strong, financially viable sense of community, our Editors’ Choice Twitch is still the top pick.
Getting Started With Facebook Gaming
Breaking down what Facebook Gaming actually is can be a little tricky since that name applies to multiple different services with unique but overlapping features. There’s Facebook Gaming, the website you access from a desktop browser. There’s also the gaming section of the Facebook mobile app, which, like the Facebook Dating is just one section of the larger Facebook app. What I’m primarily focusing on, however, is the new standalone Facebook Gaming mobile app, though I’ll also discuss Facebook’s gaming strategy as a whole.
While you can watch streams and broadcast yourself from Facebook on desktop, the standalone Facebook Gaming app is currently only available on Android. An iOS version is in the works. If you can’t wait, at least the iOS version of Facebook’s existing general mobile app lets you view live gaming video. You just can’t broadcast. That already puts it on par with mobile viewing apps from Caffeine and Mixer. Twitch has broadcasting apps for Mac, PC, Android, iOS, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Mobcrush’s app is dedicated to mobile broadcasting.
You’ll need a Facebook account to create a Facebook Gaming profile. When you first start, the app asks what languages you speak and which games you’re interested in following. It also pulls from your existing gaming-related Facebook interests. While integrating Facebook into, say, your dating life may send shivers up your spine, here the cross-pollination is so low-stakes I appreciate the convenience. My account was already populated with games, game publications, game streamers, and other relevant pages I had liked so I could hop right in.
Despite its more intense, dark blue color scheme, Facebook Gaming behaves pretty similarly to regular Facebook. In fact, all the likes, polls, and comments you leave on posts carry over to their counterparts on Facebook proper. You only see posts about your favorite video games, not a mix of cute pets and bad political takes from people you sort of knew in high school.
At the top of your feed is the list of games and streamers you follow. Tapping the little ice cream cone-shaped icon on the bottom lets you explore other games and personalities to consider, with eye-catching images and an emphasis on live video. If you want to narrow your search, buttons at the top of your feed also break down suggestions on who/what to follow into different categories. You can search for groups such as the Fortnite or Minecraft communities. You can also see suggested games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and StarCraft. Finally, you can browse through recent video clip highlights and check out the streamer responsible.
I experienced no issues watching videos in 1080p at 60 frames per second. Only YouTube allows for serious 4K streaming. If you don’t want to see comments and reactions, turning your device to landscape orientation causes the video to take up the entire display.
Facebook Gaming sends you its own notifications, separate from Facebook, about activity from pages you follow. So don’t worry about missing out when your favorite streamers go live. Technically you don’t need Facebook Gaming if you just want to view gaming streams, but the standalone app is useful for filtering out the noise of Facebook’s entire experience.
Friends and Foes
One reason to buy a Twitch Prime subscription is the offer of free PC games. Facebook Gaming never costs anything (aside from your user data) but it also offers free games. They’re just the same casual games we’ve already been playing on Facebook for a decade. Still, it would be confusing for an app called Facebook Gaming to not let you easily play Facebook games. The social gaming features also help the app feel more substantial, even if the content isn’t original or exclusive.
Tap the controller icon to browse through Facebook’s games. You’ll see all the hits. Know Your Friends. Solitaire. Words With Friends. Uno. This is also a quick way to find new Facebook games. Did you know that the makers of the acclaimed mobile indie game Monument Valley just released a Facebook game? Neither did I. It’s a strategic climbing game called Go Go Bots and it looks pretty cute.
These games thrive off of social word of mouth, so this page also shows games your friends are playing. Tap the message icon and you can even invite friends into a game of your choice to play a round right in the app. However, it’s odd that you can only create tournaments in Facebook Gaming on desktop, since they’re treated like events. Also, Facebook Gaming doesn’t acknowledge the virtual reality games of its sibling company Oculus.
Facebook Gaming Broadcasting
Facebook Gaming’s mobile broadcasting functionality is its best unique selling point. You can stream live video from regular Facebook, which is how we here at PCMag have brought you many fine live shows over the years, but the software (OBS, Streamlabs, Xsplit) and process is messy for non-professionals. Facebook Gaming is much smoother. All you need is your mobile device.
After giving the app the necessary permissions, simply add any games on your phone you would like to stream to a list. Then press the camera icon in the bottom-right and launch a game, in my case the excellent kids’ game Crossy Road. Major, streaming-friendly games are available on Android, including Fortnite, which arguably still the biggest game of the moment.
A tiny Facebook icon will now appear at the top of the game. Press it change camera and microphone settings as well as write a description of your stream. Finally, press the Go Live button to start your stream, seeing your own selfie in the corner if you choose, and stop it whenever you want. Your stream and its archive instantly appear on whatever Facebook account you’ve linked to the app, whether it’s your private personal page or your public page with a massive fan following.
If you’re a serious broadcaster, deciding which live streaming platform to use isn’t just about the ease of streaming itself. It’s also about how easy it is to grow and maintain a community that provides real financial support. As someone in the media industry, I’ve already seen how badly one can get burned by seductive Facebook video promises. What I’ve seen from Facebook Gaming hasn’t reduced my skepticism.
Just as Mixer poached Ninja from Twitch, Facebook has attempted to score big streaming stars of its own. One of my favorite pro Super Smash Bros. players, Gonzalo “Zero” Barrios, primarily streams on Facebook Gaming. If your page is popular enough, you can apply to become a Facebook Gaming partner yourself through the Level Up program. Perks include the ability to stream in 1080p at 60fps instead of 720p at 30 fps, custom Facebook support, and access to beta features.
The real reason to become a partner, though, is to earn money. There’s no premium version of Facebook Gaming. The only thing viewers spend money on is stars to give to broadcasters during a live stream, along with optional emojis and GIFs. Broadcasters who earn enough stars get paid.
It’s cool that Facebook Gaming allows viewers to support talent like this, but Twitch’s mature, established ecosystem just seems like a safer bet for fostering a healthy following. Facebook suggests best practices for creators, but major monetization features are still missing. The company says that eventually fans will be able subscribe to broadcasters for $5 per month, but that’s not in the app yet. Broadcasters also can’t turn on ads yet, which is great for your viewers but bad for your bottom line.
More Than Just FarmVille
The idea that there’s a meaningful distinction between casual and hardcore gaming is at best a myth and at worst a harmful form of gatekeeping. So it really shouldn’t surprise you that Facebook Gaming can be a one-stop shop for both throwaway social games and live streams for the most hyped battle royale shooters of the moment. The easy mobile broadcasting lets anyone with an Android device get in on the action.
However, using Facebook Gaming feels like using a more niche version of Facebook rather than a major service in its own right. It’s an adequate way to broadcast your gaming sessions and watch others do the same. But for viewers and especially for streamers, our Editors’ Choice Twitch offers a far more robust portal into the world of video game live streaming.
Facebook Gaming Specs
|Mobile Streaming||Mobile Broadcasting, Mobile Viewing|