Facebook has launched a dedicated gaming app in a bid to capitalise on a surge in the number of people watching video streams.

The social media company initially planned a June release for its Facebook Gaming app but rushed its app to mobile stores sooner as people search for entertainment while isolation restrictions remain in place.

“The Facebook Gaming app is a focused, gaming-only experience where you can watch your favorite streamers, play instant games and take part in gaming groups,” the company said in a post.

In its first week, the app amassed over 5 million downloads on the Google Play Store.

The number of viewers on Facebook Gaming still looks low – especially compared to its biggest competitor, Twitch.tv – with top streamers sitting below 10,000 viewers while Twitch’s top talent regularly has upwards of 100,000 people watching.

For Facebook, a dedicated gaming app keeps people in its online ecosystem of messaging apps, marketplace, news, and social media posts.

But the app also captures focused attention, as Facebook’s VP of gaming, Vivek Sharma, told the New York Times.

“We don’t want to be the background window in a Chrome tab while someone is doing their homework or doing something else,” Sharma said.

“With mobile, if you have the app open and you’re using the app, it’s in the foreground. You can’t do anything else on your mobile phone, and that is extremely powerful.”

Facebook Gaming is currently only available for Android because Facebook announced its release before the app received Apple’s approval for iOS.

Big players in the game

Despite still posting low viewership, Facebook’s share in the video game streaming grew massively last year, gaining a massive 210 per cent more hours watched on the platform in December 2019 compared with 2018.

Twitch still commands the lion’s share of the streaming market, though, with more than 60 per cent of streaming hours viewed at the end of last year – though that number has been slowly shrinking as more major players enter the streaming game.

In the years since Amazon bought Twitch for nearly US$1 billion back in 2014, the major tech giants have followed their lead into the gaming market.

Google-owned YouTube made its own gaming app in 2015 and Microsoft acquired the Beam streaming platform in 2016 before renaming it Mixer a year later.

Along with their competing stream websites, the big tech companies have been jostling for talent in order to attract viewers and users to their services which appear to offer more or less the same thing: a place to watch and interact with other people playing video games.

Mixer went after two of Twitch’s biggest names last year, poaching Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek to stream games exclusively on the Microsoft platform for an undisclosed sum of money.

The pair now make up nearly one fifth of Mixer’s views.