Chay Hunter

Chay is a wordsmith in the true sense of the word. He can make any topic interesting - even analytics! Follow Chay on Twitter here.

What’s the deal with iMessage games?

With iOS 10, developers are now creating games that are directly integrated with iMessage. This seamless, inherently social play style is viral by nature with built-in engagement and retention mechanics. If you’re not already building for the iMessage App Store, it’s a channel to watch.

In this post we’re going to start by outlining the technical setup for such a game. We’ll then explore how you can make the most of this relative new kid on the block, with comments from some thought-leaders to help answer the question: what makes a great game for iMessage? Click here to skip the technical part.

iMessage Apps ✉? Create, Design & Release a Successful iMessage Game! #imessage #app #gamedev Click To Tweet

How to create an iMessage game

iMessage Apps allow users to engage with your content without having to navigate outside of Messages. They can easily perform a range of actions, such as playing games, sending payments, and collaborating with friends within a custom interface that you design.

Download Xcode 8 and iOS 10

To get started building your iMessage application, you’ll need to download and install the latest versions of iOS and Xcode. Once you’ve completed this step, you’ll have all of the tools you need to build, test and submit your game to the App Store for iMessage.

xcode

The Messages Framework

Before starting your first Xcode project, you should research the Message Framework. This is a new framework introduced by Apple with iOS 10. It provides an interface between the Messages app and your iMessage application, which allows Messages find your app, launch it natively and provide your application with data.

imessages-framework

The Messages Framework is essentially the structure which gives Messages the context your application needs to layout its UI so that your players can interact with it. The framework is built upon existing App Extension technology. iMessage apps are therefore a form of app extension.

It’s worth noting that even if you do not provide a containing application and your app runs exclusively within Messages, you still need to provide an icon for the application. This icon is used throughout iOS, for example in the system settings to show your application size. We go into detail about preparing Apple conformant icons below, in the preparing your app for submission section.

Learn the iMessages API library

The new Messages Framework API includes a selection of classes that you will need to use to build your game or app for iMessage. We’ve outlined the main control classes below. For a comprehensive reference guide, we recommend that you review the documentation from Apple in detail here.

MSMessagesAppViewController

messages-controller

The MSMessagesAppViewController class acts as the principal view controller for Messages extensions. You’ll need to call this class to manage your extension.

MSConversation

messages-conversation

The MSConversation class represents a conversation in the Messages app. Use conversation objects to access information about the currently selected message or the conversation participants, or to send text, stickers, attachments, or message objects.

MSMessage

messages-bubble

Use the MSMessage class to create interactive message objects. To create a message that can be updated by the conversation’s participants, instantiate a message with a session using the init(session:) method. Otherwise, instantiate the message using the init() method.

MSSession

This is a sub-class of MSMessage, used to create and update your messages that are associated with an object.

Prepare your iMessage game for submission

Optimize your design and images

When creating an interactive experience for iMessage, it’s important that your app design fits well within the context of a Messages conversation. Apple outline how to create the best possible user interface for your app. Some of the take-away points are:

  • Make it intuitive and easy to navigate
  • Focus each iMessage extension to one purpose
  • Encourage back-and-forth participation
  • Design for the different Messages views

Apple also provide extensive resources to help you get started with your graphics. You can download design templates for app icons, home screen icons and typefaces on the Apple developer site.

Submit your iMessage game for review

Before submitting your game for review, you should thoroughly test it and make sure it adheres to the App Review Guidelines. Here are some of the key points that you should keep in mind to increase your chance of an accepted app submission:

  • Make sure your game content is family friendly
  • Only quality apps are accepted – don’t rush your submission
  • Don’t try to manipulate the review system
  • Don’t replicate another developer’s work

For more information about getting your game ready for submission, check out our article on App Store Optimization (ASO).

How to make a great iMessage game

Now that we’ve outlined the technical details, on to the more pressing matter: how to make a successful iMessage game. To begin, we’ve outlined what we consider to be the 4 essentials of a game built exclusively for the iMessage App Store.

1. Asynchronous play

In order to work, the play style of iMessage games must be asynchronous (or “turn-based”). Players cannot perform actions simultaneously. This is a fundamental concept of iMessage games. Read this article by GamaSutra for a detailed explanation of asynchronicity in game design.

board-rush

With this consideration in mind, you should create a game that’s able to withstand long pauses without the player losing interest. To improve flow between pauses, consider including a replay feature so that players can easily pick up where they left off and make sense of the their opponent’s actions.

2. Social

A game built directly into iMessage should have a strong social focus. Sure, this is somewhat of a given for an app built right into iMessage, but there are many ways that you can creatively leverage this environment to increase social interactions. And, ultimately, increased social interaction is the key to long term player retention.

galaxy-control

The game should encourage conversation between moves, which augment the gameplay and entice players back into your game. The best way to maximize this ‘social stickiness’ is to create a game which is either socially competitive or socially collaborative in nature.

3. Socially Competitive

If you take a look on the iMessage App Store, you’ll see that social competitive games are currently the most common genre available. If you’ve just started out creating a messenger game, a competitive-type is probably the way to go at first. With social competitive games you can create a simple, PVP experience that fits well into the format and asynchronous constraints of a Messenger App, helping you to build a better understanding of this new channel before creating more complex, collaborative games.

drive-ahead

Competitive games should always revolve around a balance of luck and skill. Usually skill is higher in competitive games because it creates a drama between the two players, as well as an ongoing ranking table. It’s very important that these games have a method of measuring rank. In essence, the competition will boil down to a leaderboard. Showing people moving up or down this leaderboard based on their in-game achievements is what drives competition. To enhance the competitive elements further, 1st prize should be rewarded, whereas losses should be punished.  This drives engagement in all aspects of the game to higher levels.

4. Socially Collaborative

Currently, there isn’t a huge amount of choice for social collaborative games on the iMessage App Store. We expect this to change pretty rapidly. Collaborative games have the greatest potential to engage groups of players, but they’re also the most complex games to build – often much more intricate than a competitive, turn-based PVP.

pou

In a collaborative environment its very important NOT to use a leaderboard or any form of score measurement. The better way to reward people is via any action to earn points to unlock more fun / features. When collaborating the aim is to encourage people to explore how working together can achieve even more interesting results. The sheer act of taking part in the game itself is the fun part, so continual rewards in every section of the game is key. A clear map of what actions or XP is required to unlock elements in the game will drive collaborative games to higher engagement levels.

3 Games exclusive to iMessage

GamePigeon

With its range of excellent PVP games, GamePigeon brings a new life to your iMessage. It includes well-known games like 8-Ball Pool, Connect4 and Battleships.

gamepigeon

Cobi Hoops

In Cobi Hoops, you’re given 30 seconds to score as many baskets as you can. You can then send your result to a friend for them to rise to your challenge.

cobi-hoops

Cobi Hoops is developed by Cobra Mobile. We reached out their CEO, Mark Ettle, with some questions about developing for iMessage:

Q: What makes a good messenger game?

Something quick, challenging and easy to pick up and play/learn in 5 seconds.

Q: What are the difficulties?

Apart from discoverability, the difficult part is making something that has the core game loop just right – but that applies to all games!

Q: How are you planning to innovate?

We are going to create more focused titles that really use the power of messages.

Q: Why you think it’s an exciting channel?

It’s exciting because it’s the small “single trick” games that will work really, really well. It’s the perfect PvP environment. We all like to challenge our friends, don’t we? Messages allow you to do that perfectly.

Q: Any other thoughts?

I think messenger games are going to be huge. iOS have got is so right and I’m interested to see how others will follow.

Let’s Hang

Play ‘Hang Man’ directly in iMessage with Let’s Hang. Just initiate a game within your conversation, write a word and start playing.

lets-hang

Why care about messenger games?

It’s a proven format

Hybrid messaging applications are tried and tested in the Asian markets, with Line Corp. (makers of LINE) and Tencent (makers of WeChat) leading in Japan and China respectively. If you’re wondering how successful the hybrid messaging model could be –  they’re both multi-billion dollar companies. As of the third quarter of 2016 LINE reported more than 220 million MAU, whilst WeChat broke the 700 million mark in Q1.

If you’re interested in player behaviour in Asia, check out one of our previous posts: Examining the in-game behaviour of players from China

An emerging games ecosystem

Clearly, tech giants in the West have taken note. Facebook has recently announced its Instant Games offering, which brings third party content to players directly within Facebook Messenger. Apple also seems to have followed suit and softened its stance on third party content with iOS 10. Prior to iOS 1o, the predominant method of distribution for third party content across the Apple ecosystem was through the rigid constraints of the App Store. No longer.

Mojiworks

Messenger gaming now appears to be gaining significant traction in the West. Most recently, UK-based mobile app startup Mojiworks has entered the space as the world’s first developer dedicated to producing games for Apple’s iMessage.

Mojiworks announced this formation at the 2016 Slush conference in Helsinki, stating that their mission is to turn iMessage into a social gaming platform. We reached out to Mojiworks CEO, Matthew Wiggins, to get his insight into the growing arena of iMessage games.

Q: What makes a good messenger game?

It’s early days so there is a lot to learn, but we are looking at mechanics that are inherently social and benefit the closer relationships that message groups tend to have. We also see support for short session times important.

Q: What are the difficulties?

With any new channel there is much to discover and learn (both for the platform holders and us – the publishers) to make sure that players are attracted.

Q: How are you planning to innovate?

On the creative side, we have some particular social gameplay models in mind that will bring new depth to playing with friends on mobile. On the business side, we see tons of potential in viral and word-of-mouth growth mechanics.

Q: Why you think it’s an exciting channel?

iMessage and Facebook Instant Games are young app platforms that are rapidly evolving and have no incumbent leaders. That makes them a great place for startups to step in and create new experiences for players to love that can result in significant business scale.

Q: Any other thoughts?

We’re building MojiWorks to be the leading developer and publisher of iMessage and chat platform games as we believe it’s as big an opportunity as the original App Store or FB app platforms were. It’s both a fascinating creative space to work in, and the market is open and welcoming of newcomers.

Final note

Clearly, iMessage games are not to be overlooked. The element of social interaction makes messenger games naturally ‘sticky’ for increased engagement and generally higher DAU. If you’re not already building an iMessage App, you should be.

Chay Hunter

Chay is a wordsmith in the true sense of the word. He can make any topic interesting - even analytics! Follow Chay on Twitter here.

Join a community of passionate game developers, who get our newsletter every week!

Sign up for a free surprise