I can remember attending GDC China in 2009 and one of the keynote speakers stating earnestly that "mobile games were a waste of time because they didn't monetize" - that the real opportunity was to build social games on Facebook which could leverage a user's social graph. The speaker was of course completely wrong about mobile games - Tencent made 3.4 billion USD in the first quarter of 2018 alone from their mobile titles.
But most predictions come true, like a stopped clock, if you wait long enough, so perhaps the speaker would be cheered by the launch ten years later of WeChat mini games, Tencent's attempt to combine their social and gaming expertise with a casual game platform.
Just like mini-programs, Tencent believes that by encouraging developers to create simple experiences that work well within WeChat, they can provide a better experience for users in China than either native apps/games, or web-based apps/games. Because the games are hosted by Tencent, and must be approved by them, they can ensure both speed and quality. The games have already been played by half a billion users.
The most popular mini games so far such as Tencent's "Jump Jump" (跳一跳) enable social features like leaderboards which use people's existing friends graphs in order to encourage people to beat their friends' high scores.
Tencent has already been encouraging partnerships with the likes of Nike and McDonalds to further promote mini games.
It's still very early days for mini games. Just like with any new gaming platform, it's common to port over tried-and-tested game ideas. From 2008-2012 ReignDesign developed a series of games for the then-novel platforms of iOS and Android. These included the casual side-runner Pig Rush, puzzle game Flockwork and various versions of Spot the Difference. We stopped developing our own games in 2013 after it because clear that it was becoming too tough for indie studios to compete with the success of free-to-play games from larger studios.
Fast forward to 2018 and we thought the best way to get a better understanding of WeChat mini games would be to port one of our old apps to make a WeChat mini game. In this upcoming series of articles, we'll be exploring the process of building a mini game, from choosing a game mechanic, understanding the technical requirements for a WeChat game, integrating with social features, to the opportunities for brands who want to use WeChat mini games to promote a campaign.