Snapchat’s popularity is unquestionable. The app let people communicate through video, text and images that disappear after the recipient has read them. The service has since evolved from its private conversations to include “Stories” that has been aped by nearly all of Facebook’s services out there, not to mention the many other publishers and brands that have made it their bread and butter.
The company’s AR lineage
Stories aside, these guys are also known for driving unique user interactions on smartphones with virtual customisable stickers that can placed on photos. They also dabble in Augmented Reality (AR), allowing users to use 3D objects in images and video.
Last year, the company rolled out Lens Studio to developers. Lens Studio is an AR developer tool that helps people build unique AR experiences that place 3D objects in your photos or videos.
Snap Inc., the company behind Snapchat told Techcrunch during an interview at launch that “There’s something magical about coming back every day and finding that there’s a new experience”.
Magical indeed, Snap said that they saw one-third of its large user-base show huge interest in Lenses, a collection of AR apps built on the premise of letting users see 3D objects collide with real ones using the smartphone camera. The company said that they saw engagement for nearly three minutes every day per user. That’s 500 years of playtime, achieved on the back of a mere 3,000 Lenses that Snap made.
Lens Studio allowed anyone to test and create AR content for the app by downloading a simple desktop tool for Windows and Mac. People could create static or animated objects, floating picture frames and 3D objects that react to taps or even glances and motion.
These community-built lenses would then be verified by Snapchat and be assigned a unique Snapcode. These codes were then free to be distributed and promoted for a period of one year. If you paid for it, then these could also show up in the app’s camera or discover sections.
In April of this year, Snap Inc. released what it calls “Snappables” AR games that used facial expressions and motions to let you compete with friends for high-scores in head-to-head multiplayer matches. Snappables was rolled out as part of lenses.
Shortly before they released Snappables, the company acquired a British start-up named PlayCanvas. Play canvas is a virtual reality startup that had built an open-source engine capable of running VR on Facebook and web browsers. The engine has been used by the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon.
Snap’s AR Gaming platform
Last year, Chinese conglomerate Tencent bought a 12% stake in the company, saying that it believes that Snapchat could be a mobile gaming destination in the future. Tencent also said that the move was an investment and that it would be a strategic partner, helping Snap identify new areas of growth.
As per a email statement sent by Tencent to gamesindustry.biz, “The investment enables Tencent to explore cooperation opportunities with the company on mobile games publishing and news feed as well as to share its financial returns from the growth of its businesses and monetisation in the future”.
Clearly they see a future that spells AR-enabled gaming, going by how Snap has since rolled out both Lens Studio and Snappables. According to a report by The Information, Snap Inc has already signed deals with various game publishers to get them on its new gaming platform, due out later this year.
Snap Inc.’s CEO Evan Spiegel reportedly also expressed his admiration for Tencent’s business models that allow them to monetise games via in-app purchases.
Snap Inc.’s financials haven’t been so hot lately. They have had trouble monetising the platform to earn revenue. According to a recent report by Bloomberg, shares in Snap Inc. are in the doldrums. In a freefall, Snap shares dropped more than 8.1% and analysts have cut their expectations. This comes after a sharp freefall earlier in the year too, which saw Snap take a beating at the stock exchange with valuations falling by as much as 20%. Snap’s stock missed many revenue estimates and targets for daily active users.
During this time of chaos, AR gaming apps may just be what the company needs to pick itself back up. Let’s just hope it gets there before Apple, Google or Facebook.