TikTok isn’t launching a games tab – but it is doubling down on discovery


First things first, then: as we discovered this week, TikTok is now trialling real, playable games in the UK.

So is it about to launch a dedicated games tab, as reports suggest?

TikTok’s head of global gaming Assaf Sagy sets the record straight:

“The clear answer that we’re not,” he tells us. “We’re not planning to become a gaming platform, at least not for now, because if you look at TikTok it’s a place where there are so many content verticals and micro communities that it would almost be limiting to just take a lot of time from people and dedicate it only to gaming.”

“If you go to a long form experience it’s possible, but it’s very different from your day-to-day interaction. However – games are a great way for people to engage with content or with a product in a deeper way.”

As we talk to global gaming boss Assaf Sagy and business marketing lead Rema Vasan at TikTok’s London HQ, it’s clear that yes, TikTok really means business in games. But becoming a platform holder like Apple or Google is not really the point.

Playable TikTok games are being tested in the UK, we revealed this week. But a dedicated games tab is not happening right now, says Sagy.

Instead Sagy sees in-feed, playable games as a possible part of TikTok’s ‘live’ strategy, which today is mostly streamed, creator-hosted shopping – a popular pastime in China. “It’s part of that same family – how do we give consumers the ability to go deeper with a product, a vertical, a creator?” Sagy continues. “So in that sense, a gaming company is a creator even if the content is a mini-game.”

For mobile game makers – and particularly marketers – TikTok has come along at just the right time. Ad targeting is harder than ever and game discovery through the storefronts is practically dead. So there’s desperate need for a new discovery platform, and TikTok seems to be it. Naturally, Sagy agrees.

“Anything that is going to enhance privacy, we welcome and we think is great,” he says on ATT. “There is a greater need by marketers at the top of the funnel. The funnel could be taking a game and making it accessible for a billion people, creating content that is relevant, letting the community innovate. Also mini-games are a mid-funnel mechanism to engage with a game and give exposure to a game or a publisher for people to become more familiar with it.”

TikTok ran a livestream in November 2022 designed to get partners on board, featuring the likes of EA, 2K, Playtika, NetEase and Homa.

Sagy says you can’t just buy your way to success on TikTok, though. “When we work with companies on running UA or advertising, the idea is that the gaming company should work holistically – not only doing acquisition but doing organic. It could be paid, it could be not paid,” says Sagy.

“Think about the 100s of billions of views every month within TikTok. Some of those people go and search within the app store for the game, but other people need to finish that interaction with an ad to remind them that this is a game and they can go and consume it.”

“So when they do see the ad you need to be sure it’s compelling. That’s what we’re working on with publishers, to make this a fun experience rather than a selling experience.”

The Stumble Guys team’s early adoption of TikTok helped the game blow up, says Sagy.

Sagy cites Stumble Guys as a good example of a developer using TikTok to get discovered. “They [Kitka Games] were active on TikTok before we formed the global gaming organisation six months ago,” he tells us. “There was cooperation with them to the degree that our content team noticed what they’re doing and I think at some point they got verified, which sends a signal to the community that this is a legitimate channel.”

“Fast forward that and you saw what they did,” Sagy continues. “And you could speak with, for example, Saad [Choudri] the CEO of Miniclip about why Subway Surfers is successful or the Scopely folks on why they bought [Stumble Guys from] Kitka…what companies are trying to do right now is to create a trend really quickly, not only within their channel – the channel is like the vertical – the horizontal view is the hashtag. That’s the really interesting part.”

Like Stumble Guys, Free Fire has dynamic, dramatic play patterns ideal for clipping up as TikToks.

Sagy whips out his phone and looks up the number of views of the Stumble Guys hashtag: it’s 40 billion. “If you’re looking at the gaming company that I think drove most impact on TikTok it is actually Garena with Free Fire,” he adds.

Stumble Guys and Free Fire might be very different tonally but you can see why they work so well on TikTok – they are multiplayer games with competition, unpredictability and drama built into the play, ideal fodder for clipping up moments and sharing them.

For different kinds of games, there are other ways to do it. Sagy’s partner in crime and business marketing lead Rema Vasan stresses that mobile game marketers can get the best from TikTok by thinking outside of simple gameplay clips.

Dumb Ways to Die went viral because of a meme-able TikTok format, not simple gameplay footage.

“Really think about what is the culture of the game that you’re looking to create, what are the communities you want this game to be a part of,” she says. “And what’s the entertainment content – not just traditional gameplay – that’s going to bring the game to life in the most unexpected ways.”

Dumb Ways To Die is a decent example of this. It’s a game, sure, but the TikToks that layer the game’s tune and title over footage of people doing dumb stuff has nothing to do with the actual gameplay. It didn’t matter: the game shot to number one off the back of the trend anyway.

“It’s really less about ‘going viral’ and much more about creating content that’s truly engaging, because once you have that out there, the community takes it on and it creates a life of its own,” adds Vasan.

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