In case you missed it, Kik opened its bot platform to developers just a few weeks ago. Kik has been pushing bots internally quite a lot in the past few years, but making the platform public takes it to a whole new level: anyone can now develop a bot for Kik and publish it on the Bot Shop, which is accessible to all Kik users. All you have to do is go to the new dev.kik.com, scan a Kik code, and let the magic happen.
I have been working for the bots team for more than a year now, and making this platform public is extremely exciting and scary at the same time. Why? I believe that bots are a game changer.
So what is a "bot" exactly? For many people, the only bots they know are either spam bots trying to steal your credit card information, or smart AIs like Siri and Cortana that can do anything for you – or at least that's what they pretend to do.
Bots at Kik take a radically different approach. We obviously don't want spam bots, but we are not going for the smart bots either. Actually, bots on Kik are pretty dumb, and that’s okay. Being dumb is also what makes them powerful: they are good at serving a specific purpose.
For instance, let's take a look at The Weather Channel’s Kik bot (@weather). All this bot can do is give you the current weather, this week's forecast, and send you the forecast every morning. And you know what? That is more than enough. If you have Kik already installed on your phone, you don't need to install a new app and have a new icon on your homescreen. You will get the weather from an app you're already familiar with.
There are already quite a few nice bots in the Bot Shop, so I'd suggest trying a few of them to understand what it's all about.
So, how does this all relate to games?
In 2013, Kik released its Cards platform. Anyone could then create webpages that took advantage of Kik's APIs and create compelling experiences for Kik users. This was a seeming gold rush for all HTML5 developers. Many developers – including me – quickly implemented Kik’s APIs to make their game visible to more than 100 million users.
It quickly became problematic when people published games that were just games. Few developers actually took advantage of the APIs, and, even worse, some game portals published all their content on Kik, too, resulting in hundreds of poor games that were not adapted for Kik at all. This was a bad experience for users, because the quality wasn't too high, but also a bad experience for developers, because their games would get lost among all those other games.
As a game developer, when I discovered that the sidebar was removed from Kik, and therefore access to cards was made a lot more complicated, I was disappointed. I had this huge userbase that used to have easy, instant access to my games, and now they had to perform at least four clicks to find them. Needless to say, traffic to my games from Kik dropped.
This leads me to why I think the bots platform is a game changer.
Making bots the main focus – if not the only focus – for game developers makes Kik viable for game developers again. More than ever, we can create compelling experiences for users. The difference is that now, it is going to start from a conversation screen.
What’s exciting is that this is a whole new paradigm. What makes a good game bot? We aren't able to answer that yet. It is up to game developers to try new things, and see what works best.
HTML5 game developers should be excited about Kik again, because they can create bots that send links to their games, and have their game interact back with the bot. There are plenty of new options to be explored.
What's more, making the experience start from the chat conversation should help with retention. You are not taking the users away from the context of conversation they expect.
For all these reasons, I believe Kik just became a great platform for game developers again. I am not saying that as a developer at Kik, but as a developer who created games within chat bots that proved to be successful. Check out @zurvival or @space.bot if you're interested.