Launching a messaging app must often feel like a hopeless task. Between WhatsApp, iMessage, and Facebook Messenger, the major tech giants pretty much have most users covered. Snapchat offered something different, and has thus managed to survive against fierce competition from Zuckerberg and Co., but unless startups can build a genuinely unique proposition then they'll be fighting an uphill battle from the start.
This is a problem messaging app startup Tribe found. Launched in 2015, Tribe positioned itself as a video messaging app to compete with the likes of Snapchat, but failed to pull in the necessary audience to worry the major players. Years later, thanks to $3 million in funding and an entirely reconsidered USP, Tribe is back for a second attempt at persuading people to pivot away from their established messaging apps. To find its new angle, Tribe looked at growing trends in mobile and saw that gaming is reaching yet new heights of popularity. The Apple App store added a gaming tab, celebrities are live streaming themselves playing games, and the likes of Pokémon Go showed the potential that emerging technology has to capture the imagination.
“As we all know, Messaging is a super-crowded area,” Tribe co-founder Cyril Paglino told TechCrunch. “If you look closely, very few communication products have been blowing up in the past three years.” Tribe's new "social Gameboy" combines video messaging with gaming, a kind of group FaceTime in a virtual arcade. Tribe has incorporated its own versions of popular games like Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, and Space Invaders, all designed to be played between multiple people. This tells you everything you need to know about Tribe's motivation for creating what it has - it's combined the group chat element of an app like Houseparty with games that have had astronomical success alongside mobile's growth.
Tribe isn't quite a messaging app, and it isn't quite a social media. It's an interesting proposition that marries two booming trends - the move towards direct messaging over posting to a timeline, and the seemingly unstoppable growth of mobile gaming. Whether Tribe can convince users that communal gaming is enough of a draw away from other apps that offer group video chat remains to be seen, along with whether or not group video chat is to become a functional tool or a social one. Do users just want a more fun way of organizing things in groups, or is there an appetite for communal arcade gaming on mobile?
Tribe's uniqueness is both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. Yes, Facebook Messenger offers games, but they're largely solo games where users compare scores, and they don't have the same social feel of Tribe's arcade-style group games. This could quite easily change, though. Facebook has the resources to copycat (and, often, improve on) the features of plucky startups, and with the exception of Snapchat there are very few that survive the competition. One of Tribe's biggest challenges will be getting users onto a platform that, by definition, will have very few of their friends already on it, a problem Facebook or Snapchat conquered years ago. There's every chance that Tribe could end up as the next on a long list of startups either eradicated or enveloped by a larger, more established brand.
Even so, $6.5 million in funding to date suggests that investors think Tribe has legs, and it's testament to the clever identification and merging of two rising trends. Mobile internet usage is continuing to outstrip that of desktop, and the disparity is overwhelming for messaging services. The mobile games industry is similarly bustling, with Statista reporting a market size in 2017 of $40.6 billion. Free games like Pokémon Go and HQ Trivia have shown the global potential of mobile gaming if the proposition is unique and valuable enough to users, and if Tribe can secure even a slither of that pie then it could be a success. Making apps stick is difficult, particularly when they have some of the most powerful direct competition in the world. With solid funding and a fairly novel USP, though, it will be interesting to see how Tribe develops.
Hear more from industry-leading digital experts about how to build a brand capable of competing in today's landscape, at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit this September 17 - 18 in Sydney.