In 2019, if a platform exists, it’s going to have games on it. They may not be videogames as you generally think of them—they’re small, social, ephemeral—but they are games, and they’re everywhere. The latest platform to join the fray? Giphy.
Launching today, the site’s Giphy Arcade is a way for users to create, share, and play teeny tiny games with their friends. Or enemies, I guess.
Traditionally, Giphy has been all about GIFs. It lets you find them, modify them, share them. If you’re an office worker on Slack, you’ve undoubtedly used the service to find the perfect randomly generated reaction GIF in conversations with coworkers. If you’re anyone else, you’ve probably scrolled through the platforms archives looking for Keanu Reeves’ animated face at least once. It’s a whole platform, an entire social website built out of the medium of tiny moving images. And now, like Netflix and Tinder, it has games.
The actual games of Giphy Arcade aren’t like traditional videogames; there are no epic quests. They’re “microgames,” says Giphy’s senior product engineer Nick Santaniello. “It’s a format that’s super-brief, 10 seconds to 30 seconds max,” he says. “They’re super quick, super familiar, with accessible mechanics, best played in rapid-fire succession.”
As an example, he booted up a game about a dinosaur. It’s also, inexplicably, about Mountain Dew. On a game space the size of a phone screen, there’s a glitchy, bizarre image of a dinosaur, into whose mouth you have to pour yellow-ish soda. Once he’s full of enough Dew to climb any mountain (or just belch on the couch for a while), the game is over. You’ve won. Giphy Arcade then prompts you to play another, or share it, or remix it.
What strikes me about this game, and the others Santaniello showed me, aside from how branded it is, is that it looks terrible. The assets don’t match. The background is ridiculous. It has a self-consciously unpolished feel. It is, well, a trash game, to co-opt a term from indie circles. A game built out of refuse, in this case interchangeable Giphy assets pulled from the platform’s own chat stickers. This, Santaniello says, is intentional. It serves two purposes: one, making the game assets out of the backgrounds and stickers Giphy already has available lets the players essentially create their own games using existing templates; two, it reinforces the glitchy look for which Giphy, and now Giphy Arcade, is known. These are, after all, ephemeral games, investments of 10 to 20 seconds max. They should look the part.
Approachability is a concern, too. Santaniello has some experience with traditional game development, both for corporate clients and as a personal hobby, and he says he deliberately wanted to steer his team to make something unlike mainstream gaming.