China’s Tencent Launches Game on Facebook, for Market Research… for Now

Tencent is a giant social networking, instant messaging and gaming conglomerate in China, and it has just launched a real-time casual game on Facebook, called Treasure Hunter. The title itself is familiar, as Tencent launched it as a download game last year in conjunction with AOL’s AIM instant message service. But what Tencent is doing here is very interesting.

I spoke with Leon Kitain and Brad Bao today, managers at Tencent’s Bay Area satellite office, and they explained what’s really going on here. First of all, Tencent wants to study the dynamics of gaming on Facebook to see what they can do to build on their own games in China. Treasure Hunter is a “market research project” because, as they noted, you can only learn so much from reading about what other people are doing on the platform.

Tencent offers a broad range of game-like features, such as clothing for user avatars. But its particular interest in Facebook also has to do with synchronous casual games, where you play against other people in real-time. This focus is distinct from many social games, as those often revolve around decorating virtual pets or incrementally farming virtual crops. There haven’t been that many big synchronous games on Facebook, as Bao and Kitain point out; perhaps the best example is Zynga’s Texas Hold ’em Poker.

The Chinese company has serious experience building real-time games. The overall site has more than 80 million peak concurrent users (PCU), and its gaming service, QQ Games, has more than 6 million.

This means that, beyond doing market research, Tencent is testing Facebook to see how the market might be for casual, real-time style games. If Treasure Hunter gets traction, the company might consider taking other existing casual games, like the ones it offers with AOL, and launch them on Facebook. It also might look at offering its synchronous gaming technology to Flash game developers, to help them build robust games of their own.