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Giphy’s eyeball-melting ‘micro-games’ are kind of genius

In my original Giphy micro-game, “taunting kittay,” an angelic dog pelts a tennis ball at a maniacal cat against a rainbow-colored pulsating heart background. The overwhelming response from my coworkers was that it gave them a headache. Yessss, victory.

Giphy launched a new product called Giphy Arcade on Wednesday. Giphy Arcade is a web-based gaming platform, for mobile or desktop, where users can play and create 10-second, bright, retro-tastic games filled with stickers and sticker gifs from Giphy’s library. 

In Giphy Arcade, you can play games created by Giphy users (and brand partners), like “Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy,” in which you have to keep a giant shrimp aloft and safe from dancing left sharks. The music and bright, ugly graphics are a diabolically great mash-up of ’80s and ’90s arcade aesthetics with classic flash games and internet native meme culture.

Best of all, you can easily create games that live in Giphy Arcade, which you can share and send to your friends. You choose from a few game templates, and then customize them with stickers from Giphy’s searchable database. For example, my “taunting kittay” game is basically Brick Breaker, a game I used to play on my flip phone in high school. Now, in my Giphy Arcade version, the dog is the moving line, the tennis ball is, well, the ball, and those demon cats are the bricks. 

“We drew a lot of inspiration from classic 80’s and 90s games so that the mechanics would be very accessible, even for those who don’t necessarily consider themselves gamers,” Nick Santaniello, a Giphy senior product engineer, told Mashable over email.

Giphy's eyeball-melting 'micro-games' are kind of genius

Giphy Arcade is part of a larger trend in which firms you wouldn’t necessarily think of as “gaming” companies are adding short-form interactive games into their platforms. Snap incorporated Bitmoji games directly into the app and Tinder launched a 5-minute weekly interactive “TV show” called Swipe Night in which your choices affect your matches and Tinder profile. In addition to keeping users interested, gameplay is a valuable, active form of interaction for brands (and the advertisers they court) because it can potentially keep users more engaged than passive scrolling.

After six years in business and $150 million raised in venture capital, Giphy is beginning its march toward profitability. The company launched Arcade with Wendy’s and is considering more brand integrations down the road.

“Our immediate goal for GIPHY Arcade is to get the product to consumers and see how they interact with it,” Santaniello said. “As far as further monetization plans, it’s something we are exploring!”

The fact that the games are branded doesn’t make them less enjoyable. That’s probably because they’re so obviously sponsored in line with the post-ironic attitude of the whole experience. 

That has a lot to do with the simplicity of the games themselves, the warped nostalgia of the graphics and music, and the savvy players who can see branded content coming from a mile away (so why hide it)? Embracing the garishness — whether through flying hamburgers or clashing color schemes — is all part of the fun.

“We wanted it to evoke early 00’s web/flash games and deliberately designed it in way where it doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Santaniello said. 

Perhaps most important, though, is the speed and ease of the experience. The games are between 5 and 10 seconds, and if you don’t figure out how to play immediately, you can re-play until you do, or skip to the next one. In other words, the stakes are incredibly low. 

They’re playable on desktop or mobile (and didn’t even crash my janky iPhone 6), and are vertically oriented for a smartphone. Also, they’re funny.

Creating a game is also surprisingly easy, too. Giphy walks you through a couple steps that end with a game and custom link. First, you choose your game template, which Giphy illustrates through generic, moving shapes. 

Giphy's eyeball-melting 'micro-games' are kind of genius

Next, you customize the elements of the game — for example, your hero and your enemy. For this, Giphy serves up its searchable sticker library. Next you pick from several strobing backgrounds, and then you select an arcade theme song. Finally, you get to title your game, and, voila! That’s it.

Nineties aesthetics are having a moment. Older millennials are drawn to reliving childhood memories, while younger millennials and Gen Z-ers get to revel in the unpolished simplicity of scrunchies and Friends episodes. Giphy Arcade taps into both of those desires. 

The feature’s success will depend on whether it can go beyond a gimmick and become something real people enjoy and use regularly. Santaniello called Arcade a “natural next step” after GIFs, stickers, and animated emoji, saying “microgames allow us to add a challenging, interactive element to Stickers. This is why we made GIPHY Arcade both easily shareable and accessible, so they can quickly be added into any conversation.”

Most of all, encountering something actually fun on the internet is rare enough that Giphy Arcade at least deserves a chance.

What do you think of Giphy Arcade? Make your own game, share it with @Mashable on Twitter, and we’ll retweet you!

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