In Asia, mobile messaging apps are a dominant means of game and app distribution. Now, one of their many American peers, Tango, is positioning itself to be a bit more like Facebook, at least within the Zynga game Words With Friends.

Tango already acts as a portal for a handful of games, a la those Asian apps. But through a new partnership with Zynga, it will be promoted within Words With Friends as a means of finding new people to play against. The company’s name and logo will appear just below Facebook toward the top of the “Start a Game” window, and above the other options like Smart Match or searching for a Words player’s username.

Game invites sent through the Tango menu option will arrive as native messages in the Tango app, VP of Advertising and Platform Richard Rabbat said. For users already inside Tango, finding and tapping on Words With Friends within Tango’s “Play” tab will open the normal Zynga app if it’s available on the same device, or the App Store if not.

This is interesting for a couple reasons. As my colleague Mike Isaac wrote when Tango raised a $280 million Series D last month:

All of these apps rest on a similar premise: Mobile messaging via a user’s smartphone contacts list is the next mechanism for discovering mobile content like apps — an alternative to the traditional App Store discovery models that Apple and Google pioneered. In essence, it is via word of mouth through friend networks that you’re likely to discover the next great app. That app then, in turn, becomes the venue for more social interactions with friends.

The problem is, no one mobile messaging app has come to dominate in the U.S. the way Line, WeChat and KakaoTalk monopolize users in Japan, China and South Korea, respectively. It’s still early days, but no company stateside has yet been able to step forward and say that it outperforms the built-in app stores on iOS and Android. By embedding itself directly into a popular game, Tango has an added poker chip in pulling games into its ecosystem.




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