Once the No. 1 social app in the US, Houseparty is quietly disappearing into the annals of internet history. Its owner, Fortnite developer Epic Games, is shutting down the app in October and has already pulled it from the App Store, leaving some of its users heartbroken.
Younger generations in particular gravitated toward Houseparty for its unique features, like the ability to drop into video chats at random, in-app games like trivia and Uno, and its integration with Snapchat. When Epic Games bought Houseparty for $35 million in 2019, it integrated the app with Fortnite. To get a sense of what Houseparty users think about the shutdown we reached out to them via email.
Elisabeth Tropper, a high school senior from Austria, first discovered Houseparty shortly after its launch in 2016, but didn’t use it much until the pandemic began. Tropper redownloaded the app as a way to connect with classmates and friends, and now uses it on a daily basis.
“My friends and I, from all across Europe, obviously couldn’t come together in real life ‘cause of Covid and the fact that we live hundreds of kilometres away,” she said. “Therefore, we searched for an app that was easy to handle, similar to FacetTime but for free and manages to build an intenser bond between us.”
Houseparty joined the likes of Zoom and Robinhood as one of the go-to apps to stave off the lockdown blues. Chances are, if you’re under the age of 40, someone invited you to a Houseparty session at some point in those first few months. That reputation is reflected in the company’s staggering surge in new users: Houseparty reported 50 million downloads in a single month in April 2020 after comparatively slower growth for three years. Epic hasn’t released user numbers for the app, but said in a company statement on the shutdown that “Tens of millions of people around the world have used Houseparty to connect with their friends and family.”
Another daily user, Andrea Mudd, uses the app to chat with her 7-year-old niece, who loves Houseparty’s games.
“It quickly becomes a challenge to entertain a 7 year old on video chat lol,” Mudd said. “Having the variety of games to be able to play with her keeps us both coming back and able to stay connected for longer and more often without it getting boring.”
Other die-hard fans, like Claude Miles, describe Houseparty as a “support group” for those struggling with life after Covid or who simply don’t have IRL friends in their area. Miles and his friends, who live across the country, sign on to Houseparty daily, dropping in and out of the chat throughout the day. That feature, he says, is what makes the app essential.
“This app was keeping a lot of us connected and helping us fight pandemic depression,” Miles said. “Now it is the source of more bad feelings. It’s really terrifying.”
When Miles’ cat died suddenly in July, his Houseparty crew served as a shoulder to cry on. After testing a few other video chat apps, the group still hasn’t found a suitable replacement. Miles says it’s because other platforms don’t allow for the spontaneity that Houseparty does. He even considered filing a class action lawsuit against Epic for the “senseless loss of Houseparty.”
“I honestly had hoped for an OnlyFans style turn around from Epic on this but I know mental health and community is no match for corporate greed,” he added, referring to the recent announcement that OnlyFans would no longer host pornographic content, which the company reversed days later after public outcry.
Although Houseparty is weeks away from being gone for good, Epic may have another product in the works. In the company’s statement announcing the app’s demise, it alluded to a possible future project involving tech’s favorite buzzword of the day, the metaverse.
“We do not take the decision to discontinue the app lightly,” the company said in a statement. “The team behind Houseparty is working on creating new ways to have meaningful and authentic social interactions at metaverse scale across the Epic Games family.”
“We plan on staying on it as long as possible,” Miles added. “We want to be there when they turn out the lights. When it happens go outside and listen for the screams. I’ll be the anguished lonely howl screeched from the ashes of a broken heart. You won’t be able to miss it.”