Tango built its video chat empire. Now it’s taking on the mobile gaming market

Tango is already one of the heavyweights of the over-the-top communications world, but now it has its sights set on being a key player in the mobile entertainment world. Tango is launching, of all things, a gaming network.

Tango isn’t going to develop games itself — though it has designed a few of those in the past. Rather, it wants to power social communications elements for the gaming industry, and it has already gained traction with one of the giants of the mobile entertainment space in Gameloft.

In the next week or so, Gameloft will launch a title called Candy Block Breaker for Tango, a game which uses the company’s communications platform as its social layer, Tango CTO and co-founder Eric Setton said. Tango is working with a dozen developers and publishers big and small, though the only other partner Setton would reveal was Australian game studio Bubble Gum Interactive.

tango-e1285864990268Tango launched as an video chat app in 2010 at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference, but in the last three years it has grown at an incredible pace, adding messaging and voice capabilities and signing up 120 million users. As Tango’s network grew, Tango began layering on content and social media elements, which became its primary revenue source. Among its popular features were a handful of social games users could play while chatting via text or voice, Setton said. The company is now hosting 20 million games sessions each month.

Social networks like Facebook(s fb) have evolved into communications networks, and Tango felt that street ran both ways. With a huge user base under its belt, the company could turn its underlying network into a platform for social gaming communication.

It has released an SDK that developers can use to integrate messaging, voice and video chat features into their social, multiplayer and networked games. Bigger shops like Gameloft will still host their own gaming sessions, overlaying Tango’s features on top, while smaller outfits can actually host their gaming sessions on Tango’s network, Setton said.

The idea is that anyone who is a Tango customer will be instantly available over the gaming network, and gamers can use their address books within game sessions just as they would use them in the Tango app. In addition, to communications services, Tango can provide basic gaming social layer features, such as point tracking, standings and leader boards. Tango will make its money through revenue share agreements.

Tango isn’t the first OTT provider to try this model. KakaoTalk and Line have pioneered the concept in Asia, though Tango will be the first tackle it in the West. “In my opinion this is going to the business model for the entire mobile industry,” Setton said.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to charge for communications services, so most OTT providers are forced to give their core messaging, voice and video chat features away for free, Setton said. The only way to make money is to use those networks as conduits for paid content.