Just the Beginning of the Boom
Ryan thinks that we're only in the early days of what Facebook can mean as a game platform -- "I think the cycle is 10, 12, 15 years," he says.
He also sees a huge breadth of content unexplored on the site. "When I look at this I almost get frustrated. I'm running up to my bosses, 'I may just leave to start a game company,' because I look at the landscape, from my point of view, and I'm like, 'Oh my God, there are so many options here that are not being touched.'"
Says Ryan, "When I look at my catalogue right now, realistically, my running joke is it's like the U.S. broadcast system 20 years ago.
"We had three channels. We have the farming channel, we have the city building channel, and we have the pet nurturing channel. I'm joking; it's more than that. If I look at other categories like fiction, or cable networks, there are 650 cable networks in the U.S. Most of them are incredibly profitable. They all address different audiences.
"Clearly there is room in every other media category to have lot of successful players," says Ryan, but the good news is that "we're starting to see a broadening out of the types of games that are available, as people understand that we have every type of audience."
Previously, Ryan worked at News Corporation. "I was with the book business and looking at Avon -- Avon is the romance group at News, owned by Harper Collins -- and there are seven genres of romance, all of them profitable, in the book business. We don't even have one romance game," he says. "If you look at any other more mature category, you have highly targeted, highly successful media offerings for them. We're just early."
He points to the developer Kixeye as a good example. "[CEO] Will [Harbin] is very blunt, and he's like, 'I make games for guys that are core guys, that on the weekend play Call of Duty, and during the week they play my games."
Still, says Ryan, there's room for more: "We're not even close on core right now." All the same, the company is not "walking away from Flash games and supporting those."
He points to Playdom's hidden object game Gardens of Time as a good example of a game that targets the casual Facebook audience in a surprising way. "These guys are killing it. Absolutely crushing it on DAU, monetization, engagement, virality, because they took what was formally a single player category and made it social."
Facebook is clearly taking off as a broader gaming platform, and his hope is that it will bring success to smaller developers with more targeted offerings. "I'm so excited to see the developer community starting to realize that, and that's my mantra is, 'Push something that you really, truly believe in,' and, as well, get better at monetization. You should be able to have a successful smaller game company on us."
The Challenge of Discoverability
Ask iOS developers what keeps them awake at night, and a large number of them will probably say that it's making the App Store's top 10 chart -- so anybody even knows their game exists.
Discoverability can be a problem on Facebook, too.
Says Ryan, "What we're looking at over the next six months -- and into the next year of course -- is really, how do we get better at surfacing high quality games for those people that want to play?"
He is confident of one thing: "If you make great games, you should be able to find an audience."
In his view, Facebook is "a distribution company, and we're there to provide lots and lots of users the types of games they want to play, and we just need to make sure the developers are making wholly different types of games, and making sure those games are surfacing."
Of course, he admits, "We can always do better about surfacing the right content to the right users, whether it's games, video, anything else. That's really, at the end of the day, our core focus, and there's a lot of improvement we can do there, and that's, I'd say, first and foremost. What that means is -- if we can do that in a way that high quality games of all types find audiences -- then we will be a better place for games to develop."
The reason Facebook wants to promote games properly is, says Ryan, "if your game reaches critical mass -- which is the key, whether it's 100,000 users or something like that, and you're profitable -- you will eventually pay us for more users at some point. It's worth your time to do so."
To that end, the team is "spending a huge amount of time" on improving recommendations, "making more intelligent usage" of user data, "and surfacing it in a way that is really valuable to the developer and to the user." Says Ryan, "there should be more to talk about that later this year."
Facebook sees itself as needing to maintain a "quality gate" for its users -- which is why viral spam was blocked. In response, "Hopefully, developers start to focus on the types of [news feed] stories that I think will be engaging and truly interesting."
Says Ryan, "What we look at is -- whether it's a game or not a game -- how does it send the story into the news feed that is interesting to your friends?"
He sees building these stories as "no different than when you build achievements for an Xbox game. You think a lot about them. You don't want the achievements to be meaningless. You want them to actually be something you're proud of that you put on your profile, that you message. That's where we are on this one."
And while he says that he hopes developers will buy ads, "if they don't", that's okay. "We have games in the top 25, where I don't think some of them have ever spent a dollar on ads. A lot of them have, just so we're clear.
"In general, that's not what we focus on. We're there to look at, 'How do they acquire users, how do we help them get them to come back, and how do we help to keep them engaged and introduce them to more friends?' Essentially that."
And while there have been a lot of requests for Facebook to branch out into curation -- it "comes up all the time", Ryan says -- he isn't so interested in it, despite Apple's success promoting games. "It's a very traditional approach. It's not generally our approach. Our approach first and foremost is about social, what are your friends doing. We can get better at that first.
"We have these much better automated systems" these days, says Ryan. The company's strategy "is less about the whole set of rules, and it's just saying, 'Make a great game, send stories you think are important, and we will do our best.' And that's what we're good at: distributing those types of stories to the right people."
Facebook simply doesn't have the manpower to check all of the stories that are being generated by its various apps and games. "What we're trying to move to as a company is not having constraints, and having it all done algorithmically on the backend."
And while the company doesn't market to consumers -- meaning it can't highlight games in TV commercials like Apple does -- it does have the Developer/Retailer Program, or DRP, to push interest in games.
It's a three-pronged approach: "We have Facebook cards in the big five retailers... About every six weeks we launch a co-marketing effort with them so that we promote the game through our marketing channels that we have on the site. [The developers], within the game, promote that if you go to Best Buy this month and buy a Facebook card, you will get a special item. So there are standing inserts in-store, or they put it in the circular, that type of stuff.
"We're starting to move down that path, where we work in conjunction to both drive sales of the card as well as drive installs of the game and drive overall awareness."