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Facebook's Beard: Gaming Is 'Leading The Way' Toward the Social Future
Facebook's Beard: Gaming Is 'Leading The Way' Toward the Social Future
August 29, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

August 29, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

In this interview, Facebook's director of platform partnerships tells Gamasutra's Christian Nutt that "gaming, we think, is leading the way" in the social makeover of media and content.

Beard oversees the company's developer partnerships across all of its apps; he's the boss of Sean Ryan, its director of games partnerships, who focuses specifically on games.

Beard spoke to Gamasutra at the launch event for EA/Playfish's The Sims Social earlier this month in San Francisco.

"You know, in many ways, gaming, we think, is leading the way. It's going to transform lots and lots of industries and experiences by making them social at the core," Beard told Gamasutra.

Reflecting on the progress EA has made in social games since it acquired Playfish in late 2009, Beard suggested that Facebook still has a lot of room to evolve as a games platform.

"I think it's still early days. I think there's a lot more that we're going to see. The space is moving quickly. We're definitely not at an end game," he said.

"What's going with mobile is completely different. In two years, the type of games we're playing on a mobile phone is going to look really different from what we're playing today," said Beard.

He also pointed out that "we find that users that use us on mobile are more engaged than users who only use us on the PC."

However, how social games can be implemented effectively on mobile platforms is still evolving, as Sean Ryan alluded to in a recent interview where he spoke about the company's attitude toward native mobile apps and HTML5.

People don't necessarily think of Facebook as a platform in the right way, Beard suggested. "There's the Canvas platform where people are putting games, but in many ways, the platform at its core is like an identity and communications platform that can span across multiple devices. So, it works great on a PC. It works great on mobile phones, iPhone, and Android."

This can have profound implications for games that are not "Facebook games" in the way that term is usually used, he suggested. The future is wide open: "You can play games on PlayStation and Xbox that are social and have the social graph at the core of them. We're still at a very early stage. Titles that tie together all those experiences. Distribution that you can get on all these different experiences. And truly rich social gaming that isn't just setting a title on a Facebook Canvas space."

The company's primary concern is how it can enable and encourage developers to leverage the social graph at the core of the site, with its 750 million-plus users, and not just how it can get developers to put games on the web version of Facebook.

"That's what we're constantly thinking about, Facebook as a platform that is the graph, and having users tap into that and have experiences with their friends. We feel like we're just scratching the surface, and it's really going to transform."

He said that though Facebook is a "small company" with "small teams", the social network does encourage its developers to think through new ways to evolve their uses of social mechanics.

"A lot of the true innovation and genius is happening within our gaming partners. We certainly encourage it and listen to them to make sure that what we build works for that, but I definitely think the like kind of cross-platform coordination and cross-platform platform is a really exciting area. We think we're going to see a lot of interesting innovation take place," said Beard.

"I think games like Sims push things much further in that direction," he said.

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hanno hinkelbein
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I don't know. It doesn't sound groundbreaking now does it? Just about every platform says there is still so much more possibilities.

I do think there is, but if the social games market can learn one thing from retail it

is that too many similar products destroy the market.

From what i have seen so far, there has not been any big innovations on the social games market since cityville. The sims make no exception there - it is the same old short reward loop that the genre is known for and does not really bring on anything new.

I do think social games can be a great market in the future, but at the moment it is still bubbling up and if developers fail to invent new genres within the platform the bubble will burst eventually

Dean Boytor
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I dunno About this, I think any MMO has accomplished this already. I've played a few Facebook apps, Dragon age and Maple story adventures to name a few. They all seem to have the same mechanic, Energy to "do Stuff". You get X amount energy of few minutes or you can pay real money to speed the process of energy gain.

All in all, they all seem to lack the social part of it. Your so called friends are just there as NPCs or just for certain job/adventure requirements. I really don't see this going very far, who will play these games once they leave or loose interest in facebook?

John Woodruff
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Agreed, and we can credit China, Korea, and countries in that part of the world for those features in games as a way to limit abuse. As hard as it is to fathom, stories of abuse and excessive play are more extreme in Asia than they are in North America. It was a few years ago that a counterstrike player died over there (IIRC, malnutrition in a cyber cafe), and only a few months ago that a gamer in north america died from deep vein thrombosis. Either China or Korea has laws limiting the amount of time people can spend in internet cafes. I think NA can learn from China and Korea as far as how gaming impacts the gamers - they're encountering the problems sooner... probably 3-5 years before NA does.

As for the lack of the *social* part of it, it really bothers me how much most of them stress having in-game "friends-with-benefits." It totally cheapens the idea of a social network, imo. I don't want to pester my RL friends to play, and would MUCH prefer not needing to either A) pay money to sidestep that or B) add total strangers to a list of *friends* who can see what my life is like just so I can keep up. My personal compromise is that I add them to a *very* restrictive limited profile list on facebook. I just don't like the idea of adding first and then finding out about them (if you even interact with them).

Galaxy Online is a little different from other games, in that it can really take advantage of the social network capabilities to coordinate with teammates. But then, it's also more MMO like (competitive, persistent world) than other games. The pay-for-advantage system really irks me in that game, but that's another story...

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Was there a plan in any of that EA hype about social to bring really good developed games to the arena over the time-wasters currently crowding the space? If its about getting money over delivering a good gaming experience then the nostalgia about this being a new shiny thing will wear of quickly. It's just that every time companies like EA use the word social game in a sentence, the sound of crappy time wasting money sucking games can be heard in the distance.

Joe McGinn
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People have been talking about bringing good, real gameplay to Facebook for at least a year. Haven't seen anything different. Very rare exceptions of games with play value (Sims, some PopCap stuff) but mostly it's still Cow Clicker with fancier graphics.

Harsh Singh
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In a way I will agree with Christian Nutt. Considering there are over 750 million-plus users and it is just the starting of social games era, I would say there are many things still to come. We have to understand first to whom we are targeting our game. Social platform are not meant for hardcore gamer who would prefer MMO. I believe social games are for Casual gamers who can play the games without any complexity. Few month before I was speaking to one of my friend who is a Game Producer, he stated that his company and all other social game company are currently running a labour factory where they are just using same old social game mechanics (which Dean Boytor is talking about) and it will remain a factory until and unless developers come up with something out of box. I believe social gaming still have many things to offer. Platform like Google+ who are trying to give tough competition to facebook surely would be look at something new in social gaming to break the barrier.

Dean Boytor
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If Google+ were able to have great games to offer it may clench their position in the social web race.

I agree that casual gamers tend to shy away from MMO's but someone needs to swoop in and develop something with all the great social aspects of an MMO with out the complexities.