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The Man Every Facebook Developer Wants To Know
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The Man Every Facebook Developer Wants To Know

July 27, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

How Facebook Communicates With Developers

Describing the current state of his team's communications with the development community as a "one to many program", Ryan discussed dinner meetings and presentations he has delivered both in the U.S. and globally.

"We really, historically, have been relatively inward-focused," he admits. "I think now we're starting a little more aggressive program, as we start to roll out new features for the games platform, making sure that people see the range of games and the success stories that we have, and the improvements that are coming."

Of course, it can't all be about face time. "Where possible, we put it in the documents. We're certainly more focused on that right now, translating the documents into as many languages as we can, making sure that, when we release new futures, that we are spreading the word of those features as quickly as we can, to make sure we have as level a playing field as possible."

What helps is the game development community itself. "Most of our developers actually cooperate," says Ryan. "We even have a special group for a set of developers that all talk to each other and compare notes, which we encourage."

These companies are "competing for the audience, but not necessarily mano-a-mano, so what we try to do is make sure that we're spreading best practices -- to the extent we can without confidential issues -- but best practices are certainly what our team is spending more time on."

Ryan believes all developers can find success on the platform, and he wants them to understand this. "It doesn't mean everything will be successful, just so we're clear, but in general we believe all types of games can be successful. How do we make sure we're out there explaining some of these case studies?"

Facebook Credits: Plus or Minus?

One area where the team has got "lots of feedback" was the switch to Facebook Credits; the payment option was made mandatory this month. "Depending on the developer, some have seen significant increases. Some are undergoing some transition pain right now, and we're working through it with them," says Ryan. "There's no question that it's a transition for some of them, but already we're seeing some significant improvements from a bunch of them."

His philosophy for the unified payment method is thus. "We should be able to take that -- no different than Apple does -- and get to scale in that business, so that developers hopefully can focus just on making great games. We should be able to get to where developers are thrilled they don't have to deal with this, just like with Apple."

He doesn't see the controversy as such a big deal. "The so-called 'controversy' was more about retrofitting something into an existing platform," he says.

Instead, he really sees only upside: "Over time, we can do a better job providing the service than individual developers can do themselves, particularly smaller ones."

New Features for Facebook Games

When he came on board and got his engineering team, the first priority was "basic performance." Facebook's games page "gets crushed, it gets hit all the time and we need to speed it up."

But now that this is underway, it's time to make more ambitious changes. Developers submit a lot of feature requests for the platform. "We're out with the developers pretty much every day, saying, 'What do we not have that's keeping you from building a killer game?'"

Taking those responses into account, Ryan and his team at Facebook HQ are making decisions on what will be added -- some simpler than others. And whether something gets tackled, of course, depends on how many developers ask for it.

"So for example, it turns out that we need better premium SMS payment methods in France. We've heard that from five developers, let's go fix that. As opposed to one developer telling us 'I'm unhappy.'"

Some changes are less simple. "How do we roll out more viral channels that allow different types of games? Like a scoreboard, for example, or things like that -- that would maybe favor an arcade game? Or it turns out that a core game needs to be able to notify you when you're being attacked. We don't have that option right now. Or you saw with the Skype deal" -- in which Facebook added Skype video chats last month -- "can we start looking at chat or video chat, or those types of things?"

However, he notes, it's "way too early" to talk about Skype integration on the games side.

"What about the platform is it that we need to build? Is it chat? Is it video chat? Is it real time notifications? Is it -- and, by the way, everybody gives different answers. So that's what we're now speccing out for the second half of this year, and next year. Because games is important. And it's important to us both domestically, and globally as well."

There's a tension that Ryan has to address when making decisions about what to add to the platform. "We don't want to make the platform so bare-bones that the developer has to put everything into the game. On the other hand, if we do it all ourselves, we don't allow the developer as much customization as we'd like them to do."

His goal is to "provide scale that enables developers to focus more on gameplay and less on worrying about some of the things that we do," as Xbox Live and PlayStation Network do on the consoles.

The question the team is asking itself is, says Ryan, "How do we make sure that to every extent possible we have feature parity, and the understanding that all developers can compete?"

One thing that the team is considering is the "concept of a lighter-weight social layer, that you and I can be friends without necessarily being friends." This is a response to a few things.

"What we don't want to do is have, 'I add you to my friend list just to play games with you,' and I've never met you before," says Ryan. On the other end of the spectrum, some users find the idea of branching out beyond close real-life social contacts to more casual friends is "harder," which can stunt game growth.

"That's why, for example, we spend a lot of time terminating fake accounts -- even if they're active accounts -- because we truly believe your actual identity is the key. It's not true in all games."

Says Ryan, "We're here to optimize around your ID and your set of friends. What can we layer on top of that, to kind of bridge that gap, is going to be the interesting issue, solely for gaming, almost more so than anything else."

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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