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Shaping the Future of Facebook as a Game Platform
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Shaping the Future of Facebook as a Game Platform

October 4, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Do you find that people have been doing things with games like wanting to plug in, say, Unity or something, that you couldn't anticipate or didn't expect, and then it's difficult to deal with?

MW: Yeah! We sort of see it as one of the things that make this industry fun. Unity, for example, just started to emerge where we'd see great games using Unity, and we started to think, "How do we highlight these games for users?" Obviously, there are challenges in getting users to do a separate download. Then we'd go out and talk to Unity and talk to the developers who are developing it, and those emergent things to the ecosystem in a lot of ways make your job fun.

You work only as relates to games, or you work on the platform in general with all apps?

MW: Originally, I was product manager of apps; now I'm product manager of apps and games, so the purview of the stuff that I work on covers a lot of stuff. Those could possibly be split up into two again, but I focus a lot of time on games.

Do you find that the games stuff is more or less demanding than the app stuff? If you look at the charts, then obviously games have a tremendous amount of the users, but there still are apps that are a lot of users too.

MW: It's very rare that we'll build a feature that isn't benefitting the entire ecosystem and that we don't think of as both sets of features. For example, the App Center came up prioritized more heavily on the games engineering side but was useful for the entire app ecosystem. We also have a number of other product managers who work on the app side doing related stuff, so the titles do overlap a little bit.

Obviously, there are some major, 500-pound gorillas on the Facebook platform, but you've always been clear about wanting to attract all kinds of diversity. How do you get feedback from everyone? You never know what is going to be the next trend that could actually rocket up the charts. We never anticipated, for example,, I think. It felt like they came out of nowhere even though they were established in the casual space.

MW: You're exactly right. The diversity in the ecosystem's incredible. I think a lot of people don't realize that, but this is not an ecosystem dominated by a couple of players; there is a huge medium- and long-tail of developers. For example, we have 130 games with over a million users. That's a lot. These games are incredibly varied in terms of genre and style of game; a lot of them target different niches, etc.

We have to spend a lot of time outreaching to developers to make sure we're hearing from not only the developers that have achieved success in the past but also the up-and-coming developers. It's one of the reasons we're here today and that we've invested so much in building up a partnership team for games. It's one of the largest cross-functional teams of Facebook. It's not because we like building big teams; it's because you need to get out there and talk with developers, see what kind of stuff they're building, and make sure you're meeting the needs of all of them.

Whenever things change, there tends to be a lot of kvetching about it. I think people just complain about change; it's not necessarily that the changes are wrong, but it's just human nature. Do you find that it creates a lot of static in your life?

MW: The harshest critics of things we do wrong are definitely ourselves. We try to hold ourselves really high bars, so we're really self-critical about all the things we do.

Our developer ecosystem, from my perspective, has been very understanding when we make changes. We hope that most of our changes are for the better, but they've been very understanding.

I think part of that has been because the ecosystem keeps growing. We have over 230 million people playing games right now on Facebook. Last year, it was closer to 200. Every year, when the ecosystem's developing that quickly, I think developers can stand a lot more change because they're just seeing so much value from it.

There are more and more people murmuring about wanting to do synchronous stuff and more synchronous games. Does that affect you -- the direction that developers want to take their games being more technically challenging? Does that affect decisions you make, or is that all on their end?

MW: Remember I mentioned that to-do list of things that we would love to help enable? That's absolutely one of them. We'd love to help enable synchronous gameplay. Obviously, developers can do a lot on their end, but there's a lot of features that we'd love to put in their API to help enable that kind of stuff. That's something that's just such a clear win for users and developers; it's absolutely something that we'd love to do. We have nothing to announce about it right now, but those are exactly the kinds of things that, when we hear a critical mass of developers talking about it, we push up the priority list.

I still don't think we, as an industry, know what the ultimate lifespan of a service game is. We really don't know how long a service game can last, because we still have ones that launched and haven't closed. You talked earlier about features that might break games, but do you think about the fact that some of these games might live indefinitely on the service. Does that impact the way you make decisions?

MW: Absolutely. We view the kind of games that are being built on Facebook as ones that will last a hundred years plus. That's the kind of service and the kind of thinking that we do at Facebook. In fact, I would be shocked if my grandkids did not hear about some of the brands that are being built today. That's the kind of ecosystem that we want to build and definitely the kind of thinking that we do.

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