[Gamasutra recently got a chance to sit down with Facebook's Sean Ryan, the social network giant's director of games partnerships, to find out what the company is doing for developers now that it has a team dedicated to improving the infrastructure and fielding requests.]
Sean Ryan came to Facebook with a mission: head up games for the company. His goal is to make games more popular on Facebook, as well as better integrated. To do that, he intends to work more closely with developers to both grow their audiences and improve the platform.
"I came on six months ago to lead the games team and the games partnership team," Ryan told Gamasutra at an interview conducted at Facebook's Palo Alto headquarters.
"No one is from the games business in the company at all, at the top," says Ryan, which is why he was brought in. He has a background in social media, having been CEO of blogging platform LiveJournal and EVP and GM of games at News Corporation, as well as traditional games and media -- having worked at Sega on the Dreamcast launch, as well as in book publishing, also at News Corporation.
While gaming is a "core and important part" of Facebook, these days, it obviously has not always been thus. "Mark did not start a game network. Mark started a social network," Ryan says. "Mark opened up the platform, and to everybody's surprise at Facebook, 98 percent of the usage was games.
"In classic Facebook style, no one really knew what was going to happen -- but it was all games. And then games grew so quickly that [developers] invested more in games... and so it kept growing faster and faster."
This, of course, lead to the notorious floods of game notification spam. This was, said Zuckerberg last year, "one of the biggest complaints that we get," and lead to some significant changes to the way things worked on the platform.
And that's where Ryan comes in. "Now that game spam is no longer an issue for our users, let's start growing it."
Games are a "highly engaging and very important vertical for us, and so that's why we broke out a separate team for it. That's why we increased both the engineering team and my team. It's a very important vertical for us, and we need to continue to grow it, because the users are highly engaged, highly happy, they refer their friends, and it drives a great deal of engagement and revenue for us."
The goal of his group is to "build a really killer game network system, because people who game on Facebook like Facebook better, because they game on Facebook."
And when it comes to developers, he asks, "how do we, for the bulk of developers with an open platform, provide them a better experience? And there's a vigorous debate. We take lots of input."
Games partnerships, the slice of Facebook which Ryan heads, is so named because the goal is to work with developers, not just hand down edicts.
"This way we don't have to go down to the constraint level like we used to... We went through this whole thing before I was here last year, but it was quite painful for everybody involved -- our side, the developer side, everybody -- to have a continual set of changes, a manual of rules," said Ryan.
Games partnerships slots into the "functionally-driven" structure of Facebook. "The engineers and the platform team will build, with input from us, what we need to build to serve developers and users."
How to accomplish that? "At first what we do is, we go out to our top hundred developers, and then through other channels the next thousand, and make sure that we are communicating to them to the extent possible what the roadmap looks like."
Of course, he admits, "we don't always know what the roadmap will be," which is why the company has had trouble communicating in the past. Facebook is a "very fluid platform," he says.
"We're communicating out policy changes and working on our platform... What we do is collect information back from [developers] in a wide variety of ways, about things they would like to see, complaints they have, problems they have. We come back internally here and work through with the product team. What do we need to build? What do we need to change?"
Says Ryan, "We work with, as I said, probably a hundred partners directly, and the other thousand through more indirect means, and that's my question every single day. What feature are we missing on the platform?"
Ryan admits that not every developer can have a direct line to his team. "Realistically, you have to have some sort of success on the platform already... It doesn't have to be massive; it just has to be something that's working well."
Once you do have that line, the goal of the division is to "help you through the process of improving your game, monetizing your game, driving distribution for your game, those types of things," says Ryan.
The team has spent several moths "looking at the game platform holistically... Saying, 'Okay, now that we've fixed some of the issues we had before, gaming is one that's very important to us, so let's take a step back and look at what can we deliver to developers.
"We take a look holistically at how do developers acquire users. That's the first thing."
And a focus for Ryan is increasing the diversity of games on the platform. "What I really spend more time on these days is broadening the catalogue of games we have. It's more reaching out to people and saying, 'I know you think of our audience as a very likely FarmVille-style audience. Kabam is huge on us. Kabam is a core gaming company. It's not core in high graphics, because that's the console business, but those are core games. There's no other way to look at it."
There are two important facets of games on Facebook, he says: "we believe it's always better with friends," and despite its reputation as a casual platform, "it's actually for everybody," an assertion he says is backed by research.