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New Facebook game initiatives aim to win back devs and reshape strategy

New Facebook game initiatives aim to win back devs and reshape strategy

April 18, 2017 | By Kris Graft

With web-based social games years past their prime, Facebook has been looking for realistic ways to reshape its games business and rebuild interest -- and trust -- with game developers.

Speaking to Gamasutra ahead of today's Facebook F8 game keynote, Leo Olebe, director of global games partnerships, explained how the social media giant is working to attract game devs to its massive platform. 

"Everything we're doing is really thinking about how we create a global community to play, watch, and share," he said. 

One new initiative announced today are the new "rich gameplay" features that developers can implement in Facebook Messenger-based "Instant Games."

Currently, games are of the more casual, score-based variety, but the new features will let game developers create a wider range of games, such as Blackstorm Labs' large-scale cooperative bullet hell-inspired shooter Everwing

Facebook is also taking a measured, more direct approach with sharing and virality with its Instant Games by adding a games tab, as well as allowing developers to utilize game bots to help engage players within Messenger. 

One of social games' biggest problems in the category's early days -- and in its prime -- was the practice of spamming uninterested Facebook users with pleas to join games like Farmville. When Facebook heard these complaints about spamming and started curbing its sharing channels, studios that were utterly reliant on Facebook's reach were left with audiences too narrow to grow business. 

"Instead of yelling at the world about what I want from a gaming perspective, we've built more and more tools for people to be very explicit [with who players share with]."

Olebe said Facebook has "learned and grown with respect to virality and sharing." He said Facebook has moved more into "explicit sharing," in which people share their game interests with other people with similar interests, rather than the full-on spamming of early Facebook social game days. 

"Instead of yelling at the world about what I want from a gaming perspective, we've built more and more tools for people to be very explicit [with who players share with]," he said. 


Aside from Instant Games, Facebook continues to build upon Gameroom; its client-based PC game service that competes with Valve's 125 million user-strong Steam platform. 

Facebook was already partnered with Unity in an effort to streamline deployment of Unity-based games on Gameroom, and at F8, Facebook said it is introducing a closed beta of the new Gameroom Platform SDK, which streamlines the porting of games based on Unreal Engine, cocos2D and others. 

Facebook is also continuing to develop its Live video service -- a key component of its game strategy, and a crucial component for game devs in terms of virality and discoverability on Facebook. 

The issue of discoverability 

Game developers are showing interest in Facebook's new initiatives, said Olebe, who counts Blizzard, Zynga, Riot, and numerous indie game devs as Facebook game dev partners. 

But there are some sticking points that Facebook encounters when starting to build relationships with developers. 

"Primarily, the conversation usually begins with discussion around 'what problems are we trying to solve for developers?'" he explained. "Generally's always about discovery -- 'How do I find a new audience for this thing that I poured my passion and my life into?'" 

Olebe said developers are drawn to Facebook's enormous reach, but that reach also brings the concern of a game getting lost in the noise. His argument was that these new features are meant to get games in front of more specific people (the "explicit sharing" he mentioned), and with initiatives like the Gameroom SDK, to make porting to Facebook platforms as easy as possible. 

"When you think about the product that you're building, and the game you've created," he said, " really need to take a step back and look at all the different places where people are going to have an opportunity to experience that game, whether they're playing it, watching it, or just talking about the game and sharing their experiences. 

"My message to devs is to think about the breadth of the platform you're working with, and have an open mind about how your players will be discovering [your game]."

As for winning back trust from game devs and studios that were there for the rise and fall of social games years ago, he stressed the importance of Facebook "having a close relationship with developers, making sure they understand how best to use the platform to reach people, [and] being open and honest about what we're thinking about."

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