Facebook is rapidly expanding its gaming library beyond Zynga's catalog of games. With new partnerships with companies like Wooga and Kixeye, Facebook is reaching to a growing audience of niche gamers. Matt Wyndowe, games product manager at Facebook, discusses the future of interactive entertainment across the world's most popular social networking site in this exclusive interview.
Q: How important are games to Facebook as a company?
Matt Wyndowe: Games are extremely important to us at Facebook. As early as 2010 we didn't have a dedicated games team and now we have 40-plus people working full-time on games. Games are something our users love and our users engage with and they enjoy playing with friends. I think what you've seen this year that's interesting is the emergence of games with extremely high production value. We're really focusing on quality and focusing on less traditionally mainstream audiences.
I think no one epitomizes this more than Kixeye. This is a team that is focused on a more hardcore gaming market. They skew way more male than most of our game developers, but what really stands out is that this is the games they produce. These are really high quality games that drive incredible engagement. Our users love them and Kixeye is building an incredibly profitable business. When we see people building a massive base and businesses entirely on Facebook, it is incredibly rewarding to us as a games team.
"We have 845 million users on Facebook every month. If you're a game developer and you're targeting some niche of gamers, that group is on Facebook and they're engaged with Facebook"
Q: What is Facebook looking for when it comes to games and partners?
Matt Wyndowe: We have an open platform. Anyone can develop for our ecosystem. Our system is built to reward people who create high quality games with innovative gameplay. If you build very high quality games that users love to play with their friends, we will provide mass distribution and help build a huge profitable business. We're focused on games that our users like. It doesn't actually matter what we think our users like, it matters what our users actually like. A 15 year-old girl in Estonia likes to play different games than a 40 year-old woman in South Korea versus a 25 year-old woman from Texas.
They're very different, but we are building a system where we're going to reward the highest quality outfits that have use per users with massive distribution to those audiences. We have 845 million users on Facebook every month. If you're a game developer and you're targeting some niche of gamers, that group is on Facebook and they're engaged with Facebook. What we want to be able to do is have you bring your game to Facebook and more efficiently show that to people who are going to love it and engage with it.
Q: What are your thoughts about the growth of social games?
Matt Wyndowe: We've seen a couple of trends in the social space with a big rise in the arcade and blitz-style games, a big rise in the head-to-head Words with Friends-style games. We've seen categories like hidden object games such as Gardens of Time explode, as well as games that don't even seem like games like Draw Something. We've seen all of these grow and take off in really interesting ways. The category that Kixeye has just crushed is the more traditionally hardcore gaming audience.
What's really exciting is that just a couple of years ago there were games that only really appealed to a certain subsection of our users, and other users just didn't like. Not everyone is going to like every kind of game. What's cool about seeing all these different categories emerge is that now the user system is way more diverse. Whoever you are, there are going to be a bunch of games for you now on Facebook. And that's relatively recent at the quality level that we've seen.
Q: Do you think it's just a matter of time before people stop thinking about Facebook games as being FarmVille and CityVille and start thinking in terms of games like War Commander and Battle Pirates?
Matt Wyndowe: Games like FarmVille and CityVille for the users that love them are amazing games. There's a subsection of our users who absolutely love those games. What we're seeing now is that that category has been well developed in previous years and there are new categories which are emerging from companies like Kixeye, Wooga and a bunch of other companies that are introducing fundamentally new games to the Facebook platform.
From our point of view, we need to do a better job at showing the right games at the right time to the right groups of people or the right groups of friends and providing distribution for those high quality games. We're focusing 100 percent of our time on this. We can do a much better job at it, and we're pretty focused day-to-day on doing a better job of it.
Q:What impact do you see deeper console-style, free-to-play experiences having on Facebook moving forward?
"In addition to our priority of increasing discovery of these quality games, we also want to make sure we enable great real-time gameplay with friends that you have in Facebook"
Matt Wyndowe: I think it's going to be a massive trend we're going to see this year. We showed a teaser of the new Kixeye RPG at GDC and it looked incredibly cool. That trend of taking games and game categories that have not traditionally been on Facebook and putting them there is going to be huge this year. If you look at huge franchises that are built like World of Warcraft, Diablo, and those types of games, all of those people are on Facebook and want to engage with their friends in these kinds of things. Kixeye has figured out a perfect intersection where they're focused on high quality experiences.
And the emergence of Flash technology is powering these new types of experiences. Kixeye is one of the companies that's been able to take its vast resources and create AAA game experiences that couldn't have been done three years ago because the technology wasn't there. These really immersive high quality experiences are now taking advantage of that new technology on Facebook.
Q:Why do you think these new advanced games will connect with the core gamers who have scoffed at many Facebook games?
Matt Wyndowe: One of the things that's interesting is that massively multiplayer online games are incredibly social to begin with. People go there to interact with their guilds and they create real long-lasting friendships in these worlds. In addition to our priority of increasing discovery of these quality games, we also want to make sure we enable great real-time gameplay with friends that you have in Facebook. A lot of these games are fundamentally social and it's going to be extremely interesting to see what happens when you combine that with the social graph that we have.
Q: What role have traditional consoles played in connecting Facebook, and these games, with gamers?
Matt Wyndowe: We've placed most of our initial efforts behind pretty deep integrations of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and we also have some integration with Nintendo because that's where we've seen the highest quality game development. We've integrated our platform with theirs and built pretty good preliminary APIs. We're excited for the evolution of those platforms and working really closely with their teams to bring that to console gamers. Most of our efforts have gone to engaging with those guys.
Q:What role do you see the new SmartTVs, which have Facebook apps and broadband connectivity, playing in games moving forward?
Matt Wyndowe: We're really excited to see what happens in that space because there's potential for really compelling gameplay, especially when combined with cross-platform applications that we're seeing. We're very excited to see what happens in that space and believe that there could be big potential there.