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"We want to be the global community for people to play, watch and share games"

Facebook is rolling out new features for Instant Games, Gameroom and its gaming videos

Last November, Facebook launched its HTML5-based Instant Games platform, enabling its users to play games directly in Facebook Messenger on mobile or from the News Feed. Today, during the F8 conference, the social network unveiled new details on how it plans to enhance and expand not only Instant Games, but also its premium PC games platform Gameroom and its live game broadcasting services. GamesIndustry.biz chatted with Leo Olebe, director of global games partnerships, in advance of the news.

While Facebook isn't sharing exact user data about its services, the company proudly announced that more than 1.5 billion games had been played on Instant Games during the last 90 days. Additionally, more than 800 million people play at least one Facebook connected game a month, Olebe noted. Instant Games originally launched with 17 titles, and generally Facebook has been adding new games each week. "We're releasing new games on a very regular cadence," Olebe said.

To make Instant Games more engaging and to surface it to even more of Facebook's 1.86 billion installed base, the company is adding "rich gameplay features," a new games tab right at the front of Messenger, and game bots to handle game actions even when users aren't playing in Messenger.

"We're taking our time to build and add features but also really listen to developers and listen to players as well. It's early days, this is where I always say our journey is one percent finished"

"The games we had launched with were all score-based games, so they all started the same way and ended the same way, which is to show off a leaderboard. It's fun and engaging especially if you're like 'Oh can you beat my score?' but what we know is that both players and developers want to be able to do even more," Olebe explained. "This lays the groundwork for a much wider variety of games types... and you can create customized launching and ending screens where you're showing off cool new ways of people interacting with each other. One example of that is with EverWing - they are going to be launching a new version of their game, which will take advantage of some of these rich new gameplay features. And Zynga is going to be working on some stuff for a new version of Words with Friends."

Regarding game bots, he added, "The best example I have again is EverWing; they gave players the ability to send the dragons off on quests to collect rewards and gain experiences. Imagine if you had a bot that pinged you that said 'Hey your quest has been completed, do you want to send them off again or do you want to collect your rewards?' So anything that's really time-based instead of having to set an alarm on your watch or whatever... now we've given players the ability to interact with game bots to enhance their overall gameplay experiences. Later on at some point, we'll be adding monetization- when we don't know, but right now it's about how do we just build an incredible platform upfront and help people with their interest and discovery and overall appetite for games."

If Facebook is successful over the long-term with its Instant Games initiative, it's quite possible that some new juggernauts could emerge in a similar fashion to how the birth of mobile led to giants like Supercell and King. "I'm highly optimistic about the opportunity for Instant Games. I think we're putting all the right pieces together for people to build incredible experiences and find very strong, dedicated and large audiences. I think the reason why I'm so optimistic is that we're taking our time to build and add features but also really listen to developers and listen to players as well. It's early days, this is where I always say our journey is one percent finished," Olebe said.

Apart from Instant Games, another big push from Facebook involves the desktop, with its premium PC gaming client, Gameroom. Facebook is rolling out a new platform SDK to enable support for more game engines (Gameroom already supports Unity 5.6) like Unreal, cocos2D and others. As an example of what's possible in Gameroom, Facebook is partnering with High Voltage to bring a 2D version of the Oculus exclusive Dragon Front to the platform. Gameroom already has over 1,000 games across 10 categories and more are coming in the weeks and months ahead. To further boost engagement, Facebook is adding a Games Feed in Gameroom as well, which essentially is akin to the News Feed on the social network but strictly focused on gaming content. "We want to improve discovery for game developers by helping people find out about different games they may enjoy, featuring studio-created posts, videos like producers' chats and general games news," Facebook said in a blog post.

Olebe added that since Facebook announced at GDC its desire to bring premium games to Gameroom, more than 1,500 developers have expressed interest. Furthermore, without sharing exact data, he added, "For developers and their games, we're seeing very strong lifts in terms of time spent and average revenue per user."

While it may seem that Facebook is looking to disrupt a PC marketplace dominated by Valve's Steam, Olebe doesn't view it that way. He simply sees Gameroom as one component of a multi-tiered strategy for Facebook to engage with gamers across platforms.

"PC/desktop gaming and social gaming is where we got our start. We know that desktop gaming has a really important role to play in the lives of gamers so it's important for us to provide experiences there," Olebe said. "Another way to think about it - why Gameroom is important to Facebook - we have Facebook web games where people are playing games on Facebook.com, then we have Instant Games where people are playing on mobile devices, then we have Gameroom where people are playing these higher fidelity experiences that leverages the power of the CPU, and then we also have all of this platform work that we do. For example, having login and sharing on the PS4, and Nintendo Switch just came out with Facebook login at launch... So mobile, desktop, console, or web, we're providing experiences for people across the board. That's how we like to frame this stuff so when we tie it back to, 'How do you build a global community for people to play, watch and share?' I think desktop gaming has a very critical role to play in that."

"It's very safe to say that we want people to be able to make a living streaming games on the Facebook platform if that's what they want to do"

The last component of Facebook's F8 news revolves around the company's overall live streaming push. It was less than a month ago that Facebook made it possible for gamers to broadcast their live gameplay, but gaming video in general is becoming a larger focus for the network as eSports continues to gain momentum and online influencers become more important to the global gaming community. "...we are empowering people to easily bring their gameplay experiences to Profiles, Pages, and Groups. Our goal is to enable gamers and streamers to connect with each other and the games they love in more meaningful ways," the company said on its blog.

"At F8, we're announcing that platform partners using the Live API will soon have the ability to share directly to Groups. With XSplit - a live streaming and video-mixing application by SplitmediaLabs, we're looking forward to the application's launch of the feature and how it will build new functionalities to existing Live API integrations. Building on our growing roster of professional eSports teams streaming to Facebook Live, we're also pleased to recently welcome the Philadelphia 76ers' Team Dignitas as the latest pro team to engage and find new fans on Facebook."

Olebe also cited an exclusive partnership with Blizzard to stream its Heroes of the Dorm competition on Facebook. "We're working hard on getting people to stream eSports, to stream gameplay, to stream documentaries, to stream over the shoulder video - any of those multitude of ways people are engaged in gaming video, we want to see on the platform," he commented.

"We announced Live last year and then we get to E3 and all the keynotes were streamed on the platform, [and] we're starting to see influencers streaming on the platform as well, getting highly engaged audiences and seeing some really strong results. So under the auspices of we're just in learning mode, we're doing everything we can to provide incredible experiences. With Heroes of the Dorm we talk about how we're delivering 60 fps at 720p, which is something people have been asking for, which is exciting because we're constantly iterating and developing to provide even better experiences."

Regarding influencers in particular, Olebe and Facebook recognizes how valuable they can be. YouTube recently nixed monetization on channels that don't hit at least 10,000 views (which could have a tangible impact on some influencers), but Olebe wants to ensure that people can make money on Facebook.

"It's very safe to say that we want people to be able to make a living streaming games on the Facebook platform if that's what they want to do," he said. "We're trying to build gaming communities for people who want to play, people who want to share, and people who want to watch - that's what our big focus is."

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