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A Face in the Crowd

Facebook games boss Gareth Davis on a once in a lifetime opportunity to make all online content social

For some people Facebook is a collection of 500 million people, all shouting about what they've done today and trying to get you to harvest their zucchinis for you. For others it's the thoughts and interests of all of your closest friends and family, a place to share experiences and keep abreast of the lives of loved ones you're not lucky enough to see very often. But for Facebook, it's all business.

Whichever side of the divide you're on, it's hard to deny Facebook's massive impact on the development and future of the games industry. The driving force behind the social and casual gaming revolution, Facebook has birthed Zynga, given new life to Bejewelled and made farmers out of millions of us. Facebook has been a game changer.

So what's next? GamesIndustry.biz sat down with Gareth Davis, head of the Facebook games platform, to find out what's in store ahead of his keynote at Evolve in London this December.

GamesIndustry.bizLooking back at some of your comments at the Game Developers Conference earlier this year, one of your main points was that Facebook games have now grown their audience to include almost every demographic. Do you think that's because developers have made a conscious effort to widen the market, or because more users are becoming aware of the phenomenon organically?
Gareth Davis

I think that there are a few things going on there. The first is that we have so many users now on Facebook that we can have really big niches. 100 million user niches. We see the emergence now of companies on Facebook who are building what they'd call a core game. Games targeted at people who played PC games back in the day, strategy games etcetera.

They're at the quality level now of those PC games. We think that area has really emerged in the last 18 months. Then you see, on the front of the more classic Facebook games, the 'ville games, that Cityville came out at the beginning of the year.

It has really high production values, it feels a lot like the SimCity games we played several years ago on the desktop. So the casual games have gone high quality too. Then you see the even lighter casual games, like the Bejewelled games, really doing well, games like Diner Dash and Triple Town, with simple, elegant mechanics that people can get into in just a few minutes, but can have a lot of fun with them.

"I think we've really seen the game developers understand that it's not one-size-fits-all, it's about different kinds of game for different audiences."

So I think we've really seen the game developers understand that it's not one-size-fits-all, it's about different kinds of game for different audiences. Another great example is the hidden object game, Gardens of Time. There's a genre that's been very popular on the web for a long time and finally someone has done a great version on Facebook and it's done really, really well.

So we're seeing this broadening now of the kinds of games and audiences and you can be very successful, creating different types of games and you can make a lot of money doing it. We're seeing a real maturing of the eco-system as people figure out the right opportunities and go after them.

GamesIndustry.bizOne of the biggest pieces of news for Facebook developers recently has been the re-jigging of the way that MAU and DAU numbers have been calculated. Was there any resistance from developers about changing that?
Gareth Davis

So the reality is that the numbers haven't actually changed at all, that's the key thing - it's really just how they're measured and reported. So the fundamentals are exactly the same. At the end of the day, your business doesn't change.

I think what we found is that there's a lot of alignment from the partners because developers have their own metrics as well, so they would see the different kind of metrics as well, internally. The users who are authenticating and the users who are landing. They use those to help optimise that conversion - if you've got a user who's landing, how do you encourage them to authenticate your game.

We actually felt pretty aligned with the developers. There's a service called AppData, which uses a lot of our data - they actually put out a statement saying that they supported the change in data reporting because it actually reflects the actual usage of the games, which is exactly what everybody wants.

"The reality is that the MAU and DAU numbers haven't actually changed at all, that's the key thing"

GamesIndustry.bizCould that not have been an issue for Zynga preparing the IPO, though - investors seeing those numbers dropping sharply, even if it's just on paper?
Gareth Davis

My understanding is that they didn't report our numbers, they reported their numbers, so I don't think that there were any issues there.

GamesIndustry.bizIt seems odd that those users were included in the first place - was the original inclusion an oversight or intentional?
Gareth Davis

I just think it was the way that we did it when we started out. When we launched the platform in '07. Once you launch a platform you learn a lot as you go - I think it's a bit more consistent now with the way that we report our numbers - we wanted to align the third party numbers with the way we report ours.

It was really just more of an internal alignment issue. I don't think it was an oversight or a mistake or anything like that.