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Facebook's execs explain its new approach to games

Zuckerberg, Morgenstern and Rose on how they hope to make the network developer-friendly

At Facebook HQ in California last night, three of the social network's senior executives took to the stage to convince an audience of developers that they take gaming seriously. Introducing their planned changes/improvements to game notifications and virality, they also fielded questions on Facebook Credits and where they'd gone wrong to date.

VentureBeat attended, and filmed much of the conference. Here's's transcription of the most salient discussion points.

On Facebook's attitude to games

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO:

"Our goal is to make it so as few people as possible come to the site and have negative experiences every day, and as many people as possible give us positive feedback about the content that they're seeing on Facebook. We've over the years developed a pretty complex infrastructure on optimising this.

One of the biggest drivers of negative experience has unfortunately been games. There's this whole mix of people who love playing games, that's one of the primary reasons that they come to Facebook, but on the other hand there are all these people who like doing other things, for whom games get in the way, and anytime there's a new feed story of a game, they view that as spam, it's in the way of their experience. One the one hand, games are a phenomenon – 200 million people or more are playing games on the site. On the other hand, games are also one of the biggest complaints that we get.

We tried measuring the right weight for games stories, and what we found was when we turn it up, we get complaints. And when we turn it up, we get complaints. As we've tried to tune this and get it right, people have questioned Facebook's commitment to games and whether we care about it. I understand why people have thought that historically, but we want to build and enable anything that hundreds of millions of people want to use. It's just been very tricky to find the right balance to do that.

In real-life, if one of your friends plays FarmVille and... they probably wouldn't come up to you and say "hey, I just got this new cow on my farm." They might say "hey, I found this new game that's really cool that you should check out." Giving this kind of context is what we want to emulate on the site. If you're playing games actively we want to make sure that you get a lot more content from them .if you're not, and you don't wanna hear stuff from a game, we want to make sure that's not part of News Feed for you – or at least, you might want to know when a few of your friends start playing a game, but you don't want to know on a day-to-day. If you are playing a game every day you want to make sure that there's a stable link for you to get there. If you don't play games then that link should fade away. If it's in there, the people who are making your games should have a really easy to implement a counter next to your navigation so that you know... there are four things you have to do there. "

On the current Game Dashboard

Jared Morgenstern , product manager for games:

"We think the games dashboard kind of sucks right now. We think these changes are more impactful although more subtle, and there will be a wave of innovation around the games dashboard. And one of the things we did test we don't think it quite ready for primetime is an embedded stream in the games dashboard that filters the content to the games that you're actually playing. So we can take a look and see "oh, these are the bookmarks that these guys carry about, here's those games that filter down to those streams, so that the pivot is around the games and the applications that you're using, instead of around people."

On the new Discovery Stories


"It's important to point out that these things will be evolving. But the first set of changes will be based on someone installing your application and playing it for an amount of time that we consider merits the fact that they were actually engaged in this game. This will also be controlled by the user's privacy setting... there's a setting to, like, show this everybody except my boss. In general the line of thinking about surfacing the interesting content based on your friends – and maybe it won't always be installation, maybe it'll be that your best friend... well, just balancing it out so that the news feed is always relevant."

On Credits

Dan Rose, platform marketing chief:

"We're building a lot of functionality to make it easier for you to see what's going on with your business around Credits and that will be rolling out over the next few months and we'll continue to invest there as well. It's really important to use that we provide a great experience around that. Right now we're scaling our Credits to make sure it's a great user experience and a lot of developer stuff is manual, but we'll automate that over time. One of the goals in Credits is to increase the number of people on Facebook who are buying virtual goods in games. That's a very explicit goal for us, and that's a big part of the investment that we're making into Credits is to grow the percentage of people that play these games and spend money. That's something that we all together share and it's something that's good for users because when they buy these goods it makes the games more engaging.

One of the ways that we are attempting to do that is by giving people an opportunity to start buying goods without having to spend money. Giving our users small amounts of Credits and working with you guys to make sure that they are able to buy stuff in your games. With those Credits to make them accustomed to the notion that when you buy stuff it's more fun and engaging and you can sort of see what the pay-off is before you have to pull out your wallet and spend money.

Credits are really important from our perspective for users, to make sure that when you buy credits you're able to spend them in any game you play. That only really works in a world where all of the games are accepting credits, and we're working with you guys to make sure that's possible. We're balancing that off against the need to build this slowly so that we can make sure that as we bring on more volume we're scaling infrastructure and we're building a stable platform around it.

So we can't bring all games on at once, but we already have 170 games that accept Credits and our goal is to get to a place where all of the games on Facebook are accepting Credits. The notion is that the totality of that will ultimately benefit everybody, but it does take a little bit of time to get everybody onto the system."

On virality


"A lot of the changes that we're trying to make explicitly balance out two curves. One is the cost and ease of getting new people to use your application, the second is the cost of the ease with which someone who is continually playing a game can stay engaged with that game. Our view of how the platform has evolved is early on, it was all virality, and kind of all getting new people to start using your applications. So much so that people would actually use virality in channels that were usually used for that as a way to re-engage people because the re-engagement was so weak. What we're trying to do now is to make it so that people who want to play these games have really good ways to be a much bigger part of that experience.

So whether that's a lot more stuff in news feeds, more permanent navigation, more ways for the games to prompt you when there's new stuff to do in these games... All of that stuff has this affect, increasing engagement and therefore increasing how long somebody wants to play your game. So that I think is a really important evolution for the platform, because what it's going to mean is that games that are good, that are high quality, people now have the ability to stick with them for a longer period of time.

Whereas the whole ring of fire approach, where you keep on growing exponentially but have a lot of users who pull out, that's not going to work as well. We still think that Facebook is going to be the best way for games and applications and content to spread socially – because that's what a social network is. You're seeing what your friends are doing, and that's the main way to make people learn about these things.

I think if you compare this to other platforms, that's always gonna be a huge advantage of building on top of Facebook. But at the same time, what we're trying to do is shift it more so that the higher quality stuff gets more engagement. We think that's going to lay the groundwork for the ecosystem to grow a huge amount over the coming years."

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Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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