Has Facebook become the game developer’s best friend?

Above: Brian Boland of Facebook makes a case for his company’s platform at Casual Connect.

Gaming is better with friends. And gaming is important at Facebook. Those are the takeaways that Brian Boland, vice president of publisher solutions at Facebook, wanted to give to game developers at the Casual Connect event in Seattle last week.

While Facebook’s audience is much broader than games, but it is in touch with a lot of gamers. More than 800 million players connect via Facebook, and 450 million people are connected to the Facebook pages of game developers. And Instant Games on Facebook Messenger have been played at least 1.5 billion times in the past 90 days.

Facebook did a survey of 6,000 players, and it found that 73 percent of them don’t mind ads in games. Those players are not expecting developers to work for free, and they see rewarded ads as away to get what they want in games without having to pay money. About 54 percent of Facebook’s audience plays games in a month, including 55 percent of all females. One in three of the players are over 45.

As a platform maker, though, Facebook has some challenges. Last week, Zynga chose to partner with Unity exclusively on Unity Ads in Zynga’s games. It’s not clear if that is bad news for Facebook, but it certainly means that the Zynga-Facebook partnership isn’t what it used to be. And while Facebook’s growth on mobile is good, its desktop gaming platform is getting weaker over time.

We talked with Boland about these topics at Casual Connect. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Above: Brian Boland says that Facebook cares about games.

Image Credit: Casual Connect/Lera Polska Photography

GamesBeat: I saw your talk, and it’s an interesting point to make about saying that Facebook cares about games and game developers. The almost rhetorical question is, “Why do platform owners need to tell developers that they care about games?” It seems like there’s a lot of history to that question.

Brian Boland: I think the reality is that, when you look at an industry that’s very much a startup industry–there’s so much innovation, so many companies starting up in the gaming space, and then a bunch of startups created around the gaming space that focus on nothing but games, whether that’s for analytics or monetization or insights. People look at those as being die-hard, dedicated gaming platforms. When you look at a platform like Facebook that’s pretty broad in what we can deliver, and they know that video is blowing up huge on our platform, people can wonder. “Facebook’s not only doing gaming. They have some great offerings for us, but—“ They may not think of us first as a place that’s really a good home for gaming.

One of the things we want people to understand is not only that it is important, but why it’s important. We do really good work when things hook in to our mission, particularly with our mission focusing on community and bringing the world closer together. This is an area that’s a great marriage of all those things – our awesome experiences build community, bring people closer together, and do the things we do well around discovery and building businesses.

It’s not just telling people it’s important. It’s the why, so people think of us in the midst of all these gaming-specific platforms. They understand that we have something good to offer.

GamesBeat: Is gaming also overweighted in its importance to Facebook’s bottom line? The whole mobile game industry—there are always these stats that say 80 percent of the revenue in mobile apps comes from gaming. Is there a similar there for you guys, or is it more something else?

Boland: The thing that’s primarily interesting is the community aspect. The more that people connect through and games and play games and do that with a platform like Facebook—they can message around games, share things on Facebook, and it becomes a really virtuous cycle of things we do well, like social discovery and communication, that plug into the things developers do well around building compelling game experiences. It happens to be that our ad system will work exceptionally well for a gaming environment. That’s a nice addition, that we can not only help people with those community and communication aspects, but also grow revenue.

Above: Facebook Games

Image Credit: Facebook

GamesBeat: Games are very good at connecting people.

Boland: Exactly. Even games you tend to play solo now, you’re still playing a game that’s designed to be communal. Most card games are communal, outside of solitaire. Most games have that aspect to them. You play a mix of robots or human beings now. The opportunity to be able to play more and more games with people you’re connected with—not just strangers in the game, but a real community of people who you’re friends and family with. That’s real now, as a potential. It’s not fully real from an actualization standpoint. But that’s compelling. That’s why people play games. We’re most excited about that.

We can help them build a business so they can not worry about all the challenges that come with building a business on top of building a great game. They can focus on building a great game and then plug in enablers for their business.

GamesBeat: How do you make the argument that Facebook is the best friend of the game developer? There are other platforms out there, as you say – Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, or Sony. Can Facebook can be the go-to platform?

Boland: The way we try to look at things—we don’t try to convince people with a better pitch or a flashier dashboard. We try to convince people by working with them. They see if the experience and the results are better than they see elsewhere or not. Early on in our ads business we started to really change the conversation. Carolyn Everson would say to clients, “If we’re not growing your business’s results, don’t buy ads from us.” They weren’t used to that kind of conversation.

We’ve kept that as a mantra with all our businesses. If we’re not helping games see results through increased plays and increased connections and so on, that puts the onus back on us to make that better. Measure everything. Monitor everything. We think we’ll stand up on the merits. I expect people to try a bunch of different platforms. I expect people to work with a number of platforms. With the world moving more toward bidding, that enables an opportunity for the best of both worlds for a developer, to be able to bring in a lot of demand sources and bring in more compelling user experiences. That’s great for the developer, and frankly great for us.

GamesBeat: You’re making the case for advertising in your talk. Is it clear that advertising is the winning model for games?

Boland: It should be part of the portfolio. What we’ve seen with games is that—you’ve seen a scenario develop where games will reach a very large installed base and then have a relatively small number of users who do in-game purchases. You can start to build out a portfolio of ways you drive revenue: people who want to support the game by paying and people who are willing to support the game through advertising. There may be future models of monetization. I don’t know what those are. But there’s not a reason you shouldn’t say, “Let me build a portfolio around my business and see good growth.” That’s what I would expect to see people do more of.

A lot of developers are going to move past thinking “Ads are bad” or “Ads create subpar experiences” to “Okay, no, when bad ad experiences happen they are created as bad ad experiences. Let’s create good ad experiences and get access to good supply.” That’s the shift we’re seeing on the developer side.

Above: Brian Boland is vice president of publishing solutions at Facebook.

Image Credit: Casual Connect/Lera Polska Photography

GamesBeat: Do you have more business weight on ads as opposed…

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Sasha Harriet

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