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Shaping the Future of Facebook as a Game Platform

October 4, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

Once apps launched, Facebook grew into a game platform -- a huge one. This was a surprise of its founders. Since that time, the company has worked to embrace the medium, and has recruited for its games initiative, including Sean Ryan, its director of games partnerships, who helps bring developers in to the platform and works to find out what they need from Facebook.

But there is another important part of the Facebook equation: who is it that makes decisions about how the platform will be developed? Who has game developers' interests at heart? Or, to put it another way, who can game developers blame when things go wrong?

That man is Matt Wyndowe. As Facebook's product manager for apps and games, Wyndowe is a key part of how the platform changes itself to appeal more to game developers -- and in this interview, he talks about how the company approaches that task.

He also discusses the company's attitude toward the shift away from desktop and toward mobile use of Facebook, how it hopes to attract new developers, how his team balances the needs of app and game developers, and why they recruit from the game industry.

You work internally on the platform itself. You have to cater to different constituencies in terms of developers of games and non-games; how do you balance that?

Matt Wyndowe: Actually, one of the reasons we created a dedicated games team at Facebook was that we realized that the needs of game developers can differ from the regular developer community. A lot of the initiatives we work on on the games team overlap with the initiatives of the general app ecosystem; we just tend to prioritize things differently.

A good example is the App Center. The games team was the one who first came up with the idea and championed the App Center. Part of the reason was because we saw all of these great, high-quality games that maybe weren't using all the viral channels, and weren't getting as much distribution as they should, and we saw that as an opportunity to highlight the highest-quality games.

Do you have a particular schedule? How do you determine when you're going to start making changes to the platform, or is it a continuous process of evolution?

MW: As a lot of us are former developers ourselves -- virtually all of us are -- we're very sensitive to changes in the ecosystem that are going to affect developers. That said, we also know that you have to change and develop the ecosystem and the platform to make it better for users and developers. It's a trade-off that we are always trying to make on a case-by-case basis.

I would say that we do changes regularly on the ecosystem, but we recently established this new 90-day breaking change policy just to make sure that we're not busting anyone's great game or something like that. Those are a couple of things that we've brought onto the platform as we've matured a little bit that we just didn't have in the early days.

That policy; is that ultimately that you give people 90 days of notice on what's going to be changing and how it's going to affect them?

MW: If it's a breaking change. If it's something additive to the system, we don't wait 90 days to launch it, because it's actually not good for anyone; but, if it's something that's potentially going to break something, then we give a 90-day change. We've had that for a year now. That's been received well.

Since things evolve very quickly and people can want something very passionately, how do you determine this is a change that's actually going to be good in the long run versus something that's getting a lot of noise that might not actually be worth addressing because who knows how it's going to shake out?

MW: (Laughs) My job would be a lot easier if there were a generalized rule for that. I think we're getting reasonably good pattern recognition having been a platform now for five years. We try to prioritize correctly.

I will say that we don't tend to focus on very one-off, gimmicky kinds of things. The things that we build out tend to be core, long-term infrastructure things, like the Open Graph, where we just come up with a new way to put data into the system and read data out that we think is going to be impactful.

Because we focus a lot on the API, we don't have a ton of user-interfacing elements of the platform. I think we're privileged in a way to get to work with more pieces of core infrastructure to help empower developers.

Do you find that the needs of developers evolve more quickly than you can make changes to the platform? Are you hearing a lot from developers, "We want this, we want this, we want this"?

MW: No, I would say we think about it a little differently. We've made a lot of good strides. Developers are primarily looking to us as a way to distribute and grow their games to 900 million-plus users. That's a way a lot of developers find us initially appealing, and then they learn that, if they actually build the social dynamics in, they can build games with a lot higher engagement and monetization, etc. So a lot of the things that we're doing are basically trying to improve one of those three things, and there are so many things that we can do to help those value propositions. Those fundamental value propositions have not changed.

There's a lot of different ways those can manifest and a lot of different features that we can do, but, essentially, if we just build a good platform that delivers on those, that usually takes care of 80 percent of cases. Because a lot of people have gaming experience and, frankly, because there's so much left we have to do, we've only just scratched the surface of what gaming with Facebook can be like; so every time we free up resources we're like, "Okay, what's next on that list to do?" It hasn't changed that dramatically over the years. Developers tend to want the same kinds of things.


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