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Monday, March 2, 2009

Facebook's Gareth Davis on VentureBeat - Editorial

There’s a very interesting interview posted over at VentureBeat last month, in which Dean Takahashi grills Gareth Davis, Facebook's Program Manager for Games, about the current state of gaming on our favorite social-networking platform. Some of the data presented (while not entirely shocking) does a very good job illustrating the rise of gaming via these networks, including some of the associated potential boons and pitfalls for the future.

According to Davis, Facebook currently hosts more than 5,000 games, and is working with nearly 600,000 developers. Unlike many game sites, developers keep 100% of the revenue that their games generate, and are free to experiment with different revenue models, depending on the game. The community is also growing about 10% per month. With over 150 million active members at the moment, that’s an impressively steady increase.

To put things in perspective, Davis says, “Look at the Nintendo Wii, which is under 50 million units. Xbox Live has 10 million paying members. World of Warcraft has 12 million. So if you look at a platform with a scale of 150 million members, it’s huge. That makes game developers very interested.” And why wouldn’t they be?

Of course, over-saturation is always a concern. If you look at some of the recent articles about the deluge of downloadable iPhone games and apps (which point out the difficulty of discerning quality apps from the garbage), one would think that market dilution might also be a concern on Facebook. Davis recognizes this concern, but contends that, “[t]he social graph through Facebook can be a key differentiating feature of the iPhone.” I think he’s dead right about this.

Most people that play games on Facebook, play socially with people they know. They’re also more likely to play a game that’s been recommended by a friend, than one that they’ve simply stumbled upon through a virtual store. Another positive outcome of social graph-based distribution is that lower quality games shouldn’t get massive amounts of attention or recommendations, and should likely fade into obscurity over time.

While I’m personally skeptical that social networking sites are going to represent the future of “all things gaming-related,” there are many factors which should make it a viable breakthrough space for many developers (indies and heavy-hitters, alike) – especially if the focus is on social gaming. The fact that social networkers are already interconnected in some way drastically lowers the barrier for recommending the game to friends, and their willingness to give it a try.

You can check out the full interview here.

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