Interview: Facebook Mobile Games Aspirations
SEPT. 5, 2013 • At the end of July Facebook announced that it was jumping further into the business of mobile games with a pilot program pragmatically titled Facebook Mobile Games Publishing. Despite the wording, Facebook won’t actually be funding titles or actively participating in their development. Mobile Games Publishing is more accurately described as a program to further access to new mobile promotional channels that the social network has been readying. The overall goal is to take in smaller mobile studios and help them discover audiences for their titles that these creative houses could not access on their own. To facilitate that process Facebook will share data and analytics, plus insights on business options and practices that can help market the titles of its partners – all for a yet to be specified share of revenue generated.
Mobile is turning into a very big business for the social network. Last May it was reported that the number of monthly active users accessing the platform via mobile had grown to 751 million for the period ending March 31, an increase 54% since the same period in 2012. Then a few days prior to the Mobile Games Publishing program being disclosed, Facebook announced that its mobile business now accounted for 41% of the $1.81 billion in total advertising revenue during the quarter ending June 30.
Shepherding Facebook’s Mobile Games Publishing initiative out of the gate is global lead for mobile game partnerships Daniel Morris. Morris has a long and varied career in the games industry with stints at ngmoco, Electonic Arts, Future US, and IDG. To learn better what this burst in mobile activity means for the social network, DFC went to Morris to discuss what goals Facebook has for its mobile business.
DFC: Please tell us more about Facebook’s goals in becoming a mobile publisher. Is this dipping your toes into the water, or jumping completely in?
Dan: We view mobile-game publishing as a long-term business for Facebook, but it’s still very early in the program. Our approach diverges from a typical publishing model, in that our focus is to help developers attract high-quality, relevant users to their games. While we aim to fulfill a number of roles traditionally associated with a publisher – such as helping developers optimize their business models – developers have full control over their own products. We simply want to offer our insights to help them reach their business goals and surface their games to the most appropriate audiences.
DFC: What can Facebook do differently, or more effectively, than existing mobile game publishers? What is the strategic opportunity that you see?
Dan: A significant differentiator is the ability to leverage our audience of 1.1 billion people to deliver high-quality users to developers. More than 260 million Facebook users are already playing games every month, and we’re able to help developers find and acquire relevant players on a global scale, across gaming genres.
Many of today’s most popular games started from small game developers, and there are so many more great games that never get discovered because of the cost associated with growing and monetizing a game globally. We want to help.
DFC: There is a flood of companies focusing on the mobile segment today, but not many are generating substantial revenue. How will Facebook be different?
Dan: With so many mobile apps available to players, discovering relevant games is a challenge. For developers, the inverse is true: they struggle to gain visibility with potential players. With 260 million people playing games on Facebook each month, we have a sizeable active audience, and we’re in a unique position to connect players with games relevant to their interests.
We can also point to the track record of success for developers who have integrated Facebook in their apps: 82% of the 100 top-grossing iOS games and 75% of the 100 top-grossing Android games are integrated with Facebook. Furthermore, more than half of the top 100 top-grossing Android and iOS apps are using mobile-app install ads. Combined, these apps have driven more than 46 million installs. By leveraging our sizeable network and more than six years of expertise in surfacing relevant, high-quality users, as well as helping developers make the most of their business models, we are confident that we can lead developers to success.
DFC: Will mobile games in your program have to be free-to-play, paid downloads, or can they be either?
Dan: Our focus is on connecting developers and games with the most relevant users, and vice versa. Developers are free to utilize the business model they deem fit for their game. We don’t go into specifics about the publishing model, but we are participating in a revenue share with development partners.
DFC: There is a tremendous number of mobile games that are in circulation – making it hard for many to stand out in the crowd. How does Facebook plan on making consumers aware of the mobile games it publishes?
Dan: It’s still very early on in the program, but we are testing ways to leverage all of our distribution channels, including stories in News Feed and ads. We want to ensure that great games have a chance of being discovered by high-quality users and are still determining the best way to promote mobile games.
DFC: For the most recent quarter, mobile advertising accounted for 41% of all Facebook ad revenue. How do you intend to advertise around your new mobile titles?
Dan: Mobile app install ads have proven to be very successful in helping developers attract and acquire relevant, high-quality users: in the second quarter alone, more than 8,400 unique developers drove more than 46 million installs using mobile app install ads. We will certainly leverage this channel, while we are testing all of our distribution channels to determine the best ways to bring the right games to the right people.
DFC: Also, how much did this growth in mobile ad revenue during recent months impact the decision to engage in mobile game publishing?
Dan: We decided to work on a mobile games publishing program because we think we’re uniquely positioned to help mobile game developers solve some of their biggest problems today – getting discovered and growing their game globally.
DFC: What platforms are you targeting: iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8?
Dan: Our focus at this time is on iOS and Android, though if developers are making great mobile games on other platforms, we’d love to hear from them.
DFC: Are you publishing for smartphones only, or will there be enhanced versions for tablets and their larger screens?
Dan: We are publishing for smartphones and tablets.
DFC: You have announced 10 content partners so far: 5th Planet, Brainbow, Certain Affinity, Dragonplay, Gameloft, Gamevil, KiwiGames, Outplay Entertainment, Space Ape and WeMade Entertainment. Why these specific partners?
Dan: We aim to work with primarily small-to-medium-sized game developers across a range of genres, and these developers are all creating quality gaming experiences that we feel players would enjoy. We’ve looked at the demand for games within different categories, as well as the games’ long-term revenue potential and global appeal.
DFC: Will these partners be creating entirely new titles for Facebook’s mobile initiative?
Dan: It will be a mix. Many of the game publishers have existing games that we’ll be helping promote, and some will be publishing brand new titles.
DFC: Your program is also accepting individual developer submissions. Under what basis/standards will submitted titles be accepted?
Dan: As with the games from our initial partners in the program, we will look at the demand in a particular genre, as well as potential for long-term monetization and ability to entertain global audiences. We want to highlight the breadth of gaming experiences available to players, and ensure that the right people are seeing games relevant to their interests.
DFC: What social options can players of your mobile games expect?
Dan: Developers can leverage Open Graph, Requests, Groups and Notifications to increase user engagement, but we leave the social features up to developers. We will provide insights to help them make the most of their business, but they are not required to implement any specific social elements.
DFC: How do you respond to the fact that many mobile gamers are not looking for a social experience? How will your games cater to them?
Dan: We want to help gamers discover great games they want to play, rather than dictate that every game be a social experience. However, many of the most successful mobile games – 82% of the 100 top-grossing iOS games and 75% of the top-grossing Android games – are integrated with Facebook, and we feel that a sizeable number of players do enjoy social elements within mobile games. We will not require developers to integrate social options, but will help them implement best practices for enhancing the player experience and user acquisition if they choose to include them.
DFC: How receptive is Facebook going to be to small developers or micro-studios?
Dan: We won’t select partners based on the size of their team. Regardless of their size, developers with great games are encouraged to submit their projects here for consideration.
DFC: After your initial slate of mobile titles has been in release for a while, how significantly will you employ data metrics from those games in determining your title acceptance policy?
Dan: Our aim is not to only select popular games for publishing. If we feel that players would really enjoy a particular game then it may be suitable for publishing through this initiative. We will provide analytics to partners to help them improve the player experience and maximize business opportunities, but analytics alone will not dictate which titles we publish.
DFC: Will users have to be logged into Facebook in order to play your mobile games?
Dan: No. Developers need to integrate with the Facebook SDK, but there is no requirement for developers that Facebook be the exclusive login option.
DFC: Will the new Facebook Payments be required for mobile game transactions?
Dan: No, developers are free to implement as few or as many Facebook-specific features as they like.
DFC: How will you integrate your mobile games into Facebook Home, or the Cover Feed option of the Facebook App on Android smartphones?
Dan: We are still exploring the best ways to surface mobile games for our users. We aim to connect players with relevant games, while retaining an enjoyable user experience.