Three things to keep an eye on in Facebook’s games ecosystem

gamesFacebook today shared a recap and several videos from its event at the Game Developers Conference last month. The key takeaways from the presentations were Facebook’s commitment to the desktop gaming platform, its emerging focus on core and mid-core games, and its support for cross-platform games.

These are the three main areas to look at over the course of the year to understand the company’s progress as a gaming platform — something many are beginning to doubt or write off completely.

Desktop

Facebook says desktop gaming is “healthy and growing,” despite the attention on mobile, tablets and other new platforms. The company pointed to research suggesting the desktop games business is expected to grow to $15 billion, not including China. Last year desktop games generated more than $2.8 billion, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the overall industry.

“We care about desktop because it’s big, and it’s growing and we can make it grow faster,” Director of Games Partnerships Sean Ryan said at the GDC event last month. “It’s a big business in total around the world and for Facebook.”

The social network says more than 250 million people play games on Facebook each month, which is a 15 percent increase over last year. Many think Facebook games are past their heyday, but Facebook says there are now more users playing games on the site than ever before.

Additionally, the company has seen a 24 percent year-over-year increase in users who spend money in Facebook games monthly. More than 100 developers generated more than $1 million on Facebook last year, and overall the company paid out $2 billion to developers. Ryan said the backgrounds of developers and the type of games on Facebook are more diverse than ever, which shows the health of the business.

For its part, Facebook continues to optimize its channels for game discovery and promotion. It tweaked the recommendations bar on canvas games to increase installs 5x over the last several months. The bookmarks bar menu is 17 percent more effective, and notifications saw a 15 percent increase in effectiveness. The company promoted games in a homepage banner earlier this year and started running new News Feed stories about the games a user’s friends play. It has also seen a 30 percent increase in installs from App Center in recent months. Overall, Facebook says there have been 75 percent more game installs this year compared to last.

fb-discovery-slide

Core and Mid-Core Games

Even though there is overall diversity of games on Facebook, the most popular games are in the simulation, arcade, casino and other casual genres. The company says, though, that much of the rest of the market for desktop games is for core and mid-core games, and to grow its own business, that’s what it needs to offer.

There are 84 million male users between the ages of 18 to 35 playing games on Facebook each month so there is a lot of opportunity for developers to reach this audience. To give users higher quality experiences and simplify development for developers, Facebook and Unity Technologies collaborated to create the Facebook Unity package in March. Facebook has been prompting gamers with homepage banners to download Unity Web Player. It has also emphasized core and mid-core games in App Center, and the company says it will continue to make users more aware that these types of gaming experiences are available on Facebook.

Cross Platform

Even with Facebook pointing to the strength of desktop, it makes clear that mobile is important, and it wants to emphasize cross-platform games.

Facebook is uniquely positioned in that it can offer developers a way to give users a single identity to use across devices, access to a player’s social graph and a robust platform for discovery and distribution. The social network sent a total of 263 million referrals to the App Store and Google Play last month alone.

“If you were big on canvas, we can help make you big on mobile,” Ryan said, pointing to the success of Candy Crush Saga, Dragon City and others.

Since Ryan’s talk at GDC, Facebook has acquired Parse, a cloud-based platform providing tools for mobile app developers, and hired the team behind Spaceport, a framework for developers to publish their games across different platforms.

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