Facebook seeks new ways to add gaming to social mix

Facebook users rejoice! Zuckerberg's people have found a new way for you to be alerted about the fun social games your friends are playing.

Well, OK, perhaps it's not exactly cause for jubilation, especially if you are one of those grumpy individuals who dislike being bombarded with invitations to match gems, solve puzzles and discover new realms. But, to be fair to Facebook, the new systems are designed to deliver "quality, not quantity," according to head of games engineering Vishu Gupta.

Speaking in a media briefing attended by Polygon, he explained that developers can now customize the language in a request. For example, alerts that used to say "John sent you a request" will now have specific information about the game, such as "John asked you to collect a gem."

Gupta said that Facebook is also working on ways to match games' relevance to individual users' tastes. "If I get a game recommendation that is not right for me, I would see it as spam," he said. "But if it is right for me, then I might be delighted."

Facebook gaming execs are at GDC in force this week, seeking to get buy-in on various development initiatives. According to head of North American & mobile games partnerships Dan Morris, Facebook gaming now offers an "interesting and diverse mix of genres" that includes 3D shooters and complex strategy titles.

"There was a classic knock against Facebook games, that it was a very narrow range of casual titles," he said. "But there are now some pretty serious core and mid-core games. It's a real step forward because we're seeing, through Unity, some pretty high-end games coming through." He cited Samurai Siege from Space Ape, which he called "as serious a mobile strategy game as you will find."

Facebook is also on a mission to persuade developers to make sure games are available across mobile and desktop platforms, and that they are synched with one another. In a study, conducted late last year, the company found that users who converted to multi-platform play spent 40 percent more time with Facebook games than before, while those who stayed with one platform saw a decline in time spent.

"People are connected from everywhere," said games engineering manager Aaron Brady during a GDC talk earlier this week. "When they hop from device to device they expect to pick up where they left off. Imagine if you couldn't pick up your email from your mobile, only from your desktop? The same is true for games. If you are enjoying a game, you want to pick it up where you left it. If you can't you are not going to play the game."

An audience of 1.2 billion users interacts with Facebook every month, with 735 million clicks into a gaming environment, from the social platform, every day, according to Morris.

"It's a great time to be working on games at Facebook," he said. "We're increasingly understanding, thanks to the data that our audience sends back to us, that games are a fundamental human interest. It's motivating us to solve the discovery problem that is looming so large over game development right now."

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