When gaming took off on mobile devices and developers shifted their focus from browser-based desktops to mobile-first, Facebook had a problem: You couldn't play a game through Facebook on a mobile device. You still can't. But the social media giant is coming up with ways to stay relevant in the age of mobile-first gaming, and part of that strategy involves embracing developers who prioritize the mobile versions of their games.
"It's really not an either-or choice at all," says Facebook's North American lead on the games partnerships team, Dan Morris. Prior to joining Facebook, Morris worked at mobile game developer DeNA. "In fact, that's becoming a pretty false dichotomy."
According to Morris, mobile game developers can leverage the Facebook platform to find new revenue streams, and Facebook can also help increase discovery of the mobile version of the game.
For example, a developer can launch a game they originally made for mobile on the Facebook platform, which introduces a new audience to their game. Despite more and more people choosing to game on mobile devices, the Facebook platform still has more than a billion users and, as of 2013, an average of 375 million people play games on the platform every month.
Facebook can also facilitate referrals to the mobile version of a game, with its "send to mobile" feature that literally sends the user to the app store to download the mobile version of a game. Many of the games are synchronized and, in the case of a game like FarmVille 2: Country Escape, players manage two different farms but can send items back and forth between games.
Instead of positioning itself as being in competition with mobile games, Facebook is trying to carve out its own place in the market as both another tool for discovery, and a platform that supports mobile game developers.
Referring players to apps outside the Facebook platform is not the most lucrative move for the company, though. Its 2013 annual report stated that the social network does not directly monetize from developers integrating their own mobile apps and websites with Facebook. "Platform developers' efforts to prioritize Facebook integrations with their own mobile apps may reduce or slow the growth of our user activity that generates advertising and Payments opportunities, which could negatively affect our revenue," the report read.
The company is focusing on the long-term benefits, though, which it hopes will lead to increased engagement on Facebook-integrated websites and apps.
"Games are delightful and people are on Facebook all the time," Morris says. "It's a very simple equation at the end of the day."