Facebook game chief sees rebirth of social games

March 26, 2009

Gareth Davis, games chief at social networking giant Facebook, says we’re in the middle of a “renaissance” in casual video games, as users transform a once solitary activity into a social one.

“Game play is an essentially human activity, a social activity,” Davis said in an interview at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Facebook, which has 175 million active monthly users, has seen an explosion in application development since it opened its platform to third-party developers nearly two years ago. The site now boasts 50,000 applications, the largest category of which is games, with more than 5,000.

“With all that growth what we’ve seen is a tremendous interest in the usage of games.” Three of the top 10 apps are games, he said: Texas HoldEm Poker, Pet Society and Mafia Wars. “Poker just passed 11 million monthly users, which is the same size as World of Warcraft.”

“At the dawn of gaming way, way, way back all games were social. We play together as human beings and then we invented games, which were board games and chess and cards. And these are all inherently social games, they’re no fun on their own. What happened I think about 30 years ago is technology came along to the point where you can play a video game and the games tended to be solo games.”

“We’re seeing new kinds of interaction and activities happenings on Facebook, people … are interacting with each other and they’re choosing games as a way to do that… What we’re finding with the games that are being created is because they’re based around social interaction they tend to become popular and stay popular.”

“So bringing these social technologies into game play is kind of bringing games back to where they started.”

Davis said in the past year, Facebook game developers have raised more than $75 million in venture capital funding.

“The best gaming experience is poker night or playing Rock Band, these inherently social experiences. What Facebook and Facebook Connect enable you to do is to do this across the Internet and across devices that aren’t necessarily in the same place at the same time. This is what social gaming is, games that are designed to take advantage of the social interaction between people.”

He was referring to the company’s recent expansion of Facebook Connect — software that links Facebook pages to third-party Web sites — to Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch.  It allows iPhone app developers to connect their programs to Facebook, so users can tap into their accounts and share information if they want. Game developers are already incorporating it into iPhone games.

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