Nov

24

The Fall of Facebook Gaming?

Mark Stephens

Is Facebook gaming declining? A question that has been asked since a couple of years ago when EA pulled many of its games, the Zynga decline was in full flow, and mobile gaming apps started taking over...

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Judging by the amount of game reminders and invites to join games your friends are playing on Facebook there has been no decline – but that’s probably not the best yardstick to use.

So what is the state of play at Facebook? Is mobile completely taking over and eroding the bedrock of the Facebook gaming platform, which is PC users? Or is there life yet in Zuckerberg’s old dog?

Facebook’s Gaming Strategy

With 1.2 billion users and 735 million clicks into a gaming environment per day, there are still plenty of people who love to match gems, solve crimes and tend farms from the comfort of their PC. And their options are expanding.

Facebook itself acknowledges that its gaming approach is changing, with development initiatives into more mid-core gaming. Earlier this year Dan Morris, head of North American & mobile games partnerships, described Facebook gaming as an “interesting and diverse mix of genres” that includes 3D shooters and more complex strategy games. He certainly doesn’t think it’s declining:

“It’s a great time to be working on games at Facebook. 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.”

By branching out into new gaming areas, Facebook is, to an extent, exploiting the power of the PC over the smartphone; you can simply do more with gaming on a PC than you can on a phone, and are not bound by restrictions such as graphics, sound, and battery life.

While phones and tablets are rapidly catching up, the PC still holds a significant advantage and, for large numbers of Facebook users who value game quality over convenience, sitting in front of a PC to play their favourite games remains their immediate future. PC s also remain popular for the older generation, many of whom spend time casually gaming on the same desktop that has been sitting on in the home for the past decade.

By starting to focus on ‘midcore’ game genre, Facebook is also addressing one of the key criticisms leveled against it: that it only offers a very narrow range of casual games.

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Another key part of the Facebook gaming strategy involves working with developers to make sure that games sync across all devices. Gamers don’t want multiple versions of their games on the go as they move from desktop to tablet to smartphone. Ensuring that desktop games can be picked up where the player left off while they’re on the bus to work increases the likelihood that Facebook remains relevant for gamers demanding more and more mobile freedom.

A 2013 study backed this up by showing that users able to enjoy multi-platform play spend 40 percent more time with Facebook games.

The ‘Decline’?

‘Decline’ is a word that Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer used earlier this year:

“Our current games payment revenue comes entirely from desktop usage and we are seeing declines in the number of people using Facebook on desktop.”

Facebook has long recognised that mobile was the way forward – hence the recent policies outlined above. The platform can’t be accused of standing still since releasing its first game in 2007, and has not been afraid of change; but remaining relevant as the mobile trend kicks in is its biggest challenge yet.

According to recent research published by Venture Beat, Facebook gaming revenues were down 2 percent in the third quarter of 2014 against the previous year: the first time that quarterly game revenues have declined compared to the previous year.

Facebook execs have accepted that this will be the norm as fewer people use their desktops, but are not too concerned about replacing the revenue lost to mobile gaming. Currently a third of its users access Facebook only on their phones and tablets. This provides high mobile ad revenue to help replace shrinking game returns which, in any case, only comprise around 8 percent of Facebook’s overall revenue.

While the move to mobile may have sent the Zynga dog away with its tail between its legs, Facebook is playing it smarter with its gaming platform; it has put the wheels in motion to remain relevant in the years to come, despite tablets and other mobile devices increasingly ruling the gaming roost.