Facebook aims to unite 700M gamers on its platform with new gaming section

Vivek Sharma, head of product for gaming, and Vijaye Raji, vice president of games at Facebook, at the company’s Seattle office. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Facebook says it has more than 700 million gamers and fans of games on its platform, and it wants to bring them all together in one place.

Facebook today unveiled a new dedicated Gaming tab in its mobile app for people to play games on the platform, follow their favorite game streamers and participate in gaming groups. Facebook said it will roll out the new section first to a subset of “10s of millions” of users before releasing it more broadly.

Facebook did not reveal any new gaming features or services, but today’s announcement creates a central hub for gaming. It builds on a destination for gaming video that Facebook began testing last summer. The tab separates out gaming-related notifications, groups and other communications from the rest of the platform.

Vijaye Raji, vice president of gaming at Facebook, said there are more than 300,000 gaming-focused groups on Facebook with more than 105 million active users. They focus on titles for hardcore gamers like League of Legends as well as more casual games like Pokémon Go.

“That’s the kind of organic community that’s already building around gaming on Facebook,” Raji said. “What we’ve noticed is this activity happens all over Facebook, sometimes on Newsfeed, sometimes on Groups and sometimes on Pages, this diffused activity. “We’ve been making each of these experience better over time, but one amazing thing that we could do is to bring all of that together in one destination.”

Facebook’s Seattle engineering center. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Gaming has long been a core part of Facebook, dating back to the desktop days that when gamemakers like Zynga (Farmville) and King (Candy Crush) became household names. That evolved in 2017 when Facebook launched Instant Games and has continued to grow in recent years.

Though its not mentioned with the likes of Twitch, streaming is becoming an important part of Facebook’s gaming operation. Facebook’s pitch to creators is its huge global platform and the potential it presents for streamers to attract a big audience. Introduced at the beginning of 2018, Facebook’s streaming offering is still young, giving creators the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

“We’re early in the game, which means you can actually influence the platform,” Raji said.

Central gaming hubs like what Facebook is building have the potential to bring people together, but they can also become toxic environments very quickly. Raji said the teams empower streamers with a lot of moderation tools to make sure their channels fit with the environment they want to create.

Raji said creating and maintaining an inclusive environment in the gaming section is top ongoing priority. Raji pointed to the authentic nature of Facebook, where users show their real names and profiles, as something that holds people more accountable than a platform where people can be anonymous. However, that logic hasn’t always held when looking at the broader Facebook platform.

The games team is based entirely in Facebook’s massive Seattle outpost, and it is led by Raji. He wouldn’t say exactly how many people work on games at Facebook, but the number is north of 100 employees.

The Seattle area is replete with gaming talent, from big gaming studios like Bungie to homegrown gaming giants like Microsoft, to global forces such as Nintendo.

“It’s much easier to hire talent here in Seattle,” Raji said. “Seattle has this gaming DNA.”

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