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Game entrepreneur Sean Ryan has been hired as director of game partnerships at Facebook.
The hire is a recognition that Facebook needs to focus more attention on social games, which are the biggest application on the social network, and on the third-party game publishers who make them. The hiring is an indication that Facebook knows that games, which are played by at least half of its 500 million users, are critical to its success. AllThingsD reported on Ryan’s hiring and Facebook has now confirmed it.
Ryan is the former chief executive of teen-focused game world Meez as well as Listen.com. Most recently, he had taken a job at News Corp. to set up a new online gaming division. At Facebook, his job won’t be to create games, since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the company will not create its own content. Rather, Ryan will manage partnerships with companies such as Zynga, whose CityVille game is the No. 1 app.
At times, the relationship with Zynga has been tense. Zynga started a major diversification effort in the spring after Facebook shut down viral communications from games that had non-gamers upset. As happens on other technology platforms, the interests of the platform owner are not always aligned with its most important developers.
Previously, program manager Gareth Davis oversaw games. But Facebook has built a development team around building new game-focused features into the platform. Back in September, Facebook unveiled the team — led by programmer Jared Morgenstern — when it announced some changes that would make games on Facebook better. Facebook has also hired Linden Lab co-founder Cory Ondrejka and Walletin executive Bruce Rogers.
At the time of the changes in September, Zuckerberg said he had to walk a tightrope between catering to gamers and making sure that game communications didn’t turn off non-gamers on the social network. But even with that added attention, some game company executives have privately wondered whether Facebook will take games seriously enough.
AllThingsD reported that News Corp.’s online game efforts will be taken over by John Welch, who joined the media giant after Ryan acquired his casual game company Making Fun. News Corp. has also acquired social game developer Irata Labs.
The Facebook position had been open since August, when we reported on the search. Now is a good time for Ryan to arrive, since game developers are presumably happy again. Zynga’s CityVille game has seen enormous growth in the past month, growing to 84.2 million monthly active users as Facebook’s messaging system has again helped draw attention to games.