OpenFeint has hired a game development leader to help its customers focus on making free-to-play mobile games.

The move reflects the growing importance of free-to-play, the business model where users play for free and can purchase virtual goods with real money.

Burlingame, Calif.-based OpenFeint has hired Ethan Fassett, a former Playdom executive with expertise in free-to-play Facebook games. Fassett will lead the development of next-generation social networking features with distribution channels for free-to-play developers.

OpenFeint, which was purchased in April for $104 million by Japan’s Gree, makes tools that developers can use to make their games more social. The company’s tools are used by 6,000 games on Android and the iPhone, with a total of 90 million players for those games.

Fassett will be senior vice president for product at OpenFeint. He will help develop new communications and player acquisition features for OpenFeint’s platform.

“We’re very excited to bring on Ethan, whose expertise in free-to-play games and social communities will drive product strategy and shape the evolution of the network,” said Jason Citron, CEO of OpenFeint. “Ethan truly understands social games, the social networks they need to be successful, and the tools game developers need to properly engage and monetize their players.”

The move is similar to one by Flurry, the mobile analytics and recommendation firm, which recently hired game developer Jason Valadares to lead its efforts with developers. Fassett worked on games such as Market Street at Playdom. He also worked at Gaia Online.

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