You have no shortage of options when it comes to watching gaming-related video content. Twitch and YouTube are huge portals for livestreams and recorded clips, but Facebook has also started working its way into that conversation with its own broadcasting platform. For example, Facebook struck a deal with developer Bluehole to livestream the official videos for the last-player-standing shooter PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The social network is pitching this service to developers as an opportunity to find their fans, which is occasionally difficult on the crowded YouTube and Twitch.
Facebook has more than 2 billion monthly active users, but the company is less interested in that massive number these days. Instead, it is digging into the people behind that large figure to find the groups that it can bring together and present content to. And gaming is one of the largest and most obvious demographics for that targeting.
“We’ve identified more than 800 million Facebook-connected gamers every month,” Facebook games boss Leo Olebe explained in a chat with GamesBeat. “Those are people who either play on Facebook or play Facebook-connected experiences. The gaming audience is present on Facebook. The people you want to reach are present on Facebook.”
The core concept here is that while Twitch and YouTube are enormous and important for community creators, they are occasionally less useful for a company trying to speak to its audience. Sure, studios like Bungie or major publishers like Nintendo can draw in massive viewer numbers during livestreams, but small studios may get lost in the noise. But if you like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Facebook, that site may throw Bluehole’s livestream into your feed for you. And that works because so many people are constantly on Facebook by default.
“Our ability to solve the number one problem that everyone has, which is discovery — is fantastic,” said Olebe. “There are multiple ways people can connect to each other and with content, and ways things can be surfaced to people who will love them the most, that we’re able to do very successfully. That’s why people are interested in putting their content up there. The way the overall [Facebook family of apps] is put together — we’re a community machine. The more passionate you are about something, the more of it you’re going to see, and the better you’re going to be able to connect with other people.”
To build the understanding that Facebook is useful for this kind of communication, however, the company is planning to put together more deals like the one it has with Bluehole.
“We’re looking for things that people are going to fall in love with,” said Olebe. “It’s easy to talk about, ‘hey, a lot of people are on Facebook.’ Most companies and developers are aware of that fact. If we can get more context around the fact that gamers are on Facebook as well, that 800 million number, that’s fantastic. But at the heart of this whole thing is cool, compelling, interesting, and engaging content.”
You can read my full interview with Olebe right here:
GamesBeat: How is Facebook approaching developers like Bluehole? Where do those conversations start?
Leo Olebe, Facebook director of global games: The nice thing is that it’s actually super simple. It’s the same way that many people discover and get excited about content. We love to play games and we love to watch games, just as much as anybody else. When we find something that we think is particularly compelling and cool, we reach out and say, hey, our core interests are, how do we build community, how do we expose more people to great and amazing and engaging content throughout the Facebook family of apps. What are you guys interested in? What are your motivations? What problems are you trying to solve right now? That series of questions usually leads to a place where we can say—we can figure out a way to partner together to help us achieve our mutual objectives, or maybe something doesn’t work out today, but it’ll work out later on in the future. It’s relatively simple. That’s literally how it goes.
GamesBeat: When you come in and you give your pitch, what sort of figures and audiences and demographics are you pitching to developers? Who can they reach by working with Facebook?
Olebe: There’s two parts, I think, to your question. The first one is just in practical terms. Facebook has 2 billion monthly active users on Facebook, 700 million on Instagram, 1.2 billion on Messenger, over a billion on WhatsApp. We have a big ecosystem of people across multiple surfaces. We’ve identified more than 800 million Facebook-connected gamers every month. Those are people who either play on Facebook or play Facebook-connected experiences. The gaming audience is present on Facebook. The people you want to reach are present on Facebook. That’s part one, but part two—again, it’s about great content and great experiences.
We’re looking for things that people are going to fall in love with. It’s easy to talk about, hey, a lot of people are on Facebook. Most companies and developers are aware of that fact. If we can get more context around the fact that gamers are on Facebook as well, that 800 million number, that’s fantastic. But at the heart of this whole thing is cool, compelling, interesting, and engaging content. I always tell people, in a sense, my job is pretty simple. I get to wake up every day and say—we have 2 billion people on our platform. What amazing things can we do in games today? That’s what drives us, what our motivation is. The cool thing is, when we start to think along those lines—Facebook recently talked about our revised mission, which is to focus on community, on the whole of it. Games are inherently community-centric and community-driven. What we’re trying to do in games is very closely aligned with what we’re doing as a company overall.
GamesBeat: How do you want a gaming audience to interact with Facebook?
Olebe: There are very practical implementations, which you just described – developers implementing Facebook login, having Facebook sharing on the PS4. You can share stuff. On the other platforms as well you can share stuff directly to your Facebook feed. Same thing on mobile devices. Many people—we don’t release specific numbers, but many people are in groups, whether it’s a League of Legends group, where they talk about gameplay strategies and all that fun stuff, or massive groups for Pokémon Go. There are groups that are city-based that organize events. There was one just recently in Seattle, where people are merging their digital and physical lives together in order to have even deeper relationships with the people they game with.
There’s all of the content people put on pages. It could be anything from a developer interview to a new screenshot to posting the code of the day that might get you some fun in-game currency or a unique item. There are chats and conversations with the community that developers have. Then, also, if you think about something as practical as E3, all the press conferences were streamed on Facebook as well. So there’s a ton of live content. There’s a bunch of VOD content. And then of course there’s also all the partnerships we’ve entered into, whether that’s with Bluehole and Battlegrounds, or MLG or ESL, or Echofox, or Immortals.
There are lots of ways we’re feeding the overall content ecosystem. And then, on top of that, if you think about just the news feed, I consider my personal news feed basically to be a gaming feed. All my friends are in the games industry. Gaming is what we’re passionate about. We’re always sharing things and having a conversation. In terms of how people are passionate about stuff in their life, that’s what Facebook turns into for them.
As someone who’s in the games biz, or is just a gamer who loves to play and share, news feed is a surface for them, a way they’re going to interact, get the latest news, find the best content, watch a cool video, see an announcement trailer, whatever it’s going to be. It’s really all over the whole ecosystem, and that’s just talking about the Facebook Blue app. Of course there’s Messenger, with a games tab right there at the front. If you want to play an HTML 5 game on your phone, boom, you’re right there and you can do that inside of a thread, inside of a group, have back and forth gameplay with a game like Everwing, which is super popular.
And then on Instagram there are multiple accounts where people share in-game screenshots, events they go to, the most recent cosplay—the thing that’s interesting and exciting, and I believe you guys probably know these numbers better than anybody—if you look at things that say, oh, 80 percent of teens play games and build friendships in games—on a global basis I believe there are more than 685 million people around the world who love to watch people play games. Globally there are 2.5 billion gamers. The definition of who a gamer is is getting more and more broad as people can play on mobile, play on console, play on PC, watch videos, have fun with games in so many different ways. They can play on their TVs. We even have a games tab on our Facebook connected TV app.
Gaming is ever-present. It’s everywhere. It’s something people are passionate about. The other thing I think is important is that gaming is a digital-first medium. It’s a lean-in experience, where people are rewarded through active engagement and sharing. Anybody can play. It’s accessible around the world. So many different types of gameplay experiences. When you’re in a digital-first medium, where interactivity is the key and community rewards are extensive and there are low barriers to entry, it’s more and more exciting and important to be involved in it.
GamesBeat: So is Facebook an alternative to Twitch or YouTube for developers looking to reach out directly to their audience?
Olebe: I would say, very directly, that we never compare ourselves to other people that are out there. We just try to talk about the benefits and advantages of interacting with a platform like Facebook. But our ability to solve the number one problem most people have, that everyone has, which is discovery—our ability is fantastic.
There are multiple ways people can connect to each other and with content, ways things can be surfaced to people who will love it the most, that we’re able to do in a variety of ways and very successfully. That’s why people are interested in putting their content up there. The way the overall Facebook/Instagram – let’s call it the Facebook family of apps – is put together, we’re a community machine. The more passionate you are about something, the more of it you’re going to see, and the better you’re going to be able to connect with other people. That’s hugely motivating to people who want to reach larger and larger audiences, connect with folks who may not have had exposure to their brands or their games previously. We’re very well-positioned.
GamesBeat: Is the value in the gaming audience that it’s easy to understand and likes to spend money?
Olebe: Everything at Facebook can always be tied back to helping discover and engage with things they’re passionate about. And so to that extent, gaming is absolutely perfect, because it’s something, like you said, people love to share. They can easily engage. They’re really active. We are never a money first company.
We’re always an engagement first and a sharing first company. The way we always talk about it, we just want to build amazing products and then at some point we’ll figure out how to monetize. First and foremost it’s always been about how you build community and build connections between people.
GamesBeat: Is Facebook Live getting an upgrade to 1080p or 60 frames per second to compete with other platforms?
Olebe: Yeah. I think—from a progression of technology perspective, when we launched this thing, I don’t even think we were at 720p and 30fps. I don’t know where we were. But we’re constantly getting better. Improved technology is table stakes for performance. We know we want to move to 1080p and 60fps. We know that at some point we want to do 4K. All of the ways you could imagine to grow from a technology perspective to enhance the gaming viewing experience, those are the things we’ll push into, inclusive of monetization.
I’ve said publicly before, we want creators and influencers and developers to be able to make a living from putting great gaming content on the platform. We’re always trying to push the envelope. Are we all the way there yet? No. The interesting thing is that we have the wonderful—I’ll call it the wonderful challenge of dealing with scale in a way that most others aren’t used to. Which makes us in some instances move faster, and in some instances move much slower as well. Scaling 720p and 30fps to 100 million people is a much different proposition from scaling that to a billion people or 2 billion people. We’re working through it. Best foot forward, doing the best job we can. We’re always trying to get better.