Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said today that Facebook will probably never build games. He made the comment at a press conference today to announce a new $250 million sFund for social applications, a fund backed by VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as well as Facebook, Amazon, Zynga, and others.
There probably weren't too many companies worried about Facebook stepping directly into the games industry, but Zuckerberg's direct statement on the issue should help clarify Facebook's platform strategy.
For the most part, Facebook has been careful to avoid competing with companies building applications on its platform, because it wants to provide the underlying infrastructure and social data for social apps, rather than build the apps themselves. For example, when Facebook first announced its platform, it actually rolled back some of the features in its own applications so that they didn't have an unfair advantage against other apps (as outlined in David Kirkpatrick's book The Facebook Effect).
Zuckerberg's explanation that he doesn't want to compete directly with Zynga could also help strengthen the relationship between the two companies. That will be particularly important as Google prepares to release social features of its own for which it might be courting star Facebook game maker Zynga. Zynga has built a huge audience on Facebook, but it's also looking at other platforms, for example with the launch of its Farmville iPhone app and its rumored Zynga Live website. Earlier this year, it seemed like Facebook and Zynga were on the verge of a big battle over the Facebook Credits social currency … until they reached a five-year deal for Zynga to use Credits.
Zuckerberg brought up Zynga specifically when he talked about the companies that the sFund should invest in. He's interested in backing companies that focus on a specific social experience, rather than just taking social networking features and "bolting them on." As these kinds of startups begin to take off, Zuckerberg said, "The world will start to look a lot more like Zynga."
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