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Facebook and Unity's joint-SDK aims for easy cross-platform deployment

Facebook and Unity have been working together on a joint-SDK that intends to let developers build once, then deploy across web, iOS and Android platforms.

Kris Graft

August 28, 2013

4 Min Read

When people say “Facebook game,” there’s a certain stereotype that immediately pops into mind, and for a lot of people, that stereotype is some kind of FarmVille clone or a match-three puzzle game. Facebook knows that this perception exists, and it wants to take more deliberate steps to change it -- to invite more kinds of players into the social game fold. That’s part of the reason why the social network, along with engine maker Unity, have announced a new joint-SDK that aims to make cross-platform Unity development for Facebook a streamlined experience for developers. Unity and Facebook have been working together for months now to improve the process of Facebook development using Unity. With the official Facebook SDK for Unity, Facebook expects its mobile and web users to have a wider library of games to choose from -- specifically Unity-powered games that serve what Facebook calls the "core" and "mid-core" market. But the advantages of this new "joint SDK" aren't just limited to certain genres or target audiences. The big draw of the new SDK is that it will allow developers to build a game once, then deploy it across web, iOS and Android. That means reaching a broader audience with Unity should be that much easier for developers. George Lee, product manager at Facebook explains, “When you’re building your game, and you’re, let’s say, calling a share dialog, you call it in the same way, and it doesn’t matter what platform you’re building for. It works across all the mobile platforms, as well as Canvas.” Lee adds, “[The SDK] allows for Facebook functionality built within the Unity IDE, so developers can build directly to Facebook functionality while they’re building their games.” There are plenty of games on Facebook that use Unity – Lee says nearly 100 million Facebook users have Unity installed in their browsers. But the Unity-Facebook experience right now is not optimal. “We knew a lot of gamers on the web were playing in full-screen mode, we knew that our support for full-screen on Canvas was not very good,” says Lee. Social features like sharing or requests tend to break up the game experience by forcing players to pop out of fullscreen mode, address a Javascript dialog box, then go back into fullscreen mode. So in the new joint-SDK, all of those dialogs are embedded in the Unity engine, so interactions like requests or sharing while still in fullscreen mode without completely interrupting the experience. Additionally, the SDK smooths out the Unity player installation process to make it less intimidating for the average Facebook user. This involves Facebook implementing user-friendly install dialogs to help users through the installation. In order to take advantage of the new features, developers will need to graduate to the new SDK. Facebook has already been working with a small amount of game developers to test-run the new SDK. One of them is Madfinger, developer of the popular mobile shooter Shadowgun “It was literally only about a day’s worth of work to launch what was only going to be a mobile game on Canvas.” The game is racking up an impressive amount of web users since the Facebook version launched a few weeks ago. “[This can give] developers a whole population of users that they didn’t originally intend on having at all.” Relating to Facebook’s cross-platform streamlining is the Parse plugin for Unity, which will be available in the coming weeks. Parse is a cloud-based platform that Facebook acquired earlier this year. Combined with the new SDK, Parse will give developers an easier way to implement cloud features like cross-platform save states and save data, high score data and enable or disable a/b testing – a handy feature if you’re deploying games across web, iOS and Android. With the joint-SDK Lee says Facebook wants to better serve the “core” and “mid-core” game segments, which are more about full-screen experiences on Facebook and deeper, more involved gameplay. In other words, the kinds of games that Facebook hadn’t really emphasized in the past. “A good portion of 2012 was spent getting the game ecosystem back to a place where we felt like it was again an important place for developers to build, and for players to spend their time,” says Lee. With a broader library, Lee thinks Facebook could get more people playing games on the social network. “We’ve always felt that we didn’t really supply the right infrastructure [for core games],” he says. “You see a lot of people here at Facebook playing those kinds of games on other platforms. We were kind of unhappy that we couldn’t supply the same kind of experience on Facebook, and we work here. It was a chip on our shoulder.” Facebook has more details about the SDK on its official developer blog.

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