Facebook Hired Ondrejka to Help Web Games Evolve

When Facebook bought stealth startup Walletin back in November, nobody was quite sure what it meant. The tiny, secretive company had a high-profile boss in Cory Ondrejka, the former CTO of Second Life maker Linden Lab — but that was about all that we knew.

But while it’s still unclear what Ondrejka and his co-founder Bruce Rogers were working on at the time, at least we know what they’re working on today: boosting Facebook’s support for HTML5 games. In a post on Facebook, Ondrejka writes that he and Rogers have spent the past few months pushing the boundaries of HTML5 for games:

Already over 125 million people visit Facebook using HTML5 capable browsers just from their mobile phones, and that number skyrockets when we add in desktop browsers. The future is clear…

Less clear are the capabilities of HTML5 as a high performance gaming platform today. New HTML5 games regularly appear, they often exhibit quirks and low frame rates.

The first fruits of their labor are for programmers only: a benchmarking kit called JSGameBench that should help developers enhance performance and understand how to create more complex HTML5 games.

That’s an important area for Facebook, which wants to make sure it is the top destination for people playing games. It’s already apparent that companies can build themselves into big businesses thanks to Facebook, but not everybody can boast social-gaming giant Zynga’s resources. Better games all around makes the pie bigger for Facebook, particularly when it requires payments to go through its own systems.

This isn’t because Facebook wants to make games, though. In fact, Ondrejka explicitly says in the post that is “definitely not” in the plan. But it’s clearly in the company’s interest to make the games it supports better and richer for players. More play equals more money.

What’s particularly interesting about this open-source approach, however, is that such developments have implications beyond Facebook. With proper browser support, mobiles can use HTML5 instead of Flash (s adbe) for some tasks, meaning that Apple, (s aapl) Google (s goog) and others can all benefit from Facebook’s push. And while 3-D may not be so easy (“the HTML5 sweet spot is going to be 2-D and isometric games,” he writes) there’s still plenty that can be done right now.

So now it starts to become more apparent why Facebook bought Walletin and brought in Ondrejka. Whatever you think of Second Life, it’s an astonishing feat of engineering that makes it work, and one he created. Applying those abilities to web-based games may mean we’ll be seeing a lot of very rapid development in the near future.

Photograph used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Joi Ito on Flickr

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