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Facebook gets its hooks into 3D Web and mobile games

The social network looks to expand beyond casual games with tools to attract core game makers.

With the new Facebook SDK for Unity, core games like CMUNE's first-person shooter Uberstrike can more easily hook into the social network on Web, iOS, and Android.

Facebook is hoping to infiltrate the world of 3D gaming through a partnership with game engine Unity.

Wednesday, the social network is releasing a new cross-platform software development kit for Unity with tools that let game makers easily incorporate Facebook tie-ins into the core games -- the genre of action, adventure, and first-person shooter games often found on consoles -- that they make for Web, iOS, and Android. The tools include plug-and-play social hooks, like an option to let users post stories back to Facebook or invite their friends, and provide this class of game developer with ways to expand and grow audiences through distribution inside the social network.

The new SDK means that game makers working inside the Unity development environment can build in Facebook hooks for Web, iOS, and Android as they go, making for a build-once, publish-everywhere process, George Lee, Facebook Games product manager, told CNET. In addition, developers can use the SDK to port their mobile game to with a single line of code.

The release is part of Facebook's calculated effort to stretch beyond its reputation as a zone for casual games and hook a new type of developer and gamer to its platform.

"It hasn't always been clear that gamers on Facebook wanted to play core games," Lee said. Lee pointed to the fact that more than 90 million members have installed the Unity 3D browser plugin, up from 30 million six months ago, to play core games as proof that its gamers are expanding their horizons.

The end goal is, of course, to get more developers building a broader collection of games for Facebook, Lee said. The efforts could encourage more of the social network's 1.15 billion members, 260 million of whom already play games on the company's Web site, to take up gaming. The company made a small fraction of its second-quarter revenue, or $214 million, from its games business, but it maintains that games keep members active and that Wall Street likes it when Facebook grows the number of members coming back on a daily or monthly basis. The games business also indirectly brings in revenue through mobile app installs, a relatively new ad format that Facebook says is popular with its game developers.

Facebook and Unity first announced their partnership earlier this year with a dual effort to guide Facebook members through the installation process of Unity's browser plug-in and direct people to core games.