You’ve probably never heard of Blake Commagere. But if you’re on Facebook, you’ve almost certainly seen his work. Blake’s the guy behind the Zombies, Werewolves, Vampires and Slayers apps, which means he’s one of the social network’s most successful developers — the four apps have 262,919 daily active users. He’s also the poster child for Facebook’s “uselessness”, since the apps don’t do anything for users except keep them entertained.
That’s not a terrible thing, of course. At recent Facebook developer meetup, Blake said he’s about to get funding. He wouldn’t elaborate about that to us, but at a Palo Alto Starbucks, Blake talked to us about his work, his reputation, how he’s going to make money, and why the Facebook redesign is good for developers.
SAI: When did you know your apps were a success?
Blake: Just a couple of days after (Zombies) went live. The first thing I did [after creating Zombies, a year ago], I pestered all my friends, and the initial response I got was twofold. The first group said, ‘this is great.’ And then there was another group that said ‘this is what you’ve been doing?’ But a couple of days later it was like 50,000 users. It was literally overnight. I went to bed, and didn’t check the numbers until the next afternoon and I was like, ‘that’s not just my friends’.
SAI: It’s great that lots of people like your apps. But how are you going to make money?
Blake: If Facebook figures out how to advertise properly, they’ll probably make that available to their developers too. But who knows? In two years I might be looking for a job saying “Hey, I know I spent the last three years talking about Zombies, but I am a good programmer.” Advertising on games tend to not do very well. What’s got everyone in games buzzing is virtual goods. That’s what we’re hoping will save games.
SAI: Why not make more “useful” apps?
Blake: For people to say that only utility apps are going to rule on Facebook –- anyone under that impression is totally wrong. Because utility is boring. Looking for a job? Who gets excited about that? And who does it every weekend? And at the end of the day that’s not as exciting as interacting with people. It’s weird to me that entertainment within Facebook is kind of being batted to the back, as if it isn’t monetizable. I don’t think anyone would say that about Hollywood or the traditional video game industry.
SAI: What about the Facebook redesign? How will that affect you, and how will it affect app-makers in general?
Blake: I think that historically there’s been a whole lot of nay-saying. You could probably go back and look and see there are articles every month about that. But time and time again we’ve seen that good apps rise to the top. The redesign may raise the bar on quality, and you may spread slightly slower. But a million users in four months instead of one month, who wouldn’t call that a success? It’s still far faster than you could grow if you had your own Web site. Facebook being slightly less viral is still insanely viral.
Every time abuse [of the Facebook platform] has been [curbed], people who were cheating the system take a big hit. But the end result for everyone that’s not cheating is that they benefit because users aren’t being deluged by notifications and spammy e-mails. So yours rise to the top.
SAI: Your apps are now shorthand for the general “uselessness” of Facebook. How do you feel about that?
Blake: I’m kind of embarrassed, but I’m kind of amused because it’s been popular for a year. If people want to declare me useless and irrelevant – joke’s on them, because it’s entertainment and has a huge audience of people who like it.
If I could be remembered for something, I’d hope people would say “that guy helped create this new platform of charitable giving [the Causes app, which he helped develop] and changed the world and made it a better place”. But I think if instead I’m going to get remembered as ‘you’re the jackass that did that the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,’ I’ll still take that over falling into obscurity.”