Facebook rethinks games rules in developer charm offensive

Zuckerberg: "people have questioned our commitment to games... it's been tricky to find the right balance"

Facebook has revealed a set of new features and changes intended to arrest the decline of game growth on the social network.

With many developers lamenting that viral spread of titles has died out following Facebook's tightened restrictions on game notifications in users' news feeds, boss Mark Zuckerberg last night outlined the company's next game strategy.

The primary change involves ramping notifications back up, but making them visible only to people who regularly play games on Facebook.

Speaking to a selection of invitees to Facebook HQ in Palo Alto, California (as filmed by VentureBeat), the CEO claimed that "our goal is to make it so as few people as possible come to the site and have negative experiences every day...

"One of the biggest drivers of negative experience has unfortunately been games. One the one hand, games are a phenomenon – 200 million people or more are playing games on the site. On the other hand, game [notifications] are also one of the biggest complaints that we get.

"We tried measuring the right weight for games stories, and what we found was when we turn it up, we get complaints. And when we turn it up, we get complaints. People have questioned Facebook's commitment to games and whether we care about it.

"I understand why people have thought that historically, but we want to build and enable anything that hundreds of millions of people want to use. It's just been very tricky to find the right balance to do that."


Targeted game notifications now include far more detail for relevant observers

Facebook's latest gambit is to keep the bulk of game content away from people who don't already play games, instead using Discovery Stories to highlight when a friend or friends installs and apparently engages with a new title.

Further notifications on their in-game actions will then be hidden from those who do not regularly play games, but users identified as gamers will be privy to expanded stories intended to increase virality.

Explaining the methodology, Zuckerberg argued that "In real-life, if one of your friends plays FarmVille and you don't, they probably wouldn't come up to you and say 'Hey, I just got this new cow on my farm.' They might say 'Hey, I found this new game that's really cool that you should check out.' Giving this kind of context is what we want to emulate on the site."

Further changes include a Smart Bookmarks system that automatically manages application links on the main page, adding and removing apps and games dependent on usage.

Developers will also be able to add counters to app icons, letting users know how many tasks or notifications await them, in the hope of encouraging fair-weather users to play more often and for longer.

"What it's going to mean is that games that are good, that are high quality, people now have the ability to stick with them for a longer period of time," said Zuckerberg.

"Whereas the whole ring of fire approach, where you keep on growing exponentially but have a lot of users who pull out, that's not going to work as well.

"We still think that Facebook is going to be the best way for games and applications and content to spread socially – because that's what a social network is. You're seeing what your friends are doing, and that's the main way to make people learn about these things. If think if you compare this to other platforms, that's always gonna be a huge advantage of building on top of Facebook."

Also discussed was the thorny issue of proprietary virtual currency Facebook Credits, which have elicited the dual concerns of the social network taking too big a cut (at 30 per cent) and that the system is not available to all games.

Claimed platform marketing chief Dan Rose, "Credits are really important from our perspective for users, to make sure that when you buy credits you're able to spend them in any game you play. That only really works in a world where all of the games are accepting credits, and we're working with you guys to make sure that's possible.

"We're balancing that off against the need to build this slowly so that we can make sure that...we're building a stable platform around it. So we can't bring all games on at once, but we already have 170 games that accept Credits and our goal is to get to a place where all of the games on Facebook are accepting Credits."

Rose also explained plans to offer free Credits to users who had not yet spent virtual currency on Facebook, in the hope of acclimatising them to the concept and the claimed benefits of in-game goods.

A detailed breakdown of Facebook's proposed changes to games is available here.

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Latest comments (10)

John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam11 years ago
Facebook already gives users 25 free credits, the problem is most of the big Facebook game companies use their own individual currencies and won't let you convert less than 49 Facebook credits at a time, which seems dumb to me. I'm not going to buy game currency using real money, but I'd quite happily spend my 25 free credits (which I have no other use for) if I could.

As for notifications, I've tried a few Facebook games recently to see what the current state of the sector is, and all of them prompt you to post messages about in-game events on your news feed, often several times a day, and reward you for doing so. In one case a game encouraged me to do this pretty much every time I clicked on something, which got so annoying I stopped playing it.

All the games I've tried reward you for giving them blanket permission to automatically post updates on your news feed without you individually authorizing them. They also all heavily nerf your abilities in some way (restricting access to powerful items / buildings, limiting your playing area or army size etc) based on how many friends you have playing the game, encouraging you to keep nagging other people to join the game.

If the game companies are complaining the current situation is too restrictive, I hate to think what it must have been like before...
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Christopher Bowen Owner, Gaming Bus 11 years ago
I'm just kinda waiting for this stupid Facebook/hyper casual bubble to burst. OK, let's get past this little fad and get back to making real games that don't reward me for being the equivalent of a Nigerian spammer.
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Aidan Fitzpatrick Artist 11 years ago
I kind of agree with the post above, though I dread the day the 'Civilization' guys finish their facebook version...
if farmville players think their game is addictive wait till the get a load of Civ.
so much productivity due to be lost on the days im working at home hehe.
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Show all comments (10)
RJ Festejo Creative Director, Microsoft11 years ago
I'm putting my hands up, here... I used to play Farmville. I used to play it a lot, actually. I was amazed to see the design changes made to FrontierVille just to make it more 'social'. It was so off-putting that I gave up on the game within 2 weeks.

Thing is... with millions of people playing, games on Facebook ain't going anywhere. Didn't a company just launch the first 3D game on Facebook? I wonder what games will be like on the platform in 2 years time.

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Frank Bowen Sr. Project Manager, THQ11 years ago
I think if they were to put the games on the "Games Feed" if they had one, and get it off of my News Feed I would be more accepting of them. I now have to ignore good friends who like playing games or put up with their game updates. I think it is a simple fix... er feature. This way everyone wins I get my friends back and they can play their games and I can ignore that aspect of the site if I want to.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Frank Bowen on 22nd September 2010 8:19pm

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Matt Hackett Game Developer, Lost Decade Games11 years ago
@Christopher Bowen: Well said! Totally agree.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 11 years ago
Why not see Face Book as an opportunity rather than a fad?

It's just a platform, no more or less evil than Consoles or Mobiles. Make good exclusive content for it, and ensure it wont be a fad dominated by bad games.

I'd love to see what Keita Takahashi could do with the platform.

Make the games exclusive and compelling and I'll be the first to sign up.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shane Sweeney on 23rd September 2010 7:25am

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Antony Cain Lecturer, Teesside University11 years ago
Might aswell embrace it because I highly doubt the 'fad' is going to end any time soon
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Jon Shepherd11 years ago
On the odd occasion that I do end up playing Facebook games, I'd like to see the option to customise the post settings so that it only shows to other friends playing the game. I understand that it's one of the ways that the games 'grow' but for most people not playing already would just block them from their news feed anyway.
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Mike Breault Game Designer/Writer, Raven Software11 years ago
@ Christopher Bowen: Your comments made me flash back to one of the early GDCs (back when the conference was known as the Computer Game Developers' Conference). Execs from Sega and Nintendo gave a talk about the coming opportunities for development on consoles and were roundly booed by many of the "real" game developers in the audience. And rightly so, eh? Who can make a real game on a console? Thank God that whole console thing proved to be a fad and a farce!

Sorry, but IMO any platform on which devs can create games that players enjoy should not be subject to contempt. It might not be your cup of tea, fine and fair, but I don't believe casual games will do anything but continue to grow. People in the games industry have talked for years about expanding our audience and now that it's finally happening (no thanks to traditional game developers), we're going to ignore it? I hope not.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mike Breault on 23rd September 2010 7:35pm

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