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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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Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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