Facebook changes its gaming platform

Faith Merino · September 22, 2010 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/1200
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The social network makes amends to jilted publishers while also appeasing irritated non-gamers

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Facebook held a press event this week at its headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., where CEO Mark Zuckerberg, VP of partnerships and platform marketing Dan Rose, and product manager for games Jared Rosenberg took the stage to talk about how Facebook has implemented new measures to ensure more positive experiences on the site.  According to Zuckerberg, almost 300 million users visit the site every day, and of those 300 million, a unique tug-of-war has been taking place over games on the site.  According to Zuckerberg, games are the most loved and the most hated Facebook feature.

“Games have this really interesting duality,” said Zuckerberg.  “On the one hand, games are this really interesting phenomenon—200 million people or more are playing games on the site.  If you poll Facebook users on what the top things they enjoy about Facebook are, games are in the top five.”

But…

“On the other hand,” added Zuckerberg, “games are also in the biggest complaints that we get.  While games are in the top five list of things people like, they’re often right up there in the top five list of things people wish weren’t there.”

Whether you love or hate games on Facebook, you know exactly what Zuckerberg is talking about.  You log on to Facebook and your newsfeed is peppered with updates and invites -- Sarah has lost a cow on Zynga's Farmville!  She needs your help to bring it home!  Or my favorite (because it epitomizes stereotypical gaming geekery): Dan needs your help to slay the dreaded red dragon on Castle Wars!  

If you love games, having these kinds of requests in your news feed is ideal. But if you hate games and find yourself wondering why so many of your friends are playing Farmville at noon on a Wednesday, these invites are obnoxious and in the way.

“When we turn up the weight of the games in the news feed, we get complaints,” said Zuckerberg.  “When we turn it down, we get complaints.” How does Facebook balance these two equal and opposing viewpoints? 

For starters, Facebook now has a dedicated gaming team that has been planning changes for games on Facebook.  According to Jared Morgenstern, the top 10 games on Facebook have 12 million active users each.  The Facebook gaming community is huge and, said Zuckerberg, “we want to build and enable anything that hundreds of millions of people want to use.”

“We recognize that some of the things that we’ve done in the past…sent a signal that maybe we don’t care about games or thought that they should be less prominent,” said Dan Rose, referring to a move by Facebook earlier this year to crack down on viral news announcements and notifications, which consequently put a dent in game publisher Zynga’s gaming traffic. 

For Zynga, game requests in a friend’s user activity has long been a powerful marketing tool, but Facebook’s move in the spring to reduce what non-gamers see only as spam meant that Zynga would have to invest more money in advertising.  Between April and May, traffic to Zynga’s games declined, which spelled trouble for enticing investors who expressed concern over the publisher’s dependence on Facebook. 

Facebook’s decision to limit game requests in user activity newsfeeds caused a ruckus in the gaming community and led to Zynga’s efforts to begin weaning itself off of its Facebook-dependence.  But at yesterday’s press event, Zuckerberg, Rose, and Morgenstern explained that among the changes to Facebook’s gaming features will be more relevant bookmarks based on user activity within the last 30 days and how often a user uses an application; moving game requests from the bottom right area of the request module to the left sidebar; the ability to retract requests; and only sending shared stories to users who are playing the same game so that non-gamers do not have their news feeds flooded by game requests for games they aren’t playing.

These changes will make game requests more visible to gamers based on an analysis of their activity.  If a user plays a lot of social games on Facebook, then viral game requests and full game stories will show up in his or her newsfeed.  If not, then the user will only see a collapsed version indicating that a friend is playing a game. 

This means that on some level, game requests will still not be as visible or aggressive as they were before, when viral messages rampaged through newsfeeds, so it will be interesting to see how game publishers respond to these changes and if they see any improvement in their traffic.

Image source: mashable.com

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Zynga is the largest social gaming company with 8.5 million daily users and 45 million monthly users.  Zynga’s games are available on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster, Yahoo! and the iPhone, and include Texas Hold’Em Poker, Mafia Wars, YoVille, Vampires, Street Racing, Scramble and Word Twist.  The company is funded by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, IVP, Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group, Avalon Ventures, Pilot Group, Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel.  Zynga is headquartered at the Chip Factory in San Francisco.  For more information, please visit www.zynga.com.