Facebook policy changes are a tectonic shift for social game developers

Facebook Platform is under going major changes, which I believe are great for the smaller social game developers and everybody who makes quality applications. This great news, because Facebook is cracking down on questionable practices and spam.

Communication features change

On one front Facebook is revamping the communication mediums available for developers. This includes notifications going away, lot of stuff being moved to the inbox, the algorithmic stream change of last week and the new games dashboard to name a few. The best summary of these changes for any developer is the Facebook Platform roadmap.

I was originally concerned that Facebook would totally nerf application growth thru these changes, but after reading thru the changes, the functionality change isn’t really that drastic. The Stream will continue to be the main mass communication tool, and the Inbox based communication together with the new Dashboard are a great replacement for notifications. The game developers will go thru a round of iteration with these new features, but as we saw a year ago with the removal of profile boxes (then the most prominent application virality feature), the developers are quick to adapt.

The second change is much more important.

Facebook’s platform policies have gotten a lot stricter

(CC) Paul Keleher

Most of the blog coverage of yesterday’s Facebook Developer Garage focuses on the above functionality changes and is missing the real beef of what’s going on. The changes in the Facebook Platform Policy are much more important than the functionality changes.

Zynga is the master of viral distribution and many others copy their best practices (one notable exception being Playfish, who is quite reserved on their viral features). If I were to exaggerate, Facebook has taken a long hard look at what Zynga and its copycats do and decided to forbid many of their most successful practices:

Popup Stream prompt

Apps can no longer popup “Publish to stream” forms. This is done currently extensively at e.g. level ups, achievements. Now stream publishing can only be prompted after a player specifically clicks on such button.

 

Misleading the player

Apps can no longer mislead players by making the default button e.g. a invite friends function. I can’t count how many times I’ve clicked on the friendly looking green button in Cafe World’s login report screen only to end up at the invite friends screen when I just wanted to proceed to the game. This action button now must have a “skip” button next to it in a similar size & style.

 

Mafia size

Apps can no longer gate content or reward players based on the number of friends playing. Mafia Wars and its clones are completely built upon this mechanic with mob size based powerups and limitations built-in. It will be very painful to change these game mechanics as it means that every single players’ in-game standing & resources will change.

 

Get the bonus

Apps can no longer incentivize players to e.g. invite or message friends or publish to stream. This has been pretty much the rule already, but Facebook has been somewhat lax in enforcing it. It remains to be seen if this will be used against features such as “Share the wealth” mechanic popularized by Zynga in FarmVille to incentivize posting to the stream (clicking on Get the Special bonus link shown above gives a bonus to you as well as to the player who posted to the stream).

There are more e.g. a rule that forbids Apps from no longer publishing Stream stories that invite a player to a game or include calls to action “e.g. beat her score”.

If Facebook is really serious about enforcing these policies, this will mean a tectonic shift on how games can grow on the platform. Will Facebook enforce these rules against Zynga,  who is apparently contributing $50 million to Facebook’s revenues thru buying Facebook ads?

I’m sure there will be in a grace period during which developers are expected to change their practices and games. How long that period is, is still unclear. Facebook representatives themselves didn’t go into much detail about the policy changes at yesterday’s event.

To be clear: Zynga has operated according to the existing rules of the platform and has been wildly successful. It takes a lot more than just virality to become the TOP1 company on Facebook. The above is not to dig on Zynga – it is just that many of their most copied approaches are being invalidated. And to be honest, if the rules wouldn’t have been changed, we’d most likely would have also adapted many of Zynga’s approaches – that’s how successful they’ve been.

Why is this great news for smaller developers?

(CC) Richkidsunite

These are great changes for smaller developers because

  • virality is compounded growth: with a high user base, the forbidden practices were useful to getting higher absolute number of new users into those apps. If these new rules are enforced, the bigger apps’ growth will likely slow down and leave room for smaller players
  • game quality matters: with less spam it will take better quality games to succeed. This should also benefit Playfish.
  • originality matters: it will be a bit harder to copy a new original game and grow it rapidly. However, the big players have the marketing spend to boost any new game they want
  • players will be more in charge: with less spam, new players are likely to react more positively to friend’s inviting them to games
  • discoverability improves: the games dashboard should help also new apps surface
  • the playing field is more even – if just for a while: everybody needs to find the new best practices

It is good to note that this is just the roadmap for the next few months for the Facebook Platform. There will definitely more changes ahead.

More coverage about Facebook Platform changes

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20 Comments on “Facebook policy changes are a tectonic shift for social game developers”


  1. [...] who clicks, as well as the person who shared it, as this excellent post by social game entrepreneur Jussi Laakkonen notes, may be okay, or it may not [...]


  2. Thanks for the summary of these changes.


  3. [...] Facebook policy changes are a tectonic shift for social game developers « Social games, entrepreneu… Facebook Platform is under going major changes, which I believe are great for the smaller social game developers and everybody who makes quality applications. This great news, because Facebook is cracking down on questionable practices and spam. (tags: facebook policy socialsoftware) [...]

  4. John Says:

    Why is this bad news for smaller developers?

    * virality is compounded growth: with the (free) viral marketing channel attenuated, established players with deeper marketing pockets have an advantage
    * game quality matters: with less spam it will take better quality games to succeed. This favors larger players with larger budgets
    * originality matters: it will be a bit harder to copy a new original game and grow it rapidly. However, the big players have the marketing spend to boost any new game they want


  5. John, good retort! =)

    It is definitely possible that it’ll be all bad for smaller devs. However, this is nothing if not a dynamic platform where new companies continue to emerge on the TOP50 list – without the massive resources of Zynga or Playfish.

    I analyzed the October TOP50 games and found out that those games (all with over 1 million MAU) were made by 32 companies.

    The currently popular aquarium games have grown from zero to millions MAU mainly due to originality, virality & good enough quality – not massive marketing or R&D budgets.

    That was before these changes. If we don’t see new “smaller devs” entering the TOP25 after the changes take effect, then we know. For now, I remain optimistic.


  6. [...] will fail (and is why, in some respects, Facebook continues to change its platform rules while drawing the ire of developers, because, in order to keep their users, they must ultimately continue to make their environment a [...]

  7. amasiussy Says:

    Wow, I didn’t heard about this topic till now. Cheers.

  8. Karen Colby Says:

    The recent changes have taken away 868 of my Mafia family and no report has been answered no aggreement to build or replace my problem NO answeres no reponses~~~have been returned to my request will not play until the engery to send to my players is restored and the mafia Family players It took so long to build up. Replaced by the saem players and This company finad a better wat to comunicate to the player you have to go throug many pages just ot get to the compaint department to the point where you get discuroaged in filing the compinat which id what they wan. This compnay has very bad mangement policies and complaint issues take forever becuase of the number of pages, policies, it takes ages of patenice you have to get through all the “BS” just to file a complaint. I have sent three in the years I ahve been a memeber but who and whatever took over this compaony needs to be fired and replaces with the hackers that keep givine your software progammers all the loop holes they find and yourself.
    the y do and they use it and pas it on. Facebook you brought it on YOURSELF~~~~~ GOOD LUCK FB~~~~

  9. PseudoNoise Says:

    Hey, got this link from your note posted to a boycott thread.

    I have to wonder what had been going through Zynga’s minds since they communicated NONE of this to their community. If this is indeed behind all their changes, and they’ve known about it as long as you have, … I dunno, maybe they thought “well we’re going to lose everyone like Karen anyway, so might as well milk this cow till December, then see if anybody likes our new product”.

    Games could replace this functionality with in-game notification and clan systems rather than using friend networks, but that’s a huge infrastructure undertaking.

    Interesting times.


  10. [...] will fail (and is why, in some respects, Facebook continues to change its platform rules while drawing the ire of developers, because, in order to keep their users, they must ultimately continue to make their environment a [...]


  11. [...] makers into a nervous wait-and-see mode, making it a difficult time for them as they adjust to a tectonic shift. But observers have said they think they will have long-term gain, short-term pain from all of the [...]

  12. Adam Says:

    Happy New Year. to all of you guys.


  13. Developers definitley have their work cut for them. It seems like everyone is changing their policies.


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