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Facebook policy changes are a tectonic shift for social game developers

October 29, 2009

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

Lean startup mindmaps

June 11, 2009

I’m a big believer in the customer development and lean startup concepts championed by Steve Blank and Eric Ries. The concepts have definitely been the most valuable concepts I’ve learned while running Everyplay as they provide a much needed framework around the activities any startup faces, articulate the need to get to product/market fit thru making validated learning about customers the unit of progress and provide practical processes that you can apply immediately (e.g. the Five why’s approach).

Steve and Eric have recently given presentations and interviews on these concepts. As mindmaps are my preferred way of brainstorming, making notes and communicating complex ideas, I tried to capture the gist as well as the detail of these presentations in the mindmaps linked to below. Hope you find them useful!

Startup2Startup

Steve and Eric recently gave a a joint presentation at Startup2Startup

Picture 1

Lean startup on O’Reilly

Eric presented the lean startup concept on O’Reilly’s webcast.

Mixergy interview with Eric Ries

Mixergy is a great source of entrepreneurial insights with Andrew Warner interviewing serial entrepreneurs, tech guys, marketers and bizdev folks.

mixergy

P.S. Here’s a link to Eric Ries’ latest Lean Startup presentation given at Tokyo (Geeks on a Plane).

Taneli’s blog up

October 5, 2008

Taneli Tikka is one of the most successful, Finnish serial entrepreneurs. He’s been involved with companies such as IRC-Galleria and Dopplr and is currently active in both Muxlim and RunToShop. Taneli is also an advisor to Everyplay.

Taneli’s blog is now up and I for one have already subscribed. Taneli’s post on VC due diligence is a must read, and I found plenty of great new blogs to follow from his reading list.

He being asked to star on The Bachelor is definitely something ;-).

Bigpoint exits for 70 M€

September 30, 2008

This is old news from June, but it completely has escaped my attention. Bigpoint, which is one of the largest developers and operators of Free To Play games has been sold to private equity funds GMT Communications Partners and the Peacock Equity Fund (part of the General Electric / NBC Universal family) .

The price tag: a sweet 70 million euros. Bigpoint had at the closing of the deal 23 million registered users (price=3 € / user), but that figure has already risen to 35 million users. They have roughly 100-130k daily average users and are active in at least 17 countries. Some of country operations are directly by Bigpoint, while some are partnerships with local operators. The Finnish site is operated under the label Topkani, in co-operation with Finland’s largest commercial TV channel MTV3.

Bigpoint also announced a co-op with NBC Universal to promote their games thru SCI FI and USA Network websites.

Improving productivity

September 29, 2008

What a great way to start the week to read Dan Cook’s presentation on productivity (via Andrew Chen’s blog). His presentation summarizes key findings from a number of real-life experiments on productivity. Among them:

  • Productivity for knowledge workers drops at around 35 hours / week
  • There is always a cost for crunching (we all know this, don’t we?)
  • Productivity increases significantly for seating cross-functional teams of 4-8 people together (and closing the door)

I personally believe that in a knowledge-intensive position you are doing well if you are getting four good hours of work per day. The rest of the 8 hour day is spent on interruptions, meetings and communications (internal and external).

What’s your take – how many hours of productive work do you think you get done on the average per day?

Loving Balsamiq Mockups

September 25, 2008

I’m just loving Balsamiq Mockups. It’s an awesome UI mockup tool that lets you whip up prototypes in a couple of minutes, communicate ideas and iterate rapidly (did I already say I love iterating!).

The full license is $79, and worth every penny. I’ve now done two full featured UI mockups and they’ve proven a great tool to discuss with the team.

If you need to create mockups for a web service or a GUI, your team shouldn’t be without this tool. It’s also available as a plugin for Confluence and JIRA, which makes it even handier for bigger teams. Support is also fantastic at GetSatisfaction.

Okay, now back to getting more mockups done =).

KZero’s virtual worlds radar

September 19, 2008

KZero, a consultancy for virtual worlds, has updated their virtual worlds radar, which is a great distilled view of the whole virtual worlds landscape. The radards are organized by age demographics and demonstrate how the services have developed, their popularity and even suggest possible gaps in market.

Highly recommended if you are in the virtual worlds’ or MMO business.