Virality and Facebook Games: It's All About the Message

By February 24, 2010Ideas

I came across an article by Scott Austin, a blogger for the Wall Street Journal. I thought it’d be valuable to address it, since it explores a Facebook specific phenomenon taking place against social games– he cites an apparent “backlash” brewing against them. To paraphrase Mr. Austin, social games do utilize the messaging capabilities of Facebook to communicate with their players, help their players communicate with each other, and to help (perhaps most importantly from a viral growth point of view) recruit their friends to the games they are playing. (Currently, other than word-of-mouth recommendations, 57% of social gamers rely on in-game alerts from friends for recommendations.) So in essence, what Mr. Austin is saying is that the backlash is against the overuse of these messaging channels sending them information they don’t care about.

Courtesy of Flickr's derpunk

Courtesy of Flickr’s derpunk

SPAM: Not The Canned Variety
Virality is key to driving user growth and user retention on Facebook so, in a “tragedy of the commons” sort of way, the incentive to overuse these channels is very high. So how can social games and Facebook remedy this situation? While the most recent statistical information about gameplay on social platforms like Facebook would suggest that social game developers can relax about an industry crippling backlash, social game developers might want to listen to the cries of this large group of disgruntled Facebook users. (The group titled “I don’t care about your farm, or your fish or your park, or your mafia!! has more than 5.5 million fans.)
Retention With Facebook Game Dashboard
Social games have fed on Facebook’s user acquisition machine, openness and general viral features. Like any other business, games that rely on viral growth for their business model need to find a way to grow without upsetting potential customers. Although Scott doesn’t address this is his post directly, we’ve talked about the Facebook Dash Board as an opportunity to increase the signal to noise ratio. As we explained, the most valuable communications channels on Facebook are active (like the wall, or the personal message system) and not passive. Passive channels are invariably overwhelmed with noise, just as this notifications feature was overwhelmed. Fast-forward to the dashboard: notifications are grouped and limited by application, so no application can overpower another through sheer volume. One result is that application developers will now need to consider whether they want more applications to support more message “channels” or “topics” to users.  If not active messaging, what actions might you take to ensure users come back to your application? Some suggest creatively utilizing the other capabilities that Facebook makes available to game developers, such as introducing the collection of emails when a player installs the application, encouraging them to bookmark the game, creating a fan page that has updates and posting counter updates. These actions will help notify users and easily re-engage the players with your game, without annoying non-players. Posting news items is also an option, as there’s a chance they will be visible under the recently used applications area of the Dashboard.
PS: The rival fan page titled, “I care about your farm, fish, park & your mafia! Those who don’t R Haters!” now has more than 600 fans. Instead of joining either group, why not email us or leave us comment instead?