Over 70 percent of people who use Facebook for iPad played a Facebook-connected game in the past 90 days, so the company is helping them discover or re-engage with games through a new homepage sidebar it starts testing today on its iPad app. It includes social notifications for native mobile and Facebook web games you already play, video trailers for games you don’t, plus Trending news articles and Trending videos popular with your demographic.
The growth opportunities could entice more developers to integrate Facebook into their games, and Facebook plans to eventually sell ads for games in this space. By filling the extra screen space with what tablet users love, Facebook hopes its home on iPad can become a more essential part of people’s lives … even if that means bouncing them into other apps or showing them YouTube videos.
“It was sort of obvious once you look at the data about how people are actually using tablets for,” Facebook’s head of North American games partnerships Dan Morris tells me about the change. Though Facebook will initially roll it out to a subset of iPad users as a test, it plans to give it to everyone soon. The change will finally give Facebook for iPad some exclusive functionality, making it more than just a bigger version of the iPhone app.
For now the test will run to iPad users in the U.S. but eventually is likely to reach all iPad users. There are no immediate plans for a smartphone version of the sidebar, but something similar could be tucked into a sub tab since there isn’t space to display it all the time.
Facebook’s Place In Mobile Gaming: Ads
Facebook spent years fumbling when it came to mobile gaming, as it lacked its own mobile operating system developers could build on. It launched an HTML5 app platform in an effort to compete with Apple’s iOS App Store and Google Android’s Play store, but the mobile web standard was too weak to attract developers.
But then in 2012, Facebook found a huge money maker in the form of mobile app install ads. The proliferation of apps overwhelmed the iOS and Android stores, leaving devs desperate for ways to grow. Facebook leveraged its massive mobile engagement and targeting data to sell developers News Feed ads that score them downloads. These app install ads are the key to Facebook going essentially zero revenue on mobile to earning 59 percent of its ad revenue there, or $1.3 billion in Q1 2014 alone.
Now Facebook is using its new iPad app sidebar to simultaneously help users find games, lure iOS and Android game developers into adding Facebook integrations, and open up more app install ad space.
Developers with games built on Facebook’s desktop canvas platform or that offer a Facebook login option in their native mobile apps are eligible for free promotion in the iPad sidebar. They’ll just need to register and have uploaded a trailer video for their game. Facebook can then display them in one of two places in the sidebar.
Seducing Developers With Promotion
The first is Popular Games. This section shows off the video trailers for games Facebook thinks you might want to play. Watch the trailer, and if you like it, click through to download or sign up for the game. Presence here will be free for now, but when I asked, Morris admitted “There will be ad units somewhere down the road. We definitely envision allowing developers to promote their apps with some ad element. But for now we’re just trying to do good for mobile developers and mobile gamers.”
The second opportunity is My Games. This shows people in-app notifications for games they already play, which Facebook knows about through the data it collects from its log-in system. These could include friend requests, someone asking for help with a level, or a notice that it’s their turn to move. Morris tells me these alerts have been scattered across the Facebook notifications channel and News Feed stories, but My Games in the iPad sidebar creates “a meaningful social hub” for your games. These are effectively re-engagement notifications, which could be very valuable to developers since a download is only half the battle. They struggle to keep people playing their games.
Both of the free and paid growth opportunities in the sidebar could convince devs to offer Facebook Login as an alternative to creating a special account and password for their games, or a way to share to Facebook. In exchange, Facebook gets more insight into what its users do outside its walls, which aids ad targeting, and gets more content shared back to its News Feed where it monetizes eyeballs with ads.
Trending Entertainment, Too
Beyond games, the sidebar houses two other sections. One is a mobile version of the Trending topics sidebar inspired by Twitter that Facebook launched on the web early this year. Rather than just some cryptic word or hashtag leading to a list of mentions like on Twitter, Facebook’s trending topics come with short descriptions explaining why they’re popular. Clicking through provides a canonical link to a news story about the trend, as well as mentions by your friends and other news outlets.
Fresh for the iPad sidebar is Trending Videos. This offers in-line playable videos that Morris tells me are popular with your demographic, so in my case, 25- to 35-year-old males in San Francisco. The section takes advantage of the willingness of users to watch videos on the bigger-screened iPad, which is often connected to Wi-Fi. Even if the videos come from YouTube or Vimeo, which can show their own pre-roll or overlaid ads, Facebook could earn money if users come to its iPad app to watch them.
Together, the gaming and trending sections of the iPad sidebar could make Facebook’s Apple tablet app a place to go especially for entertainment, not just friends. And by becoming a more important portal to app downloads, Facebook gets to coin off its own little kingdom amongst the realm of iOS and Android.