Once upon a time, Facebook game companies like Zynga fattened up their user counts thanks to viral distribution to non-gamers through the news feed. Facebook later curtailed this channel, forcing developers to concentrate on paid marketing and true word of mouth to grow. A new boom period could be coming, this time for mobile developers, as Facebook announced today that it is testing game stories in the mobile news feed. This could attract devs to its recently launched HTML5 mobile gaming platform with bait of reaching hundreds of millions of daily active Facebook mobile users.
Facebook learned a lot about balancing developer success with user experience during that first boom period, often called the wild west days. Game spam such as users asking all their friends to install and give them virtual good overran the news feed, making it a bore to non-gamers. Facebook will surely be monitoring the volume of mobile news feed game stories to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Rather than pepper the feed with individual stories, Facebook is using aggregated stories that read like “Rose Yao and 9 other people recently played games”. Below users see a few friends names and links to the games they played, and can tap to expand to see the whole list. Tapping a game will launch its HTML5 version, or that native app if already installed. The aggregated stories give users control, so those that want to discover something to play can, while those uninterested can breeze by.
Earned viral channels also democratize the Facebook platform, as they provide exposure to small developers without big marketing budgets. Facebook launched the HTML5 platform to make sure Apple and Google weren’t the only ones making money off mobile games. Developer adoption of the channel has been a bit sluggish so far, though. The opening of this viral channel could convince developers to experiment with Facebook mobile.
Facebook also made a few other announcements to the benefit of web Facebook game developers. Users will now see 6 bookmarks instead of 4 while playing games, which should boost retention and re-engagement. Home page bookmark notifications will now clear when clicked, making the arrival of new alerts more noticeable. The separate Games & Apps dashboards have been combined so users don’t have to check two places, and game categories have been refined so Facebook can more accurately feature high quality developers. Finally, the company launched a Games Tutorial to ease the path to developing games for its platform.