Monday, November 3, 2008

Does Facebook Consider Social Games to be "Trivial" and Why?

"Facebook itself fully understood the pain the redesign would cause third parties. It consciously made painful-to-app changes, like pushing apps off of user profile pages and onto a sub-tab called “Boxes” that users have had a hard time finding. The changes, it believes, reward the most meaningful apps while punishing the trivial ones."
- Eric Eldon, Venturebeat
If you agree with Eric, and I do, then here's the question: does Facebook consider social games to be trivial?

As Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga, reminded app developers at the most recent SNAP Summit: the app platform is not a revenue center for Facebook. If we don't align ourselves with Facebook's interests, then it's reasonable to expect more punitive measures.

If social games are trivial or even counterproductive to Facebook's goals, then as a group we should be looking to become independent of Facebook ASAP. Perhaps, this is why Shervin Pishevar, CEO of SGN, believes the future of social gaming lies off of social networks (@ VG Summit).

Here's the problem that social games present to Facebook. For Facebook, the most important thing is the social graph, particularly, an ACCURATE representation of the social graph. For an accuracy, the social graph requires you to only "friend" people with whom you're actually friends. Many games, such as Mob Wars (and its many clones that incentize invites) passively encourage Facebook users to befriend strangers as a consequence of gameplay. Check out the forums on Friends For Sale, Zombies, or Mob Wars and counts the thousands and thousands of friend requests. Anecdotally, these "friends" do not become real friends or even acquaintances as some wish to assert.

Fake friends are a serious dent in Facebook's goal of an accurate social graph. They can attempt to algorithmly address this problem, and I'm sure they do, but I suspect it's easier to remove the problem at its root.

I'd say the fake friend problem is at the core of Facebook's apparent hate of trivial apps. It's a reason why a company would try and suppress features that their userbase clearly enjoy, an action that otherwise makes little sense. I think it's also the primary reason that Facebook created a policy against incentivized invites, rather than their argument that it hurt user experience.

So as game developers if we want to avoid being "trivial" and thus the wrath of Facebook in the future, we should be avoid incentize fake friending.

Zynga has addressed the fake friend problem in their Texas Holdem Poker game, by adding a meta-friend layer called Poker Buddies, where people can friend with whom they enjoy playing poker but do not want to Facebook friend. I'd encourage other developers to take similar measures, if they haven't already, so we don't risk angering the beast.