A Proposal: How to Deal with Facebook’s Games Problem

engage-or-spamA funny thing happened to Facebook’s open platform – game developers took the opportunity and ran with it, even taking over the core of the service for a while. By this fall, parts of the site had become overrun with users trying to get their friends to join them on their farm, help their mafia or help them clean their aquarium. Beyond constant stories about games in users’s news feeds, developers were making ample use of the Notification feature, jamming it full of promotions and notices of new items and features to get users to come back each day.

Facebook fought back with a roadmap of changes to help the core value of the platform, as well as a news feed that, for many users, caused links, status updates and photos with friends and family resurface to the top.

But all this didn’t treat the core issue: Facebook has become the broadest distribution platform ever for games.

  • Almost every top application on Facebook is a game (see AppData for more on that)
  • Users are joining Facebook in some parts of the world, like Taiwan, mostly to play games
  • Users are subtly being coerced to add strangers as friends to advance in games in order to unlock new levels and items, often without going through the cumbersome process of protecting their personal profile information from these strangers

The sooner that Facebook figures out how to carve out a slice of the Facebook experience to support that, the better it will be for Facebook users and game developers. And that doesn’t mean cracking down on developers. It means coming up with a way to meet customer demands and still be true to the core principles of Facebook.

So, a modest proposal:

  1. Create a new type of “friend” on Facebook – a “game friend”
  2. By default, accepting users as a game friend ONLY provides the sharing of information centered around that game both users have joined
    1. Game Friends would not have any access to each other’s profile – users would have to specifically opt in to share such profile information
    2. When a user shared an item from an application, they would be given the option of communicating only to Game Friends instead of the current default “All”
  3. A new API that allows the accepting of gifts from Game Friends without the cumbersome process of individually accepting through the current requests mechanism

Ideally this allows the users more control over their personal information and allows developers to grow an application by a broader base (go add more friends without endangering your privacy) yet also have much more cost-effective communication with users that are actively interested in their product.

In fact, we’ve already seen some games try to create a set of separate identities, like “poker buddies” in Zynga’s Texas HoldEm poker game. Imagine being able to take your gaming buddies across every game without spamming the rest of your friends. Facebook already prompts users to set up settings to share content with Friends of Friends or Everyone, in an effort to expand the social network and help you meet others. So why not leverage games as a way to potentially do the same?

The future of our social networks depends on effective filters. This is one filter that Facebook could develop that provides value to both the developer and the user.

See more on the proposed Games bookmark in the full post on InsideSocialGames.com.

2 thoughts on “A Proposal: How to Deal with Facebook’s Games Problem”

  1. Good idea!

    I wonder though if there is a possible downside to creating an official “friend class” of people who are in effect, completely anonymous? This is how gaming lists work on consoles and it creates the possibility down the road of bad behabior (such as Xbox Live is legendary for).

    Also you wonder what “the public” will think. For example, Facebook’s recent changes to its Privacy setting drew a huge backlash from the ACLU. Even though it was fundamentally an attempt to make users safer, it was perceived as having the opposite effect.

    1. I think the interesting thing is that in a Facebook world, you are never truly annonymous. If the “Game Friend” is implemented with limited ability to access your wall, status, photos then your privacy is pretty well protected; with regard to posts, they would primarily be game-driven posts, so this too somewhat limits the ability for mischeif — plus ideally users could remove a Game Friend as easily as they remove posts from an application today.

      With regard to the public, a form of the idea is already taking off. There is a Facebook Group (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=222703023938 that already has 100,000 members pushing for some aspects of the change!

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