Tag Archives: Notifications

The Post-Notification Era on Facebook’s Platform: Viral Marketing Isn’t Dead Yet

As originally posted March 15, 2010 on InsideSocialGames.com

There was a lot of hand-wringing by developers prior to Facebook phasing out application-based Notifications on March 1st, especially among smaller developers who relied heavily on notifications to remind users to come back to their game or application. Making matters worse, the new features designed to replace notifications had their own issues:

  • Proxy email messaging wasn’t fixed until over a week after Notifications disappeared (see the bug) and some developers were caught off-guard that proxy emails have a restrictions on acceptable HTML and FBML tags
  • The Games Dashboard and Counters were extremely ineffective in driving traffic (one developer shared that of 150,000 referenced visits, 1202 were from the dashboard)

Illustrating the immediate impact of the changes, one developer posted this graphic of their application’s engagement metrics, highlighting the relative impact of notifications versus the games dashboard in driving engagement:


Clearly, no one argues that end of notifications was going to have a huge impact on traffic, and several developers were phasing out their reliance on notifications way before the March 1st. Francis Pelland, developer of several relatively small Avastar applications summed up the debates on the developer boards: “I phased out notifications in my apps about 3 weeks ago and my DAU is significantly higher than before through creative thinking and alternative viral features. People should sit and think rather than complain. This sort of thing happens every time when Facebook makes a change and consider it to be the end of the world, make threats to quit, and say it will be the end of Facebook.”

So how are the largest developers faring in the post-Notifications world? Clearly it’s not the doomsday scenario that some feared as developers are mostly relying on email or fan page posts to replace application-to-user notifications, while user-to-user notifications are being facilitated through creative use of Wall Posts.



In the two weeks since notifications, Zynga’s titles are a mixed bag with PetVille and FishVille down 4-6%, Mafia Wars flat and YoVille, FarmVille and Café World up 3-7%. Zynga’s use of email is fairly sporadic and limited to a few titles:

  • FarmVille and Café World have yet to send an email (based on my observations and discussions with other users). With such a large user base, the cost of email may be prohibitive compared to the effectiveness of fan page posts.
  • YoVille has slowly increased its frequency from once a month at the end of 2009 to 3-4 per month and has primarily focused on new item releases.
  • Since December, Mafia Wars has sent seven emails, primarily focused on new game features (holiday gift safe house in December, Bangkok expansion release in late January and the revamp of their store in February). Three of those emails have entitled the recipients to the Mafia Wars hard currency, reward points.
  • Finally, PetVille sent it’s first email to users as part of the process to accept emails and unlock a pet for your PetVille pet.

Instead of relying heavily on email, Zynga has focused on innovating user-to-user communication via Wall Posts, re-focusing users from sending gifts to asking for gifts and collaborative tasks that require users to plead with friends to send items so they can complete the task.

The only games that haven’t had either consistent emails (YoVille) or the collaborative task mechanism (Mafia Wars, FarmVille, Café World), are the only two games that are down over the last two weeks (FishVille and PetVille).

See the breakdown of tactics used by Playfish, Playdom and CrowdStar (complete with grapical trending) in the full post on InsideSocialGames.com

What is Counter Worthy in New Facebook Design? Mafia Wars Gives Us a Preview

While Facebook has already communicated the elimination of bookmarks in the bottom bar and the addition of “Counters” next to each application listed in the left column navigation for bookmarked applications, the rules about how to use counters appears to be up to developer interpretation.

While you can’t see counters live yet, you CAN see how Zynga is planning to use it for Mafia Wars as their homepage has been redesigned to highlight a number of things and the counter-looking icon is in place in the upper right corner:


Besides Game News, the list of items includes Bookmark Me, Become a Fan, Join the Email List, and Social Job (where someone has responded to your request for help on a job). A user can hide them to reduce the counter down, but these straight forward tasks already created a counter with 13 items in it.


Initially, applications with high counters might get a user’s attention, but if these don’t provide value, they are likely to be ignored by users, much like the shotgun notifications were (several developers got in the habit of posting the same notification multiple days in a row). If instead, there are useful reminders, like when a crop is ready for harvesting or a energy pack is available, then users may find an enhanced utility around counters. Instead of having to police notifications, Facebook is probably hoping user reaction and market forces will ensure counters aren’t abused.


Much like email marketing (and notifications before), the key will be optimizing frequency and the message, mixing in marketing promos and game-specific activity. Given a core of notices with utility for the user, developers are also likely to benefit most in that users will actually be able to find their notices, which before were lost in a sea of messages in the old Notification tool.

Quick Hits: Playfish Offers, Notification Spam, Fast Growth and Country-Themed Items

I’ve been busy looking at some new analytics (new post coming next week) and doing some project work, but came across these tidbits of interest:

Playfish Dips its Toe in the World of Offers: In the last two weeks, Playfish tentatively began offering users the ability to earn coins by completing Offers run by Super Rewards. From a brand perspective, you definitely worry about any negative implications from unsavory offers, and Playfish definitely is trying to protect itself based on this screen coming up before you get to the offers section:

I met with Noah Kagan of Super Rewards competitor Gambit earlier this week and he’s very up front about the challenges around offers. I highly recommend you follow their Gambit blog, as you can’t beat the straight talk regarding the pros and cons about offers – a great example is “F-ck your offers! Game-ending user complaints & 3 developer solutions” that highlights the common customer complaints.

Cross-Application Spamming in Notifications? I noticed when earlier this week that the old Happy Hour application (remember when we used to send rounds of drinks to or Super Poke our friends?) actually cross-promoted game application Enchanted Island. While I’ve noted before the proliferation of Notifications from games crowding out notices from friends, this is the first time I’ve seen one application cross-sell another application via notification. While not specifically prohibited by Facebook’s Notification Guidelines, I think this practice goes a bit beyond the user expectations (rule #2) and would hope most developers will continue to keep cross-selling in their own applications ala the Zynga toolbar.

Zynga Apps Keep Hitting Incredible Numbers: Café World is the big story, passing top restaurant sim competitor Restaurant City (Playfish’s top application in terms of Daily Active Users) in just five days, then passing Mafia Wars to capture the #2 spot in Facebook Applications (with 6.6 million DAU) in just two weeks. As I mentioned last week, the ability to market across the installed base of FarmVille and Mafia Wars via the toolbar (plus some advertising) really helped the application grow quickly.

Could Listening to Users Build Your Audience by 5%: In addition to Café Worlds big gains, FarmVille grew by 1 million DAU in a day on October 14th – growing from 22.01 million DAU to 22.08 million. Beyond meteoric rises during launch, a 5.1% increase on that base is unprecedented and pretty impressive. Hard to pinpoint the actual driver as there has been a slew of new items released: Halloween Items on the 7th, Pink Cow (joining the lost cow, black sheep and ugly duckling) on the 9th, and new country flags on the 13th. Could the three million Facebook users on India have been the driver? Zynga responded pretty quickly to the online protest of Indian players looking to get the India country flag added to the game, creating and adding country flags (which can only be purchased with hard currency) within a week and seem to have been rewarded with more engaged users and likely more sales.

As Facebook becomes more of a global platform, cashing in on country pride should be a standard expansion for Facebook game applications – when I was at PowerSoccer.com, country-themed shoes, headbands and tattoos were some of our biggest virtual item sellers.