As More Asian Developers Build for Facebook, Regional Usage Patterns Change

southeast_asia_mapWe have written in recent months of Facebook’s growth in Southeast Asia. As we near the beginning of 2010, that trend does not appear to be slowing down. Throughout much of the region (except in China, of course, where Facebook is blocked), usage continues to rise. Some countries have seen incredible growth – Taiwan, for example, has added 5 million new monthly active Facebook users in the last 6 months alone – nearly 25% of the country’s total population.

What’s driving this growth? Increasingly, we’re seeing more users adopt Facebook in order to – you guessed it – play games. But not just any games – in many cases, games built by the growing number of Asian developers and publishers deploying titles on the Facebook Platform.

Taiwan is an interesting case study. Six months ago, very few people were using Facebook in Taiwan (under 400,000, according to our Global Monitor report). Today, that number stands at over 5.4 million (!). Developers in the region say that nearly everyone joined Facebook in order to play games like Happy Harvest, published by 6 waves, Pet Society, and Restaurant City. We’ve heard reports of local restaurants giving out Facebook Happy Harvest coins to customers who eat there. There are relatively advanced systems for distributing virtual currency already in place, and these are migrating to Facebook quickly as well.

facebook-taiwan

Increasingly, we’ve been hearing stories of Chinese development shops being recruited to build (or license) their games for Facebook – even though very few people in China can actually access the site. These developers started off building apps for Xiaonei, Kaixin, QQ, or others, but because of the “guanxi” business culture that makes it harder for developers to strike business deals with platforms, more Chinese developers are increasingly turning their attention to Facebook. These developers see more opportunity to build on an open platform like Facebook than face the often-brutal business terms offered by the Chinese platforms if they become popular. As a result, there is increasing demand for talent to build and port Facebook games in the region.

facebook-game-magazineBut people joining Facebook in order to play games are using Facebook differently than those elsewhere. Often times, users join Facebook for the sole purpose of playing “social” games – not sharing authentic information with their friends. As a result, we’re hearing about many cases of players adding thousands of Facebook friends who they don’t know in real life, just in order to play Facebook games with them. These users post less photos and less meaningful status updates, because they’re not using Facebook for communication with their real life friends as much.

That could mean mixed things for Facebook going forward. Obviously, Facebook is happy to be growing throughout Asia, where it competes not only with local social platforms, but also heavily with Yahoo, MSN, Orkut, and Friendster, which are popular in different parts of the region.

But fundamentally, Facebook has always articulated its value proposition as a more efficient way to share information in a trusted way. Personal data shared by Facebook users is what makes the News Feed – the core of Facebook’s information distribution system – so compelling to hundreds of millions of people. In cases in which the News Feed is filled with content from random gaming friends, it’s quite possible that Facebook could see much lower retention rates from its core features over time, instead more heavily relying on games to drive engagement and growth. If that were to indeed be the case on a wide scale, that could present some tensions for Facebook’s core product design – and business – over time.

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