Facebook appears to be testing a way to drive users to re-engage with games by sending them a new type of notification, we’ve discovered.
Some users are seeing notifications about their friends playing games. These notifications, which are different from requests, appear to come from Facebook, not the game itself. The notifications include the “Play now” call to action, which the social network uses in its sidebar modules, like the “Games You May Like” module seen below.
[Update 6/11/12 5:54 p.m. PT – Facebook confirms, “We are testing this feature as part of ongoing tests to help people discover and reengage with apps and games and drive meaningful traffic to developers.”]
Facebook frequently tries new sidebar modules to promote games discovery, but we’ve never seen the company use notifications in this way. This placement could lead more users back into games than sidebar modules do because users receive a red notification icon at the top of all Facebook pages and will see a pop-up in the bottom left corner of the page if they happen to be on Facebook.com when the notification comes through.
Some users might be frustrated by notifications that are not actual games requests. This could backfire if users decide to hide all notifications from a game, thinking the notifications are from the developer rather than Facebook. However, the test is likely limited to a small proportion of users and the social network can gather information and consider the results before implementing the feature more widely. From what we’ve seen, users only receive notifications for games they’ve already played, but Facebook could be running other variations of the test.
In the past, Facebook has had to limit developer access to notifications to prevent spam. Between February 2010 and February 2011, developers could not send any notifications, and email was the only app-to-user communication channel. App requests sent by friends began to appear in the notification center again in December 2010. When Facebook enabled app-generated requests again in 2011, it did so without allowing the requests to generate notifications the same way as user-generated requests do.