Platform Policy Update: The Gray Area of Incentivization

It’s all about presentation, or at least that’s the latest word from the Facebook Platform Team in a recent post on the Developers Forums.

Invite/request incentivation has been around since the Facebook Platform initially launched 2 years ago. In essence, incentivization is the act of rewarding users for sending an invite (or using some other other integration point such as a notification, the publisher, etc.) to use an application. With the dawn of the redesign several months back, Facebook placed an emphasis on eliminating these ungenuine invites with the introduction of Platform Policy #8.4. Fast forward to today — while it would seem the problem has been reduced, it has been all but elimated.

It’s a regular occurrence on the Developers Forum: a user reports some application XYZ for incentivizing an integration point. A typical thread includes comments from other developers about how Facebook doesn’t enforce its policies, or about how the platform is unfair, and subsequently the Facebook Platform Team will respond with a standard message that they will look into the pressing issue at hand. In the past two weeks, however, the Platform Team has taken a different approach to the topic.

About a week ago, Inside Facebook reported on a new trend revolving around some of the Pacman applications on Facebook. In particular, this was fueled by lengthy discussions on the Developers Forums about the application’s misuse of the platform and policy violations. There, the Facebook Platform team went into great detail regarding the work they put in behind the scenes to preemptively catch incentivizing apps:

“While we catch and remove most violations before you know about them, there are on some occasions violations which you are able to find first. The latter are by far more rare than the former.”

However, last week, the Platform Team more specifically addressed the issue of incentivation with their reply in this thread. The response boils down to a few details:

  • The current incentivization rules exist despite a “gray area” of enforcement.
  • Facebook is actively looking into ways to further define these rules.
  • If your application associates app invites or requests with rewards, it will cross the line.

Essentially the gray area they refer to is about how your application portrays its integration points. For example, if your application is a poker app and you reward users with virtual currency strictly for the number of friends they have playing the game, you are currently in the clear. However, if you reward the user for the action of actually sending invites to their friends, you’ll be crossing the line.

While these two scenarios seem very close (and in reality, are), they highlight two different mentalities. With the former, you are encouraging users to spread the game, not necessarily through the use of an integration point – while with the latter you are explicitly encouraging users to send spammy app invites.

The gray area is further expanded by “gameplay necessity” — that is, the platform policy states you may allow incentivized app invites to take place if it’s a crucial part of gameplay or application functionality. Several applications have tried to design themselves around this notion, strictly so to skirt the platform policy.

This is the first time we’ve seen the Platform Team explicitly talk about the incentivization platform policy, and this newfound approach looks promising. We hope to see more explanations of this caliber from Facebook in the future, and will keep you updated.