Should Facebook Create a New Type of Relationship for Game Friends?

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

a. Game Friends would not have any access to each other’s profile – users would have to specifically opt in to share such profile information

b. 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 is now prompting users to adjust their privacy 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?

We should also note that Facebook has clearly thought about the special place that games have taken in its developer ecosystem. In its roadmap for forthcoming changes to the home page, the company shows a separate bookmark tab separate from other applications, specifically for games. Sub-menus let you see see your games and your friends games. Once you select the games page, you can also see your recent games as well as all of the games your friends are playing.

The games bookmark feature looks promising, although it doesn’t fully address the game friend problem. The future of our social networks depends on effective filters. The idea of a game friend filter could provide even clearer value to developers, users, and Facebook.

App Leaderboard
Name MAU↓
1.icon FarmVille71,523,193
2.icon Café World31,940,052
3.icon Causes31,917,896
4.icon Social Interview29,912,434
5.icon Happy Aquarium27,508,093
6.icon Mafia Wars26,857,214
7.icon FishVille25,305,412
8.icon Pet Society21,447,371
9.icon Birthday Cards21,059,336
10.icon Texas HoldEm Poker20,018,548
11.icon Facebook for iPhone19,196,532
12.icon YoVille18,977,171
13.icon (formerly We’re Related)18,450,010
14.icon Farm Town18,447,733
15.icon Restaurant City16,655,503
16.icon Friends Exposed16,316,089
17.icon Roller Coaster Kingdom15,138,618
18.icon MindJolt Games13,945,850
19.icon Facebook for BlackBerry® smartphones11,732,693
20.icon Mobile11,727,134

Eric von Coelln was the vice president of marketing at Oberon Media, a leading multi-platform casual games company, and most recently the vice president of Marketing at He is now a New York based freelance consultant to games, e-commerce and social media companies — including some of the largest social gaming companies on Facebook. While Mr. von Coelln does write about some companies for which he has done paid consulting from time to time, this post is based on publicly available information and in our view is an unbiased analysis of the industry. You can find his blog here.