A Look at Trends in Social Games’ User Ratings on Facebook

One of the major developments of 2010 in social gaming is the rising quality of games on Facebook. While games in 2009 were often rough-hewn affairs, with a focus on often-spammy viral techniques, 2010 has seen rapidly  improving production values — or so we’ve said throughout the year, in our game reviews and market analysis.

We decided to take a look at the ratings of Facebook games to see whether those, too, are rising.

Before showing the chart, we should point out that these are not ratings from professional reviewers. On Facebook, users do all the rating. This presents some problems, because developers can try to directly manipulate their own ratings, sabotage those of competitors, or entice users to give high ratings. In addition, players often try to use ratings as a customer service channel, posting 1-star ratings along with their question or complaint about an application issue.

The flip side of this argument is that traditional game developers have had years of practice in enticing or forcing journalists to give good reviews. No matter where it’s from, a review will never present a perfect portrait of how good or bad a game is.

We chose five successful games, having at least a thousand ratings, from each month January onward, plus five from earlier months in 2009. Here’s a scatter chart of the ratings — note that identical ratings appear as a single point, and the trendline is taken from the median ratings:

Month to month, the largest movement took place between January and May, when the average rating for games rose from 3.82 to 4.34. By September, average ratings had risen to 4.68, but fell slightly in October.

What do ratings mean for game developers? In some cases, they’re becoming an advertising pull; A Bit Lucky, for example, put some effort into spreading the word that its 4.8 rating (which has since fluctuated down and then up again) was higher than almost all of Facebook’s top games, which tend to be older and lower-rated.

More directly, it’s not clear that players pay much attention to ratings. Their opinions do mean something, though; these days, we rarely see games with ratings under 4.0 do well, and those titles that grow fastest often have a far higher rating.