Facebook games whiteboard session reveals how some viral channels have recovered

Facebook hosted a crowd of journalists today for a whiteboard session on social games. While much of the information is old news for most of our readers, a few standout talking points provide insight on just how much regrowth the games ecosystem has seen in the last year.

First, Facebook’s Sean Ryan said that games see 30 to 40 percent CTR on Notifications. He did not state how low CTR fell for games on Notifications before the relaunch at the end of August, but recall that this was one of the channels Facebook restricted for social game developers because there had been too much spam. Second, Alex Shultz from Facebook’s user growth team explained how his team joined Ryan’s 10 months ago to begin updating games’ approach to accessing and retaining users. Since the two have joined forces, we have seen newer games from developers other than those in the top 10 see success. Finally, by encouraging developers to explore new genres on Facebook in the last 12 months, the category distribution has shifted from sims games and the occasional casual game to an explosion of casual and casino games. (Note that more than half of games on Facebook are still simulation — and the strategy category hasn’t changed much despite Kixeye’s much-publicized success with the genre.)

Looking ahead, Facebook still has hurdles to jump in user acquisition costs and discoverability — and it has to jump them on mobile, too, as that’s where most game developers are headed. App Center has some promise; the social network said earlier this month that 220 million people have visited App Center. Users who discover apps there are 40 percent more likely to return to the app the next day compared to the old Apps and Games dashboard. Perhaps more promising is Facebook’s mobile ad product, which could drive more mobile game installs for Facebook-enabled games.

As a final note, Facebook shared a brief list of upcoming games it’s “excited” about. On Facebook canvas, shoutouts went to Zynga’s CityVille 2, a game called Stormfall: Age of War from Plarium, a licensed Wizard of Oz game from Spooky Cool Labs, Fresh Deck Poker from Idle Games and Full Bloom from Disney Playdom. On mobile, Facebook announced a handful of games that have or are currently adding Facebook integration, including Hay Day from Supercell, CSR Racing from NaturalMotion, Live Hold’Em Pro from Dragonplay, NFL Pro 2013 from Gameloft and Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder.

Earlier this week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the games ecosystem as a whole was growing, though not as much as he would like. Payments revenue from social game giant Zynga dropped 20 percent for Facebook compared to Q3 2011, but revenues from other game developers increased 40 percent over the last year.

We’ll be talking about the move to mobile and all the challenges social games face on Facebook, iOS and Android at Inside Social Apps in December. Find out more about our speakers and agenda here.