Facebook tries star ratings, home page requests to push users toward games

In a continued effort to drive users to play social games, Facebook reintroduced star ratings and homepage requests on the site last week.

The social network now shows star ratings within games discovery modules on the right-hand side of pages and in the card that appears when users hover over the name of an app from within News Feed. Some users now also see game-specific requests in addition to other outstanding app requests on the right-hand side of their home pages. These features are similar to ones that existed previously but were removed within the past two years.

The reemergence of star ratings on the site is somewhat of a surprise. The social network eliminated app reviews and ratings in October 2011. It seemed Facebook would focus on helping users discover games through their friends rather than anonymous ratings, which could be manipulated by developers and biased players. Now instead of having a reviews tab that anyone can access at any time, Facebook randomly prompts users to rate apps while or after they use them. It also asks for ratings when users remove an app, which could unfairly decrease a developer’s star count since people who want to remove an app are likely to give it a poor rating.

A game’s average rating appears in hovercards and in sidebar units that recommend new games and encourage players to return to games they’ve tried before. Some users are even seeing a “featured apps” section of the games discovery page that includes ratings. Star ratings seem rather unhelpful in letting a user know whether they’ll actually enjoy a game, but the appearance of stars could make users subconsciously more likely to click over to a new title. Ratings might also be used behind the scenes to affect Facebook’s algorithms, and they could have been a factor in how the company determined its “top” games of 2011.

The addition of app-specific requests on the right-hand side of the home page is a return to functionality from years ago. In 2010, Facebook made invites and requests less noticeable by moving them to the left sidebar. It wasn’t until January of this year that outstanding app requests were reintroduced to the right of News Feed. All requests were grouped under a single link until last week when we began to see app-specific requests appear as well (see right).

The social network continues to test a number of different modules, links and promotions to drive users to discover or further engage with games. It’s clear Facebook wants to increase the number paying game players on its platform and expand its payments revenue. Less than 2 percent of the social network’s 845 million monthly active users paid for virtual goods in 2011. As such, payments accounted for 15 percent of the company’s total revenue. The rest came from advertising. Getting more users to play games and pay for virtual goods within those games would help Facebook diversify its revenue and be seen as a more solid investment.