Facebook Adds Game Stories to the News Feed, Privacy Settings to Limit Them

Facebook yesterday announced several changes to how games work on the Platform, including that stories about game may be published to the news feeds of a user’s friends, including non-gamers, when the play a game for more than 15 minutes or complete an in-game objective. Depending on their prevalence in the news feed, game usage and achievement stories could help developers gain new users for free, but could also clutter the news feeds of people who don’t care about games.

To help users avoid annoying their friends, Facebook will add a new privacy setting that allows them to define on an app-by-app basis who an app can share with. The setting will default to “friends” but users can select to prevent the publishing of game discovery, usage, and achievement stories to news feed and the new Games Ticker.

A Year of Limited Virality

Prior to last September, Facebook apps and games could publish stories to the news feed about users taking in-app actions. While relevant to other gamers and key source of new users for developers, non-gamers often found these stories irrelevant and considered them spam amongst their social content. With this spam threatening to overrun the news feed and drive users away from Facebook, the site closed this viral channel.

Only the occasional story about a friend starting to play a game would appear in the news feed to those that had not already installed that game, significantly cleaning up the feed but also severely limiting organic growth for apps and games. Facebook also tested a randomly occurring Discover New Games sidebar module, but this wasn’t frequently seen and its placement in the sidebar made it much less noticeable than the old game stories that appeared in the news feed.

Without the free growth channel of prominent placement in the news feed, developers were forced to spend more on ads to gain traction for their apps. Combined with Facebook’s 30% tax on Facebook Credits that in July it made the mandatory payment method for virtual goods within games, the Facebook Platform had become much expensive to develop on then a year ago. This led developers to look for alternatives, making Facebook more potentially vulnerable to competing platforms.

Increased Virality to Fend Off Competitors

Yesterday, Google+ launched its own games platform that only charges developers 5% on purchases made in their game, deeply undercutting Facebook Credits. Facebook needed to make a concession to developers to make its Platform more attractive, and so soon after the Google+ games news dropped, it announced several changes to how Canvas pages and bookmarks work, as well as two new viral channels: the Games Ticker and news feed game stories.

The Games Ticker appears in the right sidebar while users play any Facebook Canvas game, and shows real-time updates of in-app activity by friends. These include:

  • Game install stories
  • Game usage stories that are triggered if a user plays a game for more than 15 minutes
  • In-game activity stories triggered when users surpass a friend’s score or complete an objective, published by  the new Scores and Achievements APIs

When a user first starts using a game, it shows stories about the same game, but as they play longer also shows stories about games they haven’t installed. The Games Ticker should help keep users engaged with a game by informing them of friends who are playing too, and help them discover new games their friends enjoy. Only people who already play games will see the Games Ticker, but this should be a boon for developers since these are the same people who are likely to have a balance of Facebook Credits to spend and be used to sustained engagement with games.