Live-Blogging Facebook’s Gaming Announcement

We’re at Facebook headquarters for a special event, focused on changes to games. Mark Zuckerberg is on stage.

Here are our edited live notes:

5:10 We want to have as few people as possible have negative experiences. We’ve developed pretty complex infrastructure for optimizing this.

For example, the last two months we’ve had a team focused on friend requests, making amount that get sent, that don’t get accepted, go down. The number is down now 40 percent. That’s a big number, a lot of people are active with different motives.

People want to connect to who they want, hear from who they want, without having negative experiences. Unfortunately, one of the biggest drivers of negative experiences has been games. All these people who want to play games, and all these people who don’t want to play, who view it as spam. Two hundred million people or more are playing games on the site.

When you poll users, one of the top 5 things they like is games, and one of the top 5 things they don’t like is games. There have been at least 4 really meaningful large companies that have been built on games.

5:15 We have these levers for each type of content, we can see what types are most popular. We tried measuring for games. Whether we turn the feed up or down for games, we get complaints. As we’ve tried to tune, people have questioned Facebook’s commitment to games.

The goal is to give all users high-quality experiences while they’re using the site. We want to make it deeper for people who want it, and nothing for those who don’t.

Jared Morgenstern, head of the new games team on Facebook

There were three things that got me interested in games when I was a young lad. Nintendo Power magazine, the game Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Zelda game.

Changed what he wanted — nice restaurant meal for the family — to getting more games. It worked. Got more games…. found out about video game colleges from Nintendo Power.

5:20 Shut down video games, study harder, score more goals. Studied computer science, now doing dream job.

Facebook games have a different level of interactivity…. How do you build a team? Various teams are building war rooms, taking over the office, surrounding it with people on the project, in as close a surface area as possible to maximize interaction while minimizing distractions. Lots of people. Hot, sweaty. We want the games team to be bigger than this.

Naturally we looked up, we realized there was more vertical space. Maybe we should build a loft.

5:25 We found carpenters on the team. We came in on Saturday…. we had a vision for it. A gaming-focused loft: Two-level, bi-directional… play people upstairs and downstairs so you can see people’s reactions without seeing their screens and cheating. We didn’t want to stop and eat food until we passed the point of no return. We’d recruited 5 or 6 people by this time. Got a Jack and the Box bill of $120. We had it done by 7am. Hired people.

What it means for the Facebook Games team is to have a product vision that aligns with the core company vision — empowering users to share and make the world more open and connected. Games and how they’ve been used in society are a great fit. Rules outside of every day life, let’s people bond in an environment where they don’t need to worry about things. People going to poker and bingo every week. We call it “Mario Party Happiness.”

Now, for the news.

5:30 Here’s my bookmarks yesterday, versus what you see today. Games is on top, Mafia Wars, Frontierville. Sorted roughly by the number of times you visited in the last 30 days. The way this left navigation will evolve, there will always be a core set of services on top. And the rest optimized. If they’re not serving a purpose, they should float away and die… that was a little aggressive.

Here’s my expanded list. This is what we’re going to enable. Notice that there are several counters that appear here. We think many of our users will notice the new version of bookmarks. Notice there’s on next to games, Mafia Wars. Even if you don’t make it, you still can re-engage users.

The next heading: Simplifying and strengthening behaviors. Red jewels, gray counts, requests — your eye has to do this crazy trace. You look at the red jewels, and you can see all the things that you need to do.

We’ll be removing requests from the bottom right module to the count next to games and applications on the left.

If you have request in the last several days, you’ll get this big call-out. If you get a new request in the next couple months, and you have not seen this call out, you’ll get it.

You’ll get the ability to retract requests.

We’ll let users see that they won’t be spamming all their friends. Message around being only visible to those playing games. We’ll do that automatically. For the set of users already seeing this game, we’re already trying to ensure that we’ll drive discovery.

5:35 What better way than highlighting your closest friends using it. These things have dials. We’ll dial up the stories for you, because we know you’ll care about it. A lot of these things are about what users are actually caring about.

The last: takes advantage of the degrees of freedom. Enabling viral loops. Investing in new counters, new bubbles, stronger treatments. If you want to tell users that there are four things to do in your application, you can make it clear what those things are. If there are action items, let them give a gift back. Before, this was banned by policy. We’re changing to make it possible.

You don’t want to spam users, you want better tools to reach them.

In sum:

  • Smarter bookmarks
  • Stronger counters
  • Requests on Game Dashboard
  • Targeted stream posts
  • Simplified policy

Partners leader Dan Rose

5:40 This process has been in the works for the last 4-6 months. We heard from developers that they wanted to know that we were really committed to games, that they were really important to us. We recognized that some of the things that we’ve done in the past that have led to less distribution, traffic, sent a signal that maybe we didn’t care. There was definitely a request that we demonstrate a commitment. No better way to show than the fact that we have an engineering team now.

The other piece was that you wanted to understand our thoughts on the canvas platform versus web. We came around to a point of view that the canvas platform is really the right place to build a games environment for users and developers. Everything about games today and in the future will be on canvas.

You wanted to be treated like a partner, so we built out a team under Ethan Beard dedicated to games and relationships with developers. You’ll have both group of advocates inside of Facebook and a channel of communication for input. This is a great example of that.

The third thing: sustainable business and economics. You want Credits plus ads to let you build a business that can grow profitable and big. You want to be able to build with engagement and virality. Hopefully you can see the commitment on our part. We know that for this to work, we need to give developers the ability to grow businesses, and make it work for users to keep coming and playing.

Shows screenshots for three users showing tons of games stories.

Changes today were an attempt to strike that balance. Tried to do something similar a few months ago — this was the news feed collapsing idea. Maybe we should remove the stories for users who don’t like it, but do include it for those who want to see it.

What we’re doing today is attempting to be more thoughtful, not using blunt instruments.

Questions:

Q: A user of your application will not be able to share a news feed with a user who is not using the application?

A, Morgenstern: Yes. Requests and discovery stories will be the channels.

Q: A number of our players play similar types of games. Will you consider opening up the news feed to show similar types of games?

A, Morgenstern: That’s in line with the overall plan. We’re not working on it now.

Q: Any thought to being able to sort news feed by content?

A, Morgenstern: Changes to the Games Dashboard. We think these changes are more impactful. There will be a wave of innovation around the games dashbaord. One thing we did test was an embedded stream, that filters content around the games you’re playing.

A, Zuckerberg: This is a set of changes that gives us a base for more improvements. The use case that people were doing most of the time is others who were having a similar experience. We may add ways to broadcast more broadly. We do a lot of testing to make sure that this balanced out to where they were before. They’re big for users, but on the net, because so many want to play, at least in terms of our testing, this is pretty neutral. That gives a pretty good base to start from, from a much healthier place.

A, Rose: You saw the mockup of discovery stories. That’s actually much more relevant than any information that they might post. The post about the game has no context, but the fact that they’re playing does. The discovery stories are going to be an important part of the user acquisition channel.

Q: Are discovery stories just the first time that users start playing?

A, Morgenstern: The first set of changes is based on someone installing and playing some amount of time that merits it… also controlled by privacy settings, like “Show this to everybody but my boss.” Surfacing interesting content based on your friends, maybe always if it’s your best friend, but balancing out to make sure news feed is relevant.

Q: Are you working on dashboard for Facebook Credits?

A, Rose: Yes, developers have to do a lot by hand now but we’re improving it.

Q: What’s the strategy on free Credits?

A, Rose: Increase the number of people who are buying virtual goods in games. A big part is growing the percentage who spend money. We’re giving Credits to make sure people can buy even if they don’t have Credits. We’ll get them used to it being fun. Then we’ll work with you to iterate on the right structure, long-term. We’ve only given Credits to those who had never spent money before.

Q: How about costs going up for developers?

A, Rose: Credits are going to help users play, give users a level of trust.

A, Zuckerberg: We’re balancing two curves: cost and ease of getting users, then also retaining them. The platform at first was all virality. Engagement was so weak. Now, people want to play games. All these changes have the effect of increasing engagement. That I think is a really important evolution for the platform. They now have the ability to stick with them for longer.

The whole “ring of fire” approach, where you always need new users — we’re trying to move way from that.

Q: Can you still target feeds to users, even if they’re not users of the app?

A, Morgenstern. If you choose someone who’s not playing, it won’t be visible to them, although I don’t think we’ve handled that error request elegantly yet. New requests redact — remove all requests for particular user based on some identifier you know. You’ll be able to see if users have ignored it.

Here’s the live feed if you’d like to watch the whole thing:

Watch live streaming video from facebookinnovations at livestream.com