New Groups Functionality Offers Potential for Gamers

Facebook’s product announcement today, a major change to Facebook Groups, was touted by Mark Zuckerberg as a big shift for real-life social units like families and business colleagues. However, there’s also an important potential for game-related groups.

New groups will be created and administrated by individuals on Facebook. Each will come with three potential settings: Open, Closed and Secret. The last two options are for private groups, while all the content and members of Open groups will be publicly visible.

We’ve covered the new features in depth over at Inside Facebook. In brief, there are four important points to note: ease of creation, notifications about new messages, group chat, and API access for developers.

Here’s how Groups could end up helping games:

  • More communication channels for players. While this point seems obvious, having to coordinate channels off Facebook has been a barrier that has kept all but the most hardcore players from having real interaction around a game.
  • Real-time coordination between players. While most Facebook games are built for asynchronous play, some have experimented with in-game chat and groups. Facebook is now offering another channel for real-time communications, left under the control of players.
  • Potential benefits to retention. Once players have  formed tightly-knit groups around a certain game, they’re less likely to stop playing. Users shy to talk about games in their main feed will now also have another outlet.
  • Fewer spam apps. Hundreds of apps built specifically for players of large games like FarmVille have popped up on Facebook; most have subsequently been banned. Groups provide a good alternative.

There could also be downsides to the new groups. Players will find it easier to coordinate activities meant to break or circumvent the structure of games, for instance, and unlike the communication channels on MMOs, game administrators won’t be able to secretly tap into their communications.

And since the new Facebook Groups functions are designed for smaller social units, the functionality may break down when a group becomes larger. Facebook has addressed this to a degree; for instance, the company already plans to turn off group chat when a group has over 250 members. But there will ultimately still be a need for forums, blogs and other external communication channels.

Overall, the Groups changes look positive for games. How useful Groups will be depends on users, who will how to show how far they are willing to take the new features.