Rank Wars: Sorting games in App Center

Facebook launches its new App Center today, centralizing app discovery moreso than the now-defunct Apps and Games Dashboard. For mobile and social games, this will hopefully drive more traffic to only the highest-ranked games.

App Center ranks games primarily by a five-star rating meter. A game’s page will also allow users to preview the title similar to the way the iOS App Store; displaying screenshots, a developer-written description, genres and user reviews. Users can also view — without installing — exactly what permissions an app requests at install. For mobile games, users can navigate directly to the App Store to install an app from their mobile device or can “Send to Mobile,” if they find a mobile app from their computer that they’d like to try.

Correction: App ratings cannot be assigned from an app’s profile page.

Games are sorted in App Center’s homepage by Recommended and Friends Apps. A left-hand module also sorts games by genre — Action & Arcade, Puzzle, etc. Facebook doesn’t say how the display rank order is determined. At a press event debuting App Center in San Francisco, we saw that each game listed in a category displays its star rating and the number of monthly users playing the app. Facebook’s Matt Wyndowe declined to tell us what specifically determines an app’s position in rankings, but he did confirm that traffic and star rating are the main factors considered.

Update: Wyndowe adds that Facebook plans to turn on algorithmic discovery for App Center at some point, but at launch the emphasis is on displaying top quality apps. Facebook had previously said that not all apps would appear in App Center, implying that a certain quality standard must be met when an app is submitted.

Ideally, App Center will only display higher-quality games based on star ratings and user feedback. The danger in a centralized games navigation center is that star rankings can be more easily manipulated than the algorithmic discovery Facebook previously relied on for game discovery. We’ve seen how bots in the App Store can rapidly inflate a mobile game’s position on the top charts. We’ve also seen star ratings metrics abused by users that want to target a developer for personal reasons rather than provide actual feedback on a specific game. The rank at which a game appears on a chart can have an enormous impact on that game’s installs.

Facebook says that over 230 million people played games on Facebook in May 2012 and that over 130 million games claimed more than 1 million monthly users.

Update 2: App Center is now live for us.

From the homepage, top rated apps is currently displaying Pinterest as the top app followed by mobile game Draw Something and Instagram. The Trending apps rankings — which show rapidly-growing apps — now has Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook canvas game Marvel Avengers Alliance in the top three. Finally, top grossing apps ranks Zynga’s CastleVille, Texas HoldEm Poker and FarmVille as No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.

App Center differentiates between social and mobile games on its platform with a Mobile Only icon on certain games (see below). Users can currently filter app platforms by Web, Mobile or All. Interestingly, the top rated games filtered by All displays mostly mobile titles — suggesting that game players engage more with star ratings on iOS and Android than they ever did on Facebook. Filtering the Trending category by returns primarily Facebook canvas games. Note that there is ample space for display ads to the right of all rankings screens.