Social Discovery Works for Games on Facebook if You Trust Your Social Graph

Social games on Facebook might suffer from a lack of focus with no centralized “games” destination on the platform, but we’ve found that social discovery is a viable means of navigating games.

Over the summer, Facebook introduced new features to the games platform that were meant to restore some of the virality lost when the social network limited game posts to the news feed. The most striking of these features so far has been the Games Ticker, a live feed displayed to the right of a game on the Canvas page. This feed displays only games stories and the occasional sponsored story, which is a contrast to the general stories and occasional games story seen in Live Ticker that now appears on the default Facebook view.

From the Games Ticker, players can jump between active games by clicking directly on stories. Recently, Facebook also added a popover window to these games stories that allows players to comment on or Like a specific story, which can promote that game story to the players’ news feeds over time for increased visibility. Both of these activities serve to increase retention for individual social games, but it’s not immediately clear if it could increase installs for games.

It all depends on what motivates a player to click on a friend’s games story. Game developers can have some impact on this decision by crafting clever or amusing games stories that pique interest or at least appeal to the competitive nature of players (e.g. an Achievement story that says “Jane Doe destroyed John Doe with DOLDRUMS in Words With Friends by 86 points,” or a game install story that reads “Woo Hoo Jane Doe in The Sims Social”). A larger factor in play, however, is how much the player trusts other players’ judgement in social games — something over which the developer doesn’t have much control.

Here’s an example from our personal experience: While playing War Commander this week, we noticed Friend A generating stories in the Games Ticker from something called HappyLife. We didn’t click on these stories because that friend usually only plays pet sims and restaurant sims; ergo, we assumed HappyLife was more of the same (which it is). Friend A currently only has two social games in common with our own games library.

Meanwhile, Facebook Friend B generated stories in the Games Ticker from something called Hero Generations. We clicked on that story because we know this friend plays many of the same games that we play and he’s also a fan of role-playing games and strategy games. It comes as no surprise that Hero Generations is a role-playing game with strategy elements. Friend B currently has more than five social games in common with our games library.

Given the way we believe the Ticker’s algorithmic sorting works, we’re probably not going to see as many stories from Friend A going forward as we are from Friend B. The implications here interesting as players will unknowingly self-select into player types (e.g. “likes word games,”). Depending on how transparent this information is to Facebook or to developers, certain ads could be targeted to player types from the Sponsored Stories section of the Canvas page or from the Games Ticker itself.

Facebook and game developers might also be able to target “power players” that carry the most influence with their games stories whenever they begin playing a new game. A really dedicated developer could even grow a “power player” from within its staff to function as an additional means of user acquisition. For example, they could hire on a top player as a game moderator and trust that player’s social graph to do the rest, or task a community manager to friend specific influential players on Facebook so that their games are more likely to be discovered.