Upcoming Facebook API Changes Bring Back Virality By Sorting Game Genres

Sean Ryan, Director of Games Partnerships at Facebook, delivered a keynote speech at Casual Connect in Seattle today detailing the future of the Facebook games ecosystem following many changes to the platform’s communication channels, and the complete integration of Facebook Credits.

“There is a massive amount of value creation still going on here,” he says, defending Facebook’s games platform against arguments that the social games market is dying. “Social games are driving the revenue on mobile, the revenue on web. If you’re not building social games on a platform, you’re building for a shrinking market.”

Ryan breaks out key examples from the top 10 to 12 game developers that Facebook pays special attention to. Aside from the usual suspects of Zynga, Playdom, Crowdstar and Playfish, there were shoutouts to 6waves (now 6waves Lolapps), Kabam, Kixeye, PopCap, GSN, Digital Chocolate, Wooga, Double Down Casino and Playtika. Ryan characterizes most of these — with the notable exception of PopCap — as young companies that didn’t even exist four years ago, and now many of them are making successful exits or raising large amounts of capital. So clearly, he argues, there’s still a lot of growth to be had on Facebook and other platforms for developers looking to enter the social games space.

The key is how developers should approach entry. Ryan breaks it out into four points: massive/relevant scale, multiple discoverability options, efficient monetization and continued improvement over time. Ryan says that a game can still find success with hundreds of millions of general users (massive scale), but the emerging trend Ryan wants to see more of is developers succeeding by attracting a smaller, more dedicated audience (relevant scale). Multiple discoverability options is a bit harder because developers have to spend on advertising, at least on Facebook. Ryan says that advertising accounts for one-third to half of all users in a game. However, if you’re buying advertising, Ryan surmises that your game is already profitable.

Efficient monetization and continued improvement are areas where Ryan sees Facebook stepping up its game to help developers. To the first point, there’s Facebook Credits, which Ryan says is a logical improvement over fragmented payments systems of the old platform. As for continued improvement, Ryan says that Facebook is always looking to improve — which is why the terms of service and APIs change frequently in the games space.

Going forward this year, Ryan says that Facebook hopes to restore a lot of the virality that games lost following the crackdown on the news feeds and other channels from last year. By working with developers, he hopes to help games find better ways of generating the kinds of news stories that players’ friends will want to click on. On Facebook’s side, the team is looking into sorting games by genre in a way that allows the platform to suggest games of similar genre to dedicated players. For example, by playing hidden object games, Facebook would know to show you ads for other hidden object games instead of ads for fashion games.

Ryan’s plea to developers is simple: Make more games in more genres, and stop copying each other. The days of monetizing by making a clone of a clone are over, he says. He broke out some areas where genre-specific games have succeeded — notably “midcore” and “hardcore” games like Zynga’s Empires & Allies or Kixeye’s Battle Pirates — and then listed some genres where there’s almost nothing on Facebook so far:

Fishing — There’s only one actual fishing game on the platform so far.
Christian — An untapped market, as 42% of the United States is evangelical.
Urban — By which Ryan means games that speak authentically to that audience.
Role-Playing Games — Here, Ryan characterizes RPGs as Diablo (not Mafia Wars)
Fighting — A genre that’s just starting to take off.
Romance — A very big literary category, and yet there are no social games for it (we’re not sure if It Girl counts)
First-Person Shooter — So far, there are only two, but Ryan admits that there are limitations on this genre that come from the browser.

A final point raised during the Q&A dealt with where Facebook sees the Asian and Turkish markets going. Ryan responds that Facebook sees Asia as the fastest-growing market for the platform, but there’s still the challenge of being banned in China. Other countries in the region, however, are currently expanding — such as Korea. As for Turkey, Ryan says Facebook struggles with payment options for developers. The platform is working with Peak Games, however, to improve user acquisition in the region. Brazil is also an emerging market for Facebook games, which is why there’s a big push to localize games in Portuguese.