Developers Should Take Advantage of Latest Facebook Changes — as Zynga Has Done Before

[The following is a guest post by Joel Augé, the co-founder of Facebook developer HitGrab. His company is best known for its RPG title MouseHunt, while Augé himself also leads a parallel life as a solo recording artist.  This post first appeared on Augé’s blog.]

So Tuesday evening I was privy to an event put on by Facebook and their games team at FBHQ in Palo Alto. Eighty or so attendees watched as Zucks and team announced their dedication to games, the launch of some new features, and the closing down or tweaking of some others. One of the features which is being tweaked is the newsfeed. It’s being modified so that if you don’t play a game, you won’t get newsfeed items from that game. Some people are livid. I’ve even had conversations where a leading developer has gone as far as saying, “It’s been fun. Good knowing you all”.

The fact of the matter is, every time the rules change, opportunity knocks. I’d even go one step further and say that a lot of Zynga’s success is due to their ability to capitalize on shifts in the platform.

Example #1: Multi-photo posts to the wall from within apps. This was a feature, made available to developers, to allow users the ability to share “photo” content to their walls in an easy way. Zynga saw an opportunity and used it extensively (in Mafia Wars at least) as a way to post game leveling and cool in-game art to the walls of users with the end-goal being new user acquisition. The stream was now Zynga’s play thing. I’m sure they acquired millions of users using that method.

Example #2: Incentivizing the gathering of user contact details. Seeing as Facebook was “clamping down” on friend spam in late 2009 with some further tweaks to the feed, invites, and requests, Zynga promptly countered, and was (arguably) the first to incentivize the gathering of permissions to email via in-game bonuses. A giant bar was placed across the top of their apps with a message stating something of this sort: “Do these four things to become a complete human being”. One of those things was giving Zynga permission to email you directly without Facebook as the proxy. Zynga now has a war chest of millions of gamer emails.

My point is, the limitations (read: rules) of the platform instigated Zynga’s creativity to build new acquisition and engagement channels. Now (ahem..)… “creative” and “Zynga” aren’t commonly used together in the same phrase, but where game creativity may have lacked, their recognition of this space as a land-grab Wild West is to be commended. I’d be very surprised if Frontierville isn’t a real-world tongue-in-cheek metaphor of this very truth.

Where does that leave HitGrab and others like us? Doom and gloom? Sorry. You won’t find whining here. The fact is, gamers love games. Plural. We make great games. And as the acquisition costs and channels fall under the pressure of a growing platform, we need to keep creating and innovating great games. I personally love the fact that Zynga has invested so heavily in training non-gamers to become gamers. Eventually, those gamers will spill out of Zynga’s game-loop (either by accident or by advert) and find their way to our games. The communities are tighter, the customer experience better, the relationship with the development teams are real. Some companies are out to grab as much land as possible. For HitGrab it’s not the amount of land that counts, but the communities living on the land we do have, that matters. Lots of land means nothing if it’s fallow. (Thanks for that training, Farmville!)