Facebook Making Changes to News Feed, Requests, Bookmarks to Promote Social Games — or Hide Them

In the latest of Facebook’s ongoing efforts to reshape its developer platform, it is introducing big changes aimed at the most successful category of third-party applications to-date: social games and related applications.

Overall, the changes could hurt virality for many developers, even if they see increased engagement; Facebook also says that there is more help on the way to social game developers in the coming months, including a revamped infrastructure and new APIs.

Most importantly out of all the of the changes today, the company is altering how the news feed will work.

After the changes take effect, people who do not play games will no longer see news feed application stories from friends who do play games — same goes for any other third-party app. Because news feed stories were a main way that people found games in the first place, we expect app virality to decrease as a result of this change. Facebook is clear about its rationale behind this: “Tens of millions of app wall posts are deleted every day by people who find them irrelevant. By surfacing relevant stories based on usage and discovery stories based on friends, we believe we’re providing the best user experience and building lasting and long term value.”

Facebook no doubt knows about this, and it has a couple other news feed changes rolling out designed to increase user engagement with apps. A change earlier this year grouped all stories from an application into a collapsed, aggregated view — a move that many developers have complained hurt their ability to reach their users. Now, Facebook is making it so that no gaming apps have collapsed stories. Note that this benefit only applies to apps that are self-designated as “games” on the platform. So the company is policing these identifications and booting out developers who abuse the setting.

Also, Facebook is going to be introducing some new kinds of stories about games. So if at least a handful of your friends start playing a game but you don’t, you’ll see a story saying exactly that. This is intended to help maintain some virality despite the overall app story reduction. We’ll have more details on how and when this happens exactly as it becomes available.

Invites and other application requests, which Facebook said it was going to remove current access to during its developer roadmap presentation last October, are now gone from the right-hand column of the home page. Instead, they’re appearing as a line within the left-hand navigation column. This less obvious real estate should also hurt growth. Facebook is also adding a Retraction API, so that developers can present all of the requests for a user within the game UI, instead of driving users back to the requests list to accept more gifts, etc. Facebook is also loosening its policies around the copy that developers can place on action item buttons, like “Reply” or “Send Gift” – something that should make for more natural user experiences.

Finally, there are other changes coming to the left-hand side of the home page. Facebook is automatically bookmarking apps that you use, sorting them based on your usage in the last 30 days. Apps in the “More” list (not shown by default) will get a summed counter as well. It is also making the Games Dashboard somewhat more prominent in the left-hand column, showing it to all users automatically, including any new user. It is adding a new look for counters as well.

Facebook has told us that is wants to foster more social gaming growth on its platform, following its removal of third party notifications and other significant changes earlier this year. Nevertheless, today’s changes look like another viral pruning, in the eyes of many developers. The company has created an official Games team recently, though and with the infrastructure and API plans in the works, it could introduce changes that help social games grow more virally — even as it tries to make sure that this is not damaging its overall product.