Facebook's new platform changes to the games section might not seem like a whole lot on the surface, but the company says there really will be some significant changes to the developer experience, post-game release.
"In the past we've used some pretty blunt instruments to deal with a problem we had, which was that some people really loved seeing game content in their feeds, and others felt it was spammy" Carl Sjogreen, head of Facebook's platform product team told a group of journalists.
Most recently, it was only games you've used that would come up in news, and that news channel was the only real way to virally get people playing Facebook games. "So with these ranking changes we've done a much more nuanced job of trying to understand the quality of game content on Facebook as reported by users," Sjogreen added. "If an app is contributing content that gets clicks, likes, et cetera, we consider that premium content." If not, the app is considered less exciting, or at worst, spammy.
The company is also taking into account subjective user recommendations. In the new "ticker" on the right-hand side of games, players will be asked whether they'd recommend the game to a friend, in an unobtrusive way. Sjogreen says the company is "also doing some per-user assessment of whether you as an individual are likely to engage with this game." This allows the company to "start to open up the news feed as a vehicle for growth again," he adds. This means app recommendations for new users, and new game players.
Emphasising the company's commitment to the game platform, Sjogreen says "we have a product team focused specifically on making the games better on Facebook … We want to encourage better and better games on Facebook, and new types of games that couldn't exist on Facebook before, because of our framework." With the ticker, which will pop up notifications if someone has beaten your score, the company hopes to encourage more synchronous experiences.
"Fundamentally we want to have a relationship with developers on the platform where our incentives are aligned," says Sjogreen. The company is trying to clean up those incentive misalignments, and if a game something gets positive engagement from users, Facebook is going to "go out of its way to make that succeed."
Head of games partnerships Sean Ryan emphasized how important games are to the platform. "Users who play games on Facebook are more highly engaged than those who don't, and they also report more happiness with Facebook in general," he said. "So we should be catering more to them." At the same time, "It's not about getting as many gamers as possible," he clarified. "It's about getting gamers who are more engaged."
"To everyone's surprise, games took off," Ryan admits. "This is not a games company at core. But by last year we had an unbelievable games and growth story, but it was impacting other areas of the platform." Here, Ryan refers to spammy apps and games that were more of a nuisance than they were exciting for non-players. So while last year was about disabling things like viral channels for developers, now the company is trying to enable things more intelligently.
"The key here is re-open virality for games," concluded Ryan, adding that the company has been working steadily on improving the engagement experience for developers for the last 6-12 months. Going forward, Ryan says developers can expect "more focus on games coming from us."