What Kind of Boost Can You Get from Open Graph?
This mobile transition for Facebook games can only thrive in an environment where the platform holder supports it. So far, developers seem satisfied with the changes that Facebook launched in January. "I think that what Facebook is doing is completely right. We're embracing and using the Facebook platform inside our apps. That works extremely well," says Begemann.
Working with Facebook is essential, says Zacconi. "You have synergies which you don't have if you are only available on the phone. If you're focused on purely on building your games business on mobile, discoverability is a big problem, and also retention."
"Trying to get discovered, and downloaded, and installed, and paid for is the hardest problem," says Facebook's Ryan. He proposes Open Graph as the solution, as you'd expect -- but the developers seem to agree.
"Open Graph is a valuable extension to social game play on mobile devices, as it enables an easy way to share game progress and player interactions. It also works as a discovery tool, but for us, its primary benefit is strengthening the social experience in the game," says Greg Harper, general manager for the North American division of Clash of Clans and Hay Day developer Supercell.
"For example, we introduced an Open Graph feature that lets players 'like' other farms in Hay Day," Harper says. "In just a few months, one of our in-game characters got nearly half a million likes without any kind of promotion or incentives in the game." It's worth noting that Supercell's games are not available on Canvas.
While Wooga doesn't require Facebook connectivity for its mobile games, many Diamond Dash players choose to use it anyway. "Out of daily active users, 68 percent connect with Facebook, and they do that because it's a better game, right?" says Begemann. "If you just play it alone it's good, but if you can compete against your friends, and if you have the thrill of beating your friends, it's a much, much, much better game."
"Those who connect with Facebook play twice as long; they are eight times more likely to spend money," says Begemann.
"Our goal is to develop games with deep interactions between the players. Although we don't want to make using Facebook a requirement, many of our players want to play with their friends, and using Facebook is a very convenient way to do that," says Supercell's Harper.
Of course, the appeal of playing with friends is central to these notifications reeling new players in.
"For me, I think it's unthinkable of having a singular experience like the download experience of the past," says Zacconi. "Where Facebook actually can play a very important role is because Facebook actually knows what other players are around you, who also love that game, and are as good as you are."
Begemann credits notifications on the Facebook mobile app as the most relevant factor for driving players to the mobile versions of Wooga's games, not other forms of viral communication.
"You get a lift of using our channels. That these messages, through our social channels -- whether it's mobile, App Center, or through the newsfeed -- now show up, where before we were suppressing them, because there was nothing you could link to. Now you can link to the game and go play it. So that's where you see the lift take place," says Ryan.
Ryan has nothing but praise for Hay Day's social interactions. Facebook believes that stronger, more meaningful interactions are key to the "lift" he describes. "At level seven, you unlock the ability to trade or buy and sell materials and items with your friends, and it uses Facebook for that functionality -- and that's when all of a sudden the game really unlocks in a way that's really fun," he says.
Following on from that, Ryan wants to see more, newer, and better social mechanics in the next crop of games. "So I think when we talk to developers, what we talk to them about is it's not about how many requests you send, and how many times you ask somebody for a life; we talk to the developers about, 'Are there new mechanics that we can talk about?' The borrowing, the trading, that seem to be a much more natural part of the game and really make it more fun -- as opposed to just, 'Can I get something from you for free, if I just keep asking you enough?'"
Facebook's director of user growth, Alex Schultz, sees the mobile transition as powering the social engine of apps. "When you sign up to a social game and only two or three of your friends are playing it, it is not fun. As more and more of your friends join the game, more opportunities come for it to be social," he said at that Facebook event in October. Mobile, he said, is "bringing this, too."
As for whether or not Facebook is where it needs to be on supporting games via the mobile app, Ryan is satisfied. "Last year, I think we were behind," he admits. "With mobile install product, we're giving them what we think is the best way in the business to help users discover and install new games."
Supercell agrees, though it does see some room for improvement. "Although it is still early, Facebook is taking several steps to increasing the value it delivers to mobile game developers," says Harper.