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Facebook Games See User Dip As Notification Rules Change
Facebook Games See User Dip As Notification Rules Change
May 7, 2010 | By Eric Caoili

May 7, 2010 | By Eric Caoili

Recent changes in the way Facebook manages notifications has caused many of the most popular games on the social network to hemorrhage users -- Zynga's FarmVille alone lost more than 4.4 million monthly players in the past four weeks.

18 of the top 25 social games on Facebook (determined by monthly active users) lost players in April, and 12 of those relinquished at least one million users. MindJolt Games, which serves as a portal for more than a thousand casual titles, suffered the biggest losses as it ended the month with nearly eight million fewer gamers, now sitting at 13.1 million.

The shedding of players can be traced back to Facebook's decision to limit application notifications starting in March in an effort to make interactions with apps "more streamlined, clear, and less spammy for users".

Unfortunately for the developers of the games affected, many titles relied on those notifications for the viral growth of their user bases.

Even FarmVille, Zynga's most popular game and Facebook's most popular app, wasn't immune to the loss of players; the farm simulator went from 82.8 million monthly active users in the beginning of April to now 78.4 million gamers, according to a report from Inside Social Games.

Other big losers this week include RockYou's Birthday Cards (which seems more like an app than a game, though it's listed in the Games category), which dropped to 34.3 million monthly players after losing 5.6 million; and CrowdStar's Happy Aquarium, which now has only 19.5 million monthly users after losing 4.2 million.

Digital Chocolate CEO and Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins noted last month that developers will need to find new ways to grow their user bases without notifications: "The formula last year was viral growth through aggressive spam, but that no longer works."

He continued, "The spammy viral spread was also a free marketing department. With no more free ride, growth can only come from an efficient combination of legitimate virality and efficient marketing to help spread the good word."

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Tawna Evans
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Actually, I think the removal of notifications rendered some games unplayable. The notifications weren't really spam, but tools to let players know when to take action in the games. With the notifications gone, players have to rely on email, but some may not check their email as frequently as they log-in to Facebook.

Current Facebook games remain as spammy as ever. People can still send invitations, gifts, and wall posts to friends via the applications. All that removing application notfications did was make the games less enjoyable to players, hence the drop in users.

Amanda Heaton
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The grapes of wrath cover image is pretty funny.

Jed Hubic
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So roughly 8 million people got lives last month?

Chris Needham
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To Jed Hubic:

LOL That made my night.

Scott Macmillan
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@Jed - Nah, they're probably just trolling now, instead.

Brad Borne
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Funny, Super Mario Bros. 3 never had to remind me to play it.

Stefan Fueger
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What do we learn from that:

People (well, the sub-average masses) don't look for a proper gaming experience. Just spam them with some random crap and they "play" it.

Well, in the end we learned nothing new.

Joel Payne
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In emerging markets the first to exploit it always become the market leaders but... quality remains king. If it's a good quality fun product, people should find it. While Farmville made a ton of cash exploiting notifications, they did so because they got the word out faster and had an ok product. However, IMHO, Farmville's days are numbered. I compare it to the housing market, in that it holds an overinflated value.

Players will get bored and want something that isn't limited in its theme.. something that grows and is able to top itself with each new element. It's a hard thing to do and it shouldn't be any surprise that the memberships have been cut as a result of the rules change because nobody would have even tried these games if they weren't attached to the facebook network.

Why!? because people like farting around with short game play experiences while they keyhole/spy on there list of buddies. When we had notifications for apps, we were in effect doing the same keyhole spying on other players. It was natural. It's why people like facebook. It's almost anti facebook to have removed that feature for apps. I think Facebook shot themselves in the foot and hindered one of the biggest reasons facebook makes money.

Tawna Evans
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The core mechanic of Super Mario Bros. 3 is completely different from those of Facebook games. On Facebook, games keep playing while players are not looking at them. Something can happen to the game while the player is away, such as contruction of a building finishing or a pet being bought. Notifications were a way of letting people know that something happened, so they could resume the game.

Andrew Tilot
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Why is it called Facebook it's neither of them?

Maurício Gomes
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Actually, the more restrictive the better, I stopped using Facebook (altough I don't deleted my account) after the surge in games, seriously, there are 300 notifications to me see, 2 are friend invites, 200 are gifts from games, and the rest are game invitations... It is HELL ANNOYING.

Andrew Smith
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Why not create a seperate "Game notification" feature that you can add if you like? That makes sense.

Jeff Hanson
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Most game players do create a seperate 'games' friend list and restrict their game spam to it. Not that it's that hard for people to just click 'hide' on any games/apps they don't want to see on their feed.

Dunno why facebook doesn't just create a seperate feed for game/app spam already. They seem determined to drive the social gaming 'nuisance' off of their platform instead of taking advantage of the opportunity. It's like they're in total denial that 1) people are actually enjoying playing the games, and 2) companies are making piles of money from them.

Jonathan Osment
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"Social" games such as this were a mere "fad". Some businessmen such as Acclaim's CEO Howard Marks thinks facebook apps are the future, that flash is the future. 3 days ago he told a group of students that flash gaming for the ipad and iphone is what they should be focusing on for the future of games. The poor guy hasnt been paying attention to current (or not so current events). Steve Jobs doesnt want flash on the iphone or ipad. Flash was never intended for games, it was a fun "hobby" for awhile, but it has no long term staying power. Furthermore, this whole concept of spammy and gimmicky social game design, has done nothing to positively increase the quality of the game industry. In fact, I would go as far to say it has damaged the industry in terms of design quality and a focus on FUN rather than consumer exploitation.

Dave Smith
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in related news, my facebook experience has improved dramatically!

r marc
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I think it's a timely warning to potential Casual developers that they are at the mercy of the platform, in this case Facebook. For me personally I think there is definitely a place for casual games, I just wish we could break out of the GoldRush mentallity, ie developers enmasse all get Casual games up, causing a glut. I think what is exciting is when these so called games, actually become Games in the traditional sense of the word not just a notification friendslist spammer.

Oh and it is interesting how the platform we might all be returning to is the P.C. we've come full circle. Maybe Arcade might come back in next COOL!

gus one
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As much as I think this is a fad. Facebook themselves are buying games (in a sad desparate attempt to make revenues) and the last thing they want to do is shoot themselves in the foot. I am sure they are looking at a better solution. Still in the meantime I will have a good laugh at the VCs who have been throwing money at yet another internet bubble waiting to happen. That spotty oik might have lots of shares in Facebook but at least I generate revenues and I am not in bed with the Russian mafia.

Daniel Biesiada
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Wow, it simply revealed that Facebook games utilized only one way to reach players. It's for sure worth a conversation with FB how they long term strategy looks like and how they want to communicate changes in future to make their platform more predictable.

Justin Kwok
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I'm not trying to say that the new Facebook policy doesn't have anything to do with it... but could it also be because the weather's getting nicer and people aren't spending as much time in front of their computers?

I'm just being silly.

Robert Gill
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Or maybe Facebook games just suck?

I mean seriously, those games are boring as hell.

Sean Parton
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@ Maurício Gomes: Click on the name of the app in question to go to it's app page, then press "Block this Application" on the left side. You need to do this for every app you don't care about, but then you'll never need to worry about them again.


And as for everyone saying "omg my experience is now much better!", I have no clue what you're talking about. People can (and I did last night) post onto peoples news feeds, so that hasn't changed in the slightest. In all honesty, I'm not sure what exactly changed; I guess I wasn't paying attention 4 weeks ago (I don't think I was playing any Facebook games that heavily back then).

Diego Leao
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It is not a surprise that if you lose one marketing channel, you lose traffic. People are so clueless on why Facebook apps are so popular that they are just waiting for an excuse to scream that "they are finally dying". I don't know how many times I also heard it about the Wii... They are not going away anytime soon, guys.

The news only point to the fact that this companies will rely more on real marketing instead of spam. As pointed already, Facebook don't want to kill the apps: they make money out of them. They are just trying to protect their core experience.

Franklin Brown
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I agree with Robert. Facebook games have probably seen their day. After a point, the mindless repetition is just silly, and there is only so much "free" content to enjoy. Everyone's saturation point is different, but any way you cut it, there comes a time where you're just sick of harvesting the silly little crops.

Gregory Kinneman
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What this is saying is that spamming actually works! By blocking spam, facebook has caused these companies to lose players. Of course, those players are the people who respond to spam and thus result in the rest of us having inboxes flooded with trash, so maybe they should be locked away playing farmville. Dirty, dirty spam supporters.