As Facebook quickly seized status as the most prominent and fastest-growing social gaming platform, the platform-holder came by some unique challenges that continue to follow its growth.
The company has had to balance the needs of game developers who depend on virality with providing a good experience for users who simply want to connect with friends without receiving notifications about their friends' FarmVille
"Our goal is to make it so as few people as possible come to the site and have negative experiences," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a media event held at the company's offices to discuss the latest changes the company is making to the ways games interface with its user experience.
Essentially, users will be generically notified if multiple friends are currently playing a new game, but successive updates about their play will be concealed from other users -- unless the other users are also players of that game.
It creates a divide on the social network between gamers and non-gamers, but it also aims to ensure that the only people who will receive game updates are those who are interested in them. Zuckerberg sees it as a similar kind of screening process to the way users actually share interests in real life.
"In real life, if one of your friends plays FarmVille
and you don't, they probably wouldn't come up to you and say 'Hey, I just got this new cow on my farm,'" he explains in video of the event recorded by VentureBeat
. "They might say 'Hey, I found this new game that's really cool that you should check out.'"
"Giving this kind of context is what we want to emulate on the site," he adds. The company made changes earlier this year to the kinds of notifications Facebook games were allowed to send their users, aiming to keep "join my game"-type spam in check. But as a result, numerous popular titles on the social network experienced steep declines
in their userbases.
That attrition continues, and Facebook has required further occasionally-controversial concessions from its game developers, such as the deployment of its universal Facebook Credits currency platform -- which gives it a 30 percent revenue share. But the company continues to evaluate its decisions as it evolves, Zuckerberg says.
Games are a major force on Facebook, but it's a double-edged sword: "One the one hand, games are a phenomenon -- 200 million people or more are playing games on the site," says the CEO. "On the other hand, game [notifications] are also one of the biggest complaints that we get."
Being more permissive of notifications and game "stories" in a user's newsfeed directly creates more complaints for Facebook, continued Zuckerburg. But stringent modifications to notification permissions causes difficulty for game developers, some of the most significant players in the Facebook ecosystem. Games drive userbases, but they also threaten to drive userbases off, and finding that balancing point appears to be Facebook's current goal.