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Did Facebook's new newsfeed just kill your social game?

Rik HaandrikmanRik Haandrikman, Biz Dev Wizz @ GamePoint, Avid... (more)
It's that time of the year again: Facebook has turned our world upside down with some major changes - The new newsfeed (Less Clutter, More Stories) introduces a new focus on rich content with bigger images, video and more appealing previews of linked content. The introduction of different content-specific feeds gives people the power to choose what they see and when they see it.

Sounds great, right? From a user perspective, I don't disagree. As a game developer with 90 percent of traffic coming in through Facebook, I have some doubts.


THE CHANGES
  • New, bigger visuals - Newsfeed will show you bigger, more vibrant images and videos, making visually rich content much more prominent than it used to be.
  • New feeds - Besides the 'regular' newsfeed, users can know choose to check out separate feeds with only content shared by friends, content posted by pages and people followed, a feed with just music related content, one with just photos and a dedicated gaming feed.
  • One, device-agnostic, layout - The layout of newsfeed will no longer depend on the device you happen to be using. PC, Tablet or Mobile now feature a one-design fits all layout that shows your content in similar fashion independent of the device used to access it.
  • A persistent left-hand menu - The existing left-hand menu is replaced by a sleeker, more minimalistic menu that doesn't only appear on your feed, but follows you around wherever you go on Facebook. You'll have your bookmarks and your online friends handy on the feed, pages, timelines and apps alike.

THE NEW MENU
The change with, probably, the biggest impact on gaming, and the one getting least attention during Facebook's announcement, is the last one: The new menu.

Besides making the menu follow you around Facebook, the design has gotten a makeover, replacing the old 'icons + text' list with minimalistic buttons that 'fold out' in a similar fashion to the current mobile app.


Now here's where things get slightly worrisome:


Where, before, I had 26 bookmarks, 9 of which were 'locked' on apps, in the new design I have 8 bookmarks in total. Not only do I have less bookmarks, they've changed from icon + text to only an icon.

Sure, there's a 'show more' button, but who uses that? Really?

(Insights actually tells you the amount of clicks coming from bookmarks_apps versus the number of clicks from bookmark_seeall. In our case the rate is roughly 160 to one.....)

SO WHAT?
Assuming that the way bookmarks work don't change, the newsfeed and messages buttons will probably be locked, leaving 6 'dynamic' bookmarks. 6 dynamic bookmarks for Facebook's native apps (photo's, events, etc), pages, apps and groups combined, where there were 9 for just apps before.

Why should you care? Well, take a look at http://facebook.com/insights. Visit the users-overview page and check your Internal referral sources. 99 out of 100 apps will see that their top referral source is bookmark_apps. For some of our games this is actually over two-thirds of our internal referrals..... And Facebook just decreased the number of visible bookmarks by over two-thirds.

Even if the places where users are exposed to these bookmarks increase because the menu is shown on more pages, the amount of apps actually shown will decrease dramatically. If you're the lucky app to be on top of that list you're golden: More views on the button will undoubtedly translate to more clicks. If you're usually second or thirds on that list because users don't click your app every half hour to check if their chickens need watering, chances are your bookmark will no longer be shown to most of your users.

OMG. WHAT DO I DO NOW?!
Don't roll over and die just yet. There are options.

Increase return frequency - The more a user visits your game, the more relevant Facebook will assume your app is for that user and the higher up that list of bookmarks you'll go. There is one fairly simple and popular way to go about achieving this: Appointment gaming.

Make sure that a user needs to visit your game at predetermined intervals to reach a positive effect. Decreasing the length of an interval increases return frequency, but there's a point where users will just stop coming altogether  so try and find a sweet spot for your particular audience here. Examples include watering crops in Farmville, but receiving a 4-hourly free virtual currency gift in Slotomania is really the same principle at work.

Increase internal referrals from other sources - Browse back to Insights for a second. Sure, bookmarks make up the bulk of internal referrals for most games, but there are other sources there ready for the picking:

  • Search - It's still to early to say how Graph Search will impact gaming, but for our most popular games the 'old' search is a great source of traffic. If your users like your game, they'll search for it and find it. One side-note though: Sponsored Search results. If your not the top hit for a specific search term, a sponsored search result will be shown before your app and will likely steal away some of your clicks. Solution? Use Sponsored Search results yourself. In my experience the costs are negligible compared to other ad units and you don't want to loose that player to the competition.

  • Notifications - If you haven't before, implement the Notifications API. Now. Seriously, visit App Notifications. I'll wait.

    Done? Good. The Notifications API allows you to send notifications directly to your active (<30 days) users. These notifications are likely to be the most effective way for you to interact with your users from outside your app. Click through rates for our notifications regularly measure 30% or higher. Make sure to keep your content (very) relevant and (very) engaging, though: If you're sending out 50.000+ notifications a week and have a CTR that drops below 17%, Facebook cuts you off. One way to keep that CTR high is incentivizing the click. Simply give your users something for interacting with your notification  Free Coins, Virtual Items, Experience, etc. Use it wisely though: Even when giving out Coins, you'll run into click fatigue if you don't pace yourself and this is a channel you can't afford loosing.

  • Open Graph (Open Graph for Games) - It took some time for the channel to mature, but Open Graph has grown out to become an incredibly valuable retention and acquisition channel. Experiment with different types of actions, make sure people engage with the generated stories and while you're at it, optimize for the new newsfeed by increasing the size of your creatives to 600x600.

  • Requests (Requests) - A proven channel for all your user acquisition and re-engagement needs. Not using requests at the moment? Go and implement a friend inviter. The CTR is dreadful, but you're leaving free traffic lying around. The CTR on requests used for re-engagement are much better and there are several proven game mechanics that leverage the feature. If your game allows for it, have users send each other gifts by sending out and accepting requests. Combined with appointment gaming (send out a gift every x period of time), requests can both increase your return frequency and help you reach your users outside of the feed.

  • App Center (App Center | Facebook) - It's there so you might as well take a bit of time to set up a page for your game, but don't expect a lot of traffic here. Also, seeing as the fixed App Center button in the current menu doesn't seem to be present in the new layout, the amount of traffic it generates will probably decrease.

Increase external referrals from other sources - Facebook's awesome, but every now and then people do spend some time outside of the Zuck's blue-walled garden.

  • Email - Are you asking users' email address in the permissions dialogue? No? Do so. The drop in install rate is negligible and it gives you a much needed channel of communication that's outside of Facebook's ever-changing ecosystem. Make sure to open a dialogue from day one: Your success using email will depend on users actually opening your emails, so get them used to regular emails and reward them for interacting with those emails (=more free coins, items, etc).

  • Partner Up - Facebook isn't the only website out there. There are many (gaming) websites out there that are happy to integrate your content for a cut of the profits. I won't lie to you: Nobody can drive traffic like Facebook can, but it's good to have a couple of different sources of traffic, because Facebook's next change might be the one that ends your lucky streak. Some examples are Kongregate and Games.com, but I'm sure you can find quite a lot more if you ask around.

IN CONCLUSION
"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment."

The new newsfeed probably won't kill your social game, but depending on the type of game, they might have made your life just a little more difficult then before. This illustrates an indisputable fact of the industry: If you're not flexible, if you can't roll with the punches and change your entire business on the drop of a dime, you probably won't survive. Implement new features, kill the stuff that isn't working and don't be afraid to 'bet the farm' every once in a while when opportunity comes knocking, because even though Facebook changes the script on us every once in a while, the people that learn to play by that script the fastest can ride that wave of success right up to the next major change.
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Rik Haandrikman
Rik Haandrikman
Biz Dev Wizz @ GamePoint, Avid reader, Gym rat, Proud father o...
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