Facebook Adds Game Stories to the News Feed, Privacy Settings to Limit Them

Facebook yesterday announced several changes to how games work on the Platform, including that stories about game may be published to the news feeds of a user’s friends, including non-gamers, when the play a game for more than 15 minutes or complete an in-game objective. Depending on their prevalence in the news feed, game usage and achievement stories could help developers gain new users for free, but could also clutter the news feeds of people who don’t care about games.

To help users avoid annoying their friends, Facebook will add a new privacy setting that allows them to define on an app-by-app basis who an app can share with. The setting will default to “friends” but users can select to prevent the publishing of game discovery, usage, and achievement stories to news feed and the new Games Ticker.

A Year of Limited Virality

Prior to last September, Facebook apps and games could publish stories to the news feed about users taking in-app actions. While relevant to other gamers and key source of new users for developers, non-gamers often found these stories irrelevant and considered them spam amongst their social content. With this spam threatening to overrun the news feed and drive users away from Facebook, the site closed this viral channel.

Only the occasional story about a friend starting to play a game would appear in the news feed to those that had not already installed that game, significantly cleaning up the feed but also severely limiting organic growth for apps and games. Facebook also tested a randomly occurring Discover New Games sidebar module, but this wasn’t frequently seen and its placement in the sidebar made it much less noticeable than the old game stories that appeared in the news feed.

Without the free growth channel of prominent placement in the news feed, developers were forced to spend more on ads to gain traction for their apps. Combined with Facebook’s 30% tax on Facebook Credits that in July it made the mandatory payment method for virtual goods within games, the Facebook Platform had become much expensive to develop on then a year ago. This led developers to look for alternatives, making Facebook more potentially vulnerable to competing platforms.

Increased Virality to Fend Off Competitors

Yesterday, Google+ launched its own games platform that only charges developers 5% on purchases made in their game, deeply undercutting Facebook Credits. Facebook needed to make a concession to developers to make its Platform more attractive, and so soon after the Google+ games news dropped, it announced several changes to how Canvas pages and bookmarks work, as well as two new viral channels: the Games Ticker and news feed game stories.

The Games Ticker appears in the right sidebar while users play any Facebook Canvas game, and shows real-time updates of in-app activity by friends. These include:

  • Game install stories
  • Game usage stories that are triggered if a user plays a game for more than 15 minutes
  • In-game activity stories triggered when users surpass a friend’s score or complete an objective, published by  the new Scores and Achievements APIs

When a user first starts using a game, it shows stories about the same game, but as they play longer also shows stories about games they haven’t installed. The Games Ticker should help keep users engaged with a game by informing them of friends who are playing too, and help them discover new games their friends enjoy. Only people who already play games will see the Games Ticker, but this should be a boon for developers since these are the same people who are likely to have a balance of Facebook Credits to spend and be used to sustained engagement with games.

Still to attain the rapid, massive growth that attracted developers to Facebook in the first place, they’d need access to all users, not just existing gamers. So Facebook may now publish the stories listed above as well as posts users opt to fill out and share to the news feed, allowing all users, including those that don’t play games, to discover games from the home page. Previously, news feed stories were only published when a user first started playing. Facebook will only show a gamer’s friends these stories if its algorithm determines they are highly relevant, so users should only see stories about their closest friends.

These stories allow developers to passively leverage their most engaged users to gain installs from their friends. Facebook explains it may be inappropriate to share news of usage of some types of games and apps, such as those related to “more personal behavior such as dating, weight management or pregnancy” and so developers can turn off these discovery stories through a setting in the Developer app.

New “App Privacy” Setting and

Users who see unwanted game stories in their news feed or ticker can select to hide future stories about that app or friend. Facebook will use this feedback data to determine how prominent an app’s stories should appear in the news feeds of all users. Those receiving Likes and comments on their posts will gain more impressions, and those frequently hidden or marked as spam will receive fewer impressions.

Users will also be able to prevent game stories about them from appearing in the news feeds or Games Tickers of friends thanks to a new privacy setting that wil be rolled out. Within the Apps, Games, and Websites privacy settings, if users select to edit settings of an app they use, they’ll see an “App privacy” setting. They can select a privacy bucket that “this app can share with”, such as “Friends”, “Friends of Friends and Networks”, or customize settings to”Only Me”, or “Specific People”.

Previously, users could only set a privacy level for all content published by all their apps and games, not a specific game. The app privacy settings can also be reached by clicking on link within an app’s bookmark on the homes page, making it option to restrict distribution of game stories much more accessible.

Considering that it’s difficult for a user to tell how often game stories about them are appearing to friends, users might not use this privacy setting frequently though it’s readily available. This should help games grow without paying for as many ads, but Facebook will need to take extra care only publish highly relevant game stories to the news feed. Otherwise, in an effort to compete with other game platforms, it could degrade the user experience for everyone on Facebook.

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