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Jessica Rovello is president and co-founder of casual and social game maker Arkadium.
In less than five years Facebook has created the most powerful free, viral distribution network in history. Game developers saw its potential early on and flocked to the platform. Some of Facebook’s earliest adopters have grown to billion dollar plus market caps in less than three years.
Sounds like Nirvana. But what developers have quickly come to realize is that when you play on Facebook’s platform you play by their rules. And their rules continue to evolve. Many of the viral channels that made Facebook such a goldmine for game marketers in 2008 and 2009 are no longer available, making it more difficult, and more expensive to acquire new users.
· In December 2009, Facebook limited the amount of responses and communications per user action.
· Three months later on March 1, 2010, Facebook did away with game notifications, relegating them to a new bookmarks bar on the side of the screen.
· On September 21, 2010, Facebook completely removed game notifications from its newsfeed, strictly limiting game notifications to discovery stories and invites.
The final result? Between January 2010 and September 2010, social games on Facebook went from reaching approximately 245 million monthly active users to approximately 225 million – a drop of nearly 20 million monthly active users in less than a year.
So what can social game developers do now to promote virality and drive higher daily active users? Facebook still provides some great ways to acquire new users for free or at a fraction of the cost of other online methods, for example:
1. Game “Discovery” Stories
Game discovery stories, posts that are automatically published to the Facebook newsfeed when a certain number of friends start playing a game, were introduced in September 2010 and continue to evolve. These stories now include the name and pictures of the people playing the game, the name of the game, a description of the game being played and the ability for friends to like, comment or play the game themselves.
2. Self-Service Ad Program
Facebook offers a self-service ad program and a games dashboard that allows developers to target a large population of Facebook users (i.e. U.S. users, any age, interests, etc.). New ad management tools, such as BrighterOption, Alchemy, AdParlor and more make it possible to bulk upload and easily edit ads, as well as take advantage of ad scheduling, automated bid strategies and conversion tracking from click to install. The key to developing a successful ad on Facebook is to optimize, optimize, optimize!
3. Cross Promotional Bars
Cross promoting your games whenever possible is also key. If your existing user and game base is not large enough, third-party tools such as Applifier and Appstrip bars make it easy by connecting thousands of developers with a network of users across games of various sizes and interests. Paid traffic and traffic exchange options are usually options with each vendor.
4. Game Invites
Facebook game invites can be used to allow people to introduce their friends to games with a message and/or incentive that compels them to play. Some developers have created compelling, creative “invites” that actually circumvent Facebook’s most recent wallpost restrictions, exposing their game to countless additional players.
Giving your players the ability to “gift” in game bonuses and special items to their friends is another way to increase retention and drive new installs. Gifting works because it plays upon both the sender and receiver’s feelings of reciprocation. When someone gives you a gift, you not only feel compelled to use it, but to send one back.
“Likes” are powerful for games in two ways. First Facebook allows developers to add “like” buttons not only to their game, but to individual items within their game. Next, the more your audience “likes” anything associated with your game, whether it be a comment, an item or the game itself, the more likely it is for the game to surface on the feed, equaling more exposure to your brand.
7. Buy with Friends
A newly introduced Facebook feature is “Buy with Friends,” a viral way to share posts about purchases made within a game. Now transactional information can be posted to walls, and developers can offer incentives for a player’s friends to make the same purchase.
All in all there are still plenty of great opportunities for social game developers to achieve outstanding virality on Facebook. It’s important to remember, however, that the competitive landscape has grown astronomically over the years. Now more than ever, success is strongly dependent on two things: a comprehensive understanding of Facebook’s game regulations and a substantial dose of creativity.