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Facebook Game Player Propagation

January 6, 2008

I’m currently studying the mechanics developers use to propagate casual games throughout the Facebook community. Since the success of these games and the payout in terms of advertising dollars and impressions is related to the number of players and the amount those players actually play, a successful facebook game must propagate within the social network in order to be successful.

In absence of the traditional methods of advertising AAA titles or even a serious review structure for the games, what causes people to play Facebook games? This the first article in an evolving series, and your comments are welcome. I am purposefully keeping the number of games referenced in examples at a few so that you can play them and understand each of these points. I figured it was more effective time-wise for readers.

The Pyramid Scheme

The most successful Facebook games form pyramid schemes where you benefit from inviting people to play and they, in turn, benefit by inviting still more people to play. This is exemplified in games like Parking Wars and Fluff Friends. Jetman, however, fails in this regard. Note how many of the non-game, popular apps like Superpoke give you rewards for inviting people… which in turn gives them rewards for inviting people, and so on. Due to the structure of Facebook, few games are designed to take advantage of the full pyramid (for lack of a better term). The player doesn’t receive benefits for invitees of his or her invitees.

In the case of some popular Facebook apps, much of the work is automated, actually. The only “work” you need to do is selecting friends from your friends list. If you have a sizable list, it’s relatively easy to meet certain reward thresholds.

Modifications on this mechanic – bonuses for all invitees and additional bonuses for those who accept.

Newsfeed “Testimonials”

With the installation of a game, a report appears in the player’s friend’s newsfeed, and the newsfeed item then serves as a testimonial. The number of friends to appear in that newsfeed item (i.e. “5 of your friends have…”) and the value of their opinion to the newsfeed reader affects whether or not he or she installs the application, too. This suggests that faster propagation could benefit still faster propagation.

For instance, five game developers installed Parking Wars. When the item appeared in my newsfeed, I installed it immediately based not only on the number, but on the value I placed upon their opinions as game developers.

Newsfeed Play Updates

Jetman and Parking Wars both continually provide newfeed updates every time a certain milestone is achieved. For Parking Wars, the game posts an item in the newsfeed when I ticket people. Jetman posts when I reach a higher score. Fluff Friends reports when people do something to my pet or there’s an abstracted race. In each instance, these too serve as a form of testimonial, too.

Multiplayer Mandate

You cannot play the game alone. Parking Wars was one such game. On 12/31, however, Parking Wars added “neighbors” so that multiplayer was no longer a mandate. It changes the overall dynamic of the game, however. We can see this reflected in the later addition of “show only friends” or “show friends and neighbors.” You still can’t park on your own street, so the game is less than optimum without friends. Besides, it’s not as satisfying to ticket AI as it is to ticket your friends.

Multiplayer Option

The game provides an option that allows you to play the game solo or with another player. Less risky than the multiplayer requirement, but can also result in lame solo player action a la Jetman or a failure to propogate. Scrabulous is one such game. However, its relative ease and familiarity make it one of the most popular Facebook games. Other games like “Go” may be preferable to play alone, particularly if you have a bunch of intense game developer friends who treat each game as a life-or-death challenge for status (and, yes, I probably fit in there).

Rewards Through Invite
(Solicited Invitation – they prompt you to do it)

This ties into the pyramid scheme above. In this instance, the game prompts you to invite friends, and unlocks content for you if you do so or provides a similar reward. Fluff Friends gives you 25 munny for each accepted invite. The player is prompted on install of the app.

Next Up – Facebook Game Player Retention…

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2008 5:23 pm

    brenda, eric forwarded your post. great analysis. will be curious to see what you think of our fb games, including…

    – texas holdem
    – bj
    – attack
    – scramble
    – battleship
    – triumph



  2. January 6, 2008 7:39 pm

    I remember encountering something called the “Theory of Network Externalities” which was a geeky way of saying that the more people that have something, the more valuable it is perceived to be.

    It was originally used as an explanation for why the fashion industry seems to break all kinds of laws of economics. But it’s also been used to explain the success of software like Windows and hardware like PC (both successful because, if everyone that you know has PC and not Mac, you’ll probably get one yourself so that you can share stuff)… and games.

    Think about it — the only reason Monopoly is so much more popular than Settlers of Catan even though it’s such an inferior game, is that everyone has played Monopoly.

    There are tons of games on Facebook, but the ones that are popular are the ones that will spread and become MORE popular. I bet if you made a chart of all of the FB games and how many people installed them, you’d find a lot of games with very small networks, a few games with massive followings, and very little in between — once something passes a certain threshold, its momentum carries it to the next level. I don’t have any data to back this up, it’s just a guess.

  3. James Ferris permalink
    January 8, 2008 8:49 am


    Does that follow the idea that what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular? Feel free to substitue “great” for “right” in this case.

  4. January 8, 2008 10:09 pm


    You’re absolutely right, and there are other subtle business implications as well.

    It means that if you’re the market leader, every new entry in the field helps you. If you played your first Eurogame and it wasn’t Settlers of Catan, you’ll probably find and play Settlers before long. If you got into MMORPGs through Tabula Rasa, it won’t be long before you find World of Warcraft. If you’ve never played a tabletop RPG and you join a group, eventually you’ll find Dungeons & Dragons. The market leader is happy whenever the market expands.

    And, it turns out, the reverse is also true. Everyone who finds the market leader will eventually look for something else, and the smaller or more niche entries will eventually get their player base. World of Warcraft is good for everyone else in the MMORPG industry because when their players leave, they often go to another MMO.

    So you could also restate this as “a rising tide raises all ships”.


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