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Facebook App Propagation: The Hostage Situation & Retaliation

January 7, 2008

There are a couple other important mechanics that are used in Facebook app propagation that are not explicitly used by games, but are in very common use among traditional apps. I didn’t include them in my previous post, but feel that leaving them out would be a mistake. So, here you go…

The Hostage Situation

“So and so has said [something] about you. Log in now to find out what!”

One of the more popular Facebook app propagation mechanics is the “the hostage situation.” In the hostage situation, you are pinged by an application into which your friend has evidently left some juicy information about you. In order to get the information, you need to add the application, too. The mechanic quite obviously relies on player curiosity to propagate itself.


Using the “retaliation” technique, a friend has done [action x] to you and the app invites you to do it back to your friend, thereby forcing you to install the app. If you bite, it is likely to propagate still further, because if you go that far, you’re more likely to do [x action] to others, too. For instance, I got into Superpoke, because a fellow game developer slapped me with a trout (this must look fabulously weird to those not into Facebook). In order to do something equally odd to him, I needed to install the damn app, too. To its credit, Superpoke offers a wide range of options, from holiday greetings to the more inane things like… throwing a cow at someone. So, though someone may not have been likely to install the app to retaliate a trout attack, the diversity of options propagated it heavily among my friends during the holiday season.

This is unlike, say, My Hero Ability.


Why? If I were into heroes or precognition or canvases or painting, maybe. Or if I really felt compelled to respond. The app doesn’t appear to offer that same range of options, which is fitting given that it’s defined as “My Hero Ability.”

I’ll pass, but it served as an excellent example of the retaliation technique in use to propagate an app through Facebook.


Q: What’s with all the Facebook stuff, Brenda?

A: I’m a game designer, dude. I get fascinated with a subject and can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll get over it eventually.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2008 5:37 pm

    The “hostage” thing reminds me of an email I got once, maybe about 10 years ago or so. This is before the whole “web 2.0” thing, before Facebook and Myspace became the popular social networking sites.

    The email said something along the lines of “someone has a crush on you, visit our website to find out who it is!”
    So, out of morbid curiosity, I go to the site. “Guess who sent you that email. Go ahead, guess. You can only guess an email address, not a name.”

    And I figured that any email address I put in there would get a similar email. So presumably no one even had a crush on me, someone just guessed (incorrectly) that I had one on them.

    I remember thinking at the time how evil it was. Now I realize it was not only evil, but would probably propagate super-fast through something like Facebook…

  2. January 7, 2008 6:29 pm

    Tragically, it already has – and it’s there right now, in fact. They say that one of your friends has a crush on you. In fact, it’s almost identical to it, except that a) it asks for your phone number and b) then chooses someone off your address book for the sum of $2.99.

    Ain’t it grand?


  1. Facebook Propagation Problems: When Players Hate Chumps « Applied Game Design

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