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Facebook Propagation Problems: When Players Hate Chumps

January 11, 2008

As a gaming platform, Facebook is a relatively new medium, and the dynamics of play are different than many others with which we, as game developers and designers, are familiar. The whole paradigm’s changed – the social nature of the game is, in many cases, more important than the actual game itself. In fact, a Facebook game can be thread bare in terms of actual game mechanics or not even fun at all, and still be wildly successful. On the other hand, a game can be deep and lasting and fail to propagate.

In this article, I’ll explore a few things that cause propagation to slow among certain groups or not get off the ground at all.

“Dear victim, You have been bitten by [friend name]! Start biting chumps!”

If you were on Facebook over the summer, odds are that you grew to hate the chumps. Every day, you fought off hordes of these messages, and after deleting them all, another wave would arrive. It led one prominent game developer to use his status line to tell any potential werewolves, vampires or other propagators precisely what they could do with themselves.

To this day, when I receive one of these invites, I immediately think, “Don’t you realize that this annoys me?” When I receive yet another one from the same person, they become classed, mentally at least, with those friends we all have that forward jokes and other internet stuff that’s not nearly as interesting as they think it is.

After “chumps”, I’ve noticed a decided reservedness among the Facebook community to bite, kick, Sith, Jedi or otherwise propagate anything that resembles these applications. We were all irritated to the point of no return. Much like the early days of the internet, at some point, it became bad etiquette to spam your friends with your personal amusements or interests. I suspect we’ve hit that point with this type of game now.

Appearance / Embarrassment

People care about how others perceive them and value the contacts they have on their friends list. If people are annoyed by a particular app, they are much less likely to propagate that app on to other people. At some point, this suggests that a critical mass might be reached within a network of friends where only those who are out of it use the app. It becomes the equivalent of a digital mullet. At least in my community of individuals, the old “chumps” thing is phenomenally out.

Embarrassment, Again

When installing an app, the newsfeed reporting on said installation can affect whether or not the installation is installed. For instance, consider the thought process involved in adding the Are You Interested? or Hotness application. First off all, do you really want all your friends knowing you’ve installed this app? You don’t always have the option to deny the report in your newsfeed. In fact, you rarely do since this is a primary propagation technique of apps. Furthermore, such apps are likely to be less appealing to women who, stereotypically speaking, are less likely than men to say, “Hey? Want to tell me how hot I am?” for fear that the answer may come back, “You look like ass.” (See Sheri Graner Ray’s book Gender Inclusive Game Design for more info on how women react to games and people playing games.)

Me vs. You

People care about themselves way more than they care about you. Facebook apps which take advantage of this are more likely to propagate than those that don’t. In my current invitation list, I have an invite to My Room where I can see “all the stuff that she has done with My Room, and join in the fun! ” Why do I want to see her stuff? What does this have to do with me? While I understand that through this, I can create my own My Room, the message’s appeal is to look at her stuff, not create my own. It fails to motivate. Likewise, apps which immediately put the person is a subservient position aren’t high on my list either: I’ve been knighted, and invited to “visit [the other person’s] court and join the nobility!” Again, the appeal here is to do something for someone else as opposed to doing it for myself.

Compare this with other apps like How will you die? (seriously) and Which Rockstar are you? which target me and not an assumption that I actually care enough about person sending me the app to want to be in their court or view their room.

The nutshell here is this: in the propagation message on the target side, target their interest in themselves and not the person who sent it.


Privacy rears its head in a few ways. First, consider apps like Parking Wars. While it only uses first names for neighbors and friends of neighbors, their full names (and yours) are printed in the newsfeed when tickets are issued. This is not evident from the game which identifies neighbors by first name only. While this may not seem like much of an issue initially, it could be for some players who are unaware that their full names are appearing in the feeds of others without their permission. Players can turn off “neighbors,” but there is nothing on the game site to warn players that their names are being revealed to others without their permission. I raise this issue after I was alerted by a couple players who were bothered by this. Their names are also available in the general Facebook search, of course. However, I guess that this happened without them knowing it was going to happen was bothersome to them.

Other apps also use full names, and don’t allow the player an option to use a partial name or enter a moniker. With some apps, it’s reasonable that people may like a degree of privacy – do you want everyone knowing that you’ve installed or are playing/using this app? Bear in mind that what’s reasonable for one person isn’t reasonable for another. Some might be completely cool having their identities known within particular circles; others, not so much. This leads me to…

Appearing Clueless: What the Hell’s Going On Here?

In some live games, players are promptly dumped – full name and all – into a group of people they don’t know and left to figure out the game interface live while others wait for them to take their turn and, as a bonus, tell them to hurry the hell up in the chat window. This is quite possibly the worst way to begin a game that I have seen so far on Facebook. Figure it out under pressure now while people mock you. Beautiful. I left and uninstalled the app.

Other Facebook Writings

In a separate post, I covered part of my exploration into game propagation on Facebook. You can also check out other typical common Facebook app mechanics, the Hostage Situation and Retaliation, that cause things move from one person to another. I’ve also wondered how one judges the success of a Facebook game – by installation or by repeated plays?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2008 7:15 am

    When I get a “vampire bite” I always respond with inviting them to the appropraitely named Facebook group: fuck off… I don’t want to be a pirate/vampire/werewolf/zombie

    I have decided that the only game worth playing on Facebook is the “status update game”



  1. » Game design for Facebook is a very different beast. /
  2. Facebook Game Player Propagation (Part 2) « Applied Game Design

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