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Facebook: Are we approaching app spam?

January 19, 2008

In game design, information is a good thing, a critical thing. If you don’t give the player the right amount of information at the right time, he or she will be unable to make an effective decision. At best, it’ll end in confusion. At worst, they’ll get ticked off at you, stop playing the game and tell all their friends to give it a pass or rent it.

Some of these concepts apply to email. In the very early days of the internet, spam was a rarity. If someone sent you a message, it’s because they knew you and needed to talk with you. That changed, of course, possibly on day two.

I’m starting to feel spammish (it’s a good word) about Facebook apps. Though the change in my friend list is insignificant (maybe 20 new friends over the last little while), the number of apps I’m invited to participate in has spiked recently. At this point, it amounts to nothing more than noise, and my tendency is to delete all the invitations, unresearched. Right now, there are 13975 applications on Facebook, and as Facebook grows, so too will the number of apps.

This is the list I found waiting for me this morning:


Working Around App Spam?

The change in the number of app invites has also changed how I evaluate the potential of app – will I like it or not? Invites by friends are no longer relevant, and the wisdom of crowds doesn’t apply here. I suppose if I could see the number of friends that invited me to play a particular app, that would be valuable. Right now, though, that’s not happening. Therefore, people are likely to make decisions based on three things:

  • Newsfeed: If I see more than one of my game developer friends installed something and it sounds interesting, I will almost certainly install it.
  • Name recognition: If I recognize the app by its name, and it elicits a good memory of an existing game, I will probably play it. The Oregon Trail apps do this for me, so I’ll hang on to the invite, but probably won’t play it until sometime next week.
  • Name curiosity: If the app sounds interesting, I will at least think two times, but still probably won’t install it until I see others doing the same. None of these apps interest me in name alone. Knighthood? How evil am I? Seriously.

Where’s it going?

In the not too distant future, I suspect that we will see deep, good games released on Facebook. It’s such a natural for turn-based games. Think of the old Jagged Alliance or XCom. Also, there are just way too many game developers on Facebook right now, and I can’t possibly be the only person who’s developed an absurd interest in it.

That said, existing casual game developers will probably arrive first. Revenue through advertising is already built into their model whereas this space is not so familiar to traditional PC and console developers. For these developers, the ability to sell the game outright is the key thing, and so far as I know, there are no pay-for-play games on Facebook at this point in time, though Facebook itself doesn’t prohibit that model. If someone knows differently, please do let me know.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2008 11:01 am

    The Facebook app spam issue is reaching a tipping point, and as you say, invitations from friends are no longer a deciding point. I often have to scroll two or three pages on some peoples profiles just to post on their wall.

    I just checked one of my contacts who has THIRTY TWO applications installed.

    I also feel that many users install an app only to use it once, then never remove it. Seriously, how often is someone going to to try the IQ test, or “There, They’re, Their” (To be honest, the fact that “There, They’re, Their” even exists gives me cause for concern)?

    As to the development of games, Facebook has an incredibly enviable position of owning a massive multiplayer userbase. Games like Tetris or Mario or Space Invaders or whatever are pointless in such an environment, but Scrabulous is massive because it is:

    A Casual game
    A Multiplayer game
    A Game everyone already knows how to play.

    What I expect to see soon is more turnbased multiplayer games hitting facebook, and with the online capabilities of the current consoles, more interaction between the big league companies and Facebook. I’m still surprised that there is not a full one Xbox Live Friends management app in existence yet, something that mimics the dashboard.

  2. January 19, 2008 11:28 am

    @Rick – You make a couple excellent points, this being my favorite among them: “Facebook has an incredibly enviable position of owning a massive multiplayer userbase.” You also basically list out the core ingredients for success in a facebook game: “A Casual game, A Multiplayer game, A Game everyone already knows how to play.”

  3. danwilkins permalink
    January 19, 2008 2:18 pm

    So Brenda, are you foreseeing licensed out versions of term based games like Risk, Monopoly, or Axis and Allies in a Facebook format for pay-to-play or lump sum models to start cropping up in the near to mid future?

  4. January 19, 2008 2:21 pm

    Dan, exactly.

  5. January 19, 2008 4:12 pm

    Dans nailed it too – there is obviously a market for that, and if MB/Hasbro/et al. can figure out some sort of revenue stream, I’d expect them to be all over it.

  6. January 19, 2008 5:21 pm

    Would it be nice if there was “IGNORE ALL” button for app requests? Or say application spam filter to prevent rendering of all those useless viral apps while browsing friends profiles.

    By the way, excellent blog Ms. Brathwaite.

  7. January 19, 2008 7:09 pm

    I think there’s a difference between a Facebook Game and a Facebook Annoyance. A game is an application that presents you with all the regular elements of a game: resources, tokens, goals, etc. A Facebook Annoyance is an application that uses invitations to the application itself as its resources, tokens, and goals. Things like “Vampires,” “Werewolves,” “My Heroes Power,” and all the ones I get spam for every single day constitute nothing more than an annoyance. There is no skill involved in these “games.” You simply invite more people to join the application, an attempt to beat out “Top Friends” or “Graffiti” in terms of the span of the user base. One could just as easily call these applications, “Get 1 Million People to Install This App!” Just like “Get 1 Million People to Join This Group!” only with a different colored frosting on top. Same flavor though.

    The point of many Facebook applications is not to give the user entertainment, but just to expand the user base as quickly as possible and give the creators easy recognition. Due to the sheer number of invites sent out from these applications that survive solely on invites, most people just install them to never get any invites from them again.

  8. danwilkins permalink
    January 19, 2008 8:18 pm

    There are some awesome apps out there, it’s just most are fluff. I’d prefer if someone sent me an app request and I blocked that one, it blocked all requests for that specific app and let the sender know. That way if someone really was motivated to try and get me to play, they’d at least know prior I had blocked, and they can try and convince me to try it anyway.

  9. ThomasJLKastner permalink
    January 20, 2008 3:34 pm

    I have 41 unread requests. I’m just not interested anymore and I’m way to lazy to go through them all.

    If things became officially licensed I would probably care even less about Facebook applications. It would also be one more step for my search for a new social networking community. Myspace is dead to me because its more of a business than a community, and the direction Facebook is going will most likely be the same.

    When will entities focused purely on the desire to make money leave internet-based communities alone? Never. But this isn’t new at all. Soon enough there will be a new community that has yet to be defecated on.

    Well actually they are probably out there but you just have to find the right one. Many of them are better than Facebook and Myspace but the people aren’t there and thats all some people tend to care about, especially those who are trying to sell things to people who would otherwise not care.

  10. January 26, 2008 6:30 am

    > Newsfeed: If I see more than one of my game developer > friends

    successful FB developers judiciously track conversions of every channel. App invites *crush* everything else. Seriously. You can turn off newsfeed, notices (direct email!) – that will barely move the needle. Cross-app cross-company data: 90%+ of installs come from app invites. Why? No idea really. Logically newsfeed & notices make much more sense to me. Yet reality on FB just doesn’t work that way. Its definitely part of FB “magic” to invalidate lots of “self evidentiary” baggage we bring to it… and learn to adapt on the fly.

    (Apologies for “back from the future” commenting, just found & exploring this incredibly interesting blog)

  11. January 26, 2008 8:45 am

    @MaxS – Welcome.

    Absolutely, those invites are powerful. Throw something out at everyone, and you’re going to catch some.

  12. January 27, 2008 2:36 am

    My point is slightly different. All *three* methods are very powerful and would satisfy your criteria. In fact notices not only have the same 20 daily slots as invites, but they also give an option to send direct email to the user. Newsfeed is even more powerful given its not subject to 20-rule and avg FB friend count is 140. even with nfd story weighting, its still will average out more then 20 distribution events. if anything they should “throw something out” much more then invites.

    Yet despite all that, app invites enjoy crushing advantage (well documented). It’s an interesting puzzle awaiting some social researcher.

  13. February 26, 2008 10:07 pm

    Cool news – it looks like Facebook has actually added something to block applications. Yeah!


  1. rsart - home of Rick Stirling, games artist, designer, egotist and raconteur » Blog Archive » Facebook games

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