Facebook says it likes social games, not spammy notifications

Remember those annoying messages you used to get on Facebook every time one of your friends advanced half a level on Mafia Wars or some other game?  Facebook has taken steps that it says will make such notices a lot less spammy.

Promoting games on the social network “used to be about as much spam as you can pump into the system.  But we’ve cleaned that up,” Facebook’s Alex Schultz told reporters at a briefing this week.  After shutting down some of the old notifications, Facebook is now encouraging developers to create notifications that are more interesting or engaging.

Facebook says the War Commander notification shown above is an example of a more engaging notice that’s drawn a response rate as high as 30 percent.

While Facebook says it wants developers to create a wide variety of games, it’s putting a lot of emphasis on mobile and social games – meaning games you can play on your smartphone, and games you can play online with your friends.

Those “social games” may start out with relatively slow adoption, but then take off in popularity, because they become more interesting as more people play them together, Schultz said.

The number of Facebook members who play games on the social network has increased about 11 percent, from 226 million a year ago to 251 million as of this September, according to Facebook executive Sean Ryan.

Even so, CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged earlier in the week, during a conference call with analysts, that “gaming on Facebook isn’t doing as well as I would like.”  Part of that may be due to the recent struggles of gaming developer Zynga.  Facebook has taken steps to make it easier for Zynga rivals to promote their games, by creating an app center that makes recommendations and lets you see when friends are playing a new game.

As for those notifications, Facebook introduced some standards over the summer and this week announced further rules that go into effect next month:  Game developers won’t be allowed to send notifications to users who haven’t visited their app in the previous 28 days – a good indication that they’re not interested and will view the notice as spam.  And developers may also be blocked from sending notices if Facebook determines that fewer than 17 percent of recipients are actually clicking on them.

“We want to maintain the quality of notifications to ensure users will continue to pay attention to them,” the company said in a blog post.

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (341 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.