Facebook games are still a big business, and a Facebook executive showed us how they make money.
You can deny it all you want, but Facebook is a major component of the gaming industry. 60 million people discover apps and games every month via Facebook. The massive social network paid $1.4 billion (that's a "B" people) to developers in 2011. At the Facebook headquarters, there are more than 40 people on the games team alone with the sole purpose to drive distribution for games. Even though most people play Facebook games on their PC, mobile development is becoming a bigger part of the gaming pie, according to Gareth Davis, Platform Manager at Facebook speaking at a panel at GDC 2012. But whether you play on a phone or on your PC, there are proven techniques to get people to drop money on Cash Cow: The Facebook Game.
One of the most important ways in which Facebook keeps players engaged is through a comprehensive gathering of data. Every game you play and every action you take in those games is measured in real-time and reviewed every single day. New features go through thorough testing constantly. Every cow you click adds up into a massive amount of data for game companies to sort through. And they do. Oh, do they love your clicks.
Designers use in-game effects in order to appeal to customers. Daily spins and daily bonuses are part of ways to engage you as the user. But the biggest way for games to cut through the clutter is to allow you to talk with your friends. When your best friend plays a move in a game on Facebook, you're very likely to come back to play that game.
"People are the key to engagement," said Davis.
The point of all of this is to help developers make their money and the next time you go to that virtual store, think twice about what you see. There's a science behind what items are in the store, what actually sells, and the pricing for items. There will always be very low purchases (impulse-buy items, just like at the check-out line in a grocery store). But there are also those $200+ items for the whales that, believe it or not, are also regularly purchased. And pay particularly close attention to discounts - they lead to spikes in purchases.
Davis also emphasized that utilizing things like Facebook's Open Graph and the new frictionless requests and invites are all best practices to getting a game noticed. Social design is another huge element - you're very likely to engage with a piece of content if it has your friend's name and face by it. Diamond Dash, Bejeweled Blitz, and Words with Friends are all games that cleverly bring the name and picture of your friend's face to the forefront.
In the end, it comes back to getting you and your friends playing. You're going to have more fun and be more engaged when you're playing games with friends you know. After all, it's not called Words with Friends for nothing.