Social network games really have changed the economic landscape of Facebook. FarmVille, PetSociety Mafia Wars and the recent Café World are now firm fixtures in the lexicon of Facebook users. But that achievement isn't for all the right reasons. Gameplay, which on one level requires a user to interact with the game, also offers a broader game that's enabled as those users recruit new friends into the fold. Once recruited, these social games use the communications channels of Facebook to update, notify and even ask users to help improve their friend's game experience.
Not all of these notifications are welcome. As players grow their list of recruits, the game adds more and more notifications and for those who don't play the games, these messages are often viewed as "game spam." As with real spam, there's a cost. More notifications require more processing power at Facebook, more time for users to delete unwanted messages and such an experience might cause Facebook users to drop off the social networking service.
Last week, I first talked about these issues in "Will Facebook Redesign End Game Spam?" and today, Venture Beat uncovered a more detailed piece called "Facebook tinkering with big changes that may weaken app virality" that talks about how the social networking giant is experimenting with several alterations that should help minimize unwanted game spam.
Here are a few of the changes that author Kim-Mai Cutler says are being developed by Facebook and may be shown at tomorrow's Facebook Developer Garage event.
1) Require that game companies get a player's real email address in order to deliver updates, notifications and other communications.
2) Notifications moving to a new "less intrusive" location
3) Requests function may merge into Inbox
4) A "Games" column may show up in the left nav to allow players to receive updates from games that they're playing and ignore the ones that they're not.
The changes may also have a negative side effect for game companies which rely more on free to play games with a percentile of those users paying real money to get ahead or adding virtual goods to their in-game experience. If those companies can't grow their coffers through viral messaging, game players may have to deal with a lesser free experience or a heavier dose of advertising.