Game Development Reference
Facebook Game Design: Basic Principles
for Growth and Revenue
In This Chapter
• Gaining and retaining players
• Earning and growing revenue to make your game more profitable
• Talking with Justin Smith of Inside Virtual Goods and AppData about how much you should expect
to make from a well-designed Facebook game
Because I wrote this topic in part for developers from the traditional side of the game industry, this chapter
begins with some words from Nabeel Hyatt, a former game developer turned venture capitalist. Many game vet-
erans come to Facebook assuming the worst about its style of gaming and the people who play Facebook games.
Hyatt's advice to them: Don't go into it too cynically, and don't be exploitative. “You're going to get your best
viral and design mechanics from things that users are excited to do,” says Hyatt.
CROSSREF You can read more about Nabeel Hyatt in Chapter 15.
Consider how Brian Reynolds, designer of Civilization II, Rise of Nations, and other hardcore strategy game
classics, first became interested in Facebook games. Playing the early hit Mafia Wars, he once told me for a
GigaOM article, he noticed that it fostered play among a broad range of acquaintances. This observation was
crystallized in the moment when his much older aunt, also a Mafia Wars player, posted on his Facebook wall:
“Hi Brian—Thanks for the energy packs, I love you!” Seen that way, the Facebook game creates a context for
socialization, in much the same way that classic parlor games enable play between friends and family members
regardless of age or gender. (Reynolds went on to become a lead designer at Zynga.)
So instead of trying to re-create the worst lab rat-style “Skinner box” type Facebook games (which are gen-
erally losing popularity, in any case), the goal of good Facebook design, says Hyatt, is that your players have a
fun experience, encourage them to tell their friends about it, and give you money. “And ideally, they're smiling
through all these things.” Chapter 5, “Facebook Design Lessons from KIXEYE and 5th Planet Games,” goes in-
depth with some designers who've mastered the fun experience part, whereas this chapter focuses on the other
two factors—revenue and virality.
TIP Instead of assuming that Facebook games are successful because they are addiction-forming Skinner
boxes that force players into a loop of behavior they don't enjoy, talk to people who enjoy playing such games
to understand how they play them and why.