If you define virality (K-Factor) as a phenomena that results in the spreading of information pertaining to or involving the self perpetuating spread of information and opinions about a product or service, there has not been a truly viral application in Facebook since 2007. In 2007 when Zynga launched the first social game, poker, in Facebook, Zynga was successful because they launched a game that was naturally social and plugged this game into an environment that facilitated the proliferation of the game throughout the Facebook community. Over the years Facebook has removed the mechanisms that would make it easy for a popular social game to go viral. They have done away with the forced invites to other members and are now eliminating invites all together. Consequently. Facebook has become a cleaner environment where people are less likely to become "exposed" to a game unless they take the initiative to experience it.
Facebook has done this for a couple of reasons. The more benign and community friendly reason is to reduce the forced exposure of a community to a game. There were certainly many complaints over time as to why a person would be exposed to a game or invited to play a game when they had no real interest in the game. Also, as more games have been pushed in the Facebook environment people become frustrated by the bombardment of notifications they were getting from the game publishers.
A less community friendly reason for removing virality features from Facebook is revenue related. If you look at Facebook's S-1 filing you will notice that they rely heavily on advertising revenue to fuel their company. In fact 80% of this revenue is coming from advertising and 20% from virtual currency transactions. Consequently, they are forcing game and application providers to buy advertising in Facebook to drive traffic to their properties.
Granted the concept of the "Like" button and posting recommendations to your wall are free ways to get an app or game notices. However, this is a really difficult way to get any meaningful exposure to an app if you consider the size of Facebook and the requirement for a Facebook user to find the app or game and take an action. Also, these mechanisms require a conscious effort to endorse a game.
So what does this mean for application and game providers that want to leveraged the social graph. Well if you are in Facebook the social graph becomes significantly muted and the world looks a lot like standard web marketing through advertising. Essentially, you have to advertise to get noticed in Facebook. Certainly Google+ could take advantage of Facebook's lack of viral features and add such features to Google+. This would certainly increase the likelihood that more game and application providers would jump into Google+. Right now app and game developers see little reason to invest in developing in Google+ because its community is relatively small and they have not figured out how to properly link applications to their social graph. Certainly the concept of circles of social connections is an interesting one that Google+ could combine with application invites to stoke the growth of apps and more Google+ members. We will wait and see.
Game developers could start to build truly social games to offset the lack of forced notifications within the social graph. Currently, many game publishers, especially Internet gambling games, are being introduced into Facebook in anticipation of legal US gambling. The problem with these types of games is that they are not social games and have no natural viral tendencies. Make your game social.
The mobile gaming environment has been an alternative and in some cases a must have for game publishers. Unfortunately there is even less viral components in a mobile environment. Certainly, a game like Angry Bird went viral even without any viral features.
The social game world is becoming harder to be successful in and it is becoming expensive. With the social networking world converging on only one(with the potential for Google+?) not so social social network getting a game or any app recognized in Facebook becomes a standard ad and media world where traditional web marketing skills get pushed to the forefront.
Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane, Inc. Kevin writes extensively about online games and their impact and integration into iGaming and E-commerce environments. Kevin is a frequent speaker at online game events and conferences in Asia, Europe and the US. Kevin and his Gameinlane team are currently working with online gambling, social gaming and e-commerce companies integrating social gaming with online gaming operations and integrate game mechanics into e-commerce applications.