Not That Many People Play Facebook Games After All

As it turns out, far fewer people play Facebook games than originally thought.

While that may sound like a bad thing, optimistic developers could find a positive way of looking at it: There’s still a lot of room for growth.

Facebook told developers on Friday it was changing the way it measures the number of people who visit an application, and yesterday, the full impact of that announcement became blindingly clear.

“Everyone lost about a quarter of their users,” said Peter Relan, the CEO of Crowdstar, which now has 12.5 million monthly active users down from 17.8 million on Friday, according to, which publishes data on a daily basis.

Facebook explained it traditionally measured and reported app usage based on the number of people who visit an app, similar to the way in which many Web analytics companies measure Internet traffic. But now it measures the number of people who authenticate the app, or give permission to the developer to see its information.

In essence, it’s shifting from measuring “visitors” to measuring “authenticated users,” which more accurately reflects the usage of an application.

“From our perspective, it’s the users who get through that make the money, so to some extent, the old figures weren’t revenue-generating numbers anyway,” Relan said.

More importantly, however, the shift will be psychological.

By simply changing the way it measures its figures, Facebook is able to make it appear that the social gaming market has expanded. That’s important because many developers thought the market was saturated and locked up by developers like Zynga, which has hundreds of millions of players.

In other words, the thinking was that if such a major percentage of Facebook’s roughly 800 million users are already playing games, what’s the point?

Now, all of the sudden, there’s a larger pool of non-gamers.

“I think Facebook has some challenges. Because mobile is taking off, they want to show that there’s still more growth available on Facebook; otherwise it’s too saturated,” Relan said.

While Facebook may attempt a positive spin on this news, the impact of the recalibration was really startling over the weekend.

Zynga, which has more active users than the next 15 social game developers combined, lost almost 20 percent of its user base. Today, under the new measurement standards, it has 195 million monthly active users, falling from the previous number of 262 million, according to AppData.

Electronic Arts, which is the second-largest social game developer, saw its user base shrink to 71 million from nearly 98 million.

In Facebook’s original explanation, it tried to downplay the impact: “While this change will result in a perceived decline in active users for some apps, the number of users actually engaging with an app or playing a game is unaffected by this change.”

Of course, there’s always a chance in the future that the key industry metrics will change again. “It’s a young industry,” Relan said.

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