Facebook Wants Game Makers to Develop for Its Platform — Or Else

Two new policies going into effect today on Facebook are making it a lot less convenient for developers to launch games outside the social network.

The policies, which were announced back in August, send a clear message to developers that, going forward, Facebook.com is the only place to play social games online.

Over the past few months, the social network has been working hard at wooing game developers, including hosting a sushi dinner with some of its top publishers. It also created a lot of goodwill last week when it signed a new agreement with Zynga that takes away some of the social game company’s special privileges. But the changes taking place today are more of a strong-arm tactic designed to ensure that game developers stay on their platform.

The new terms will only affect a small number of game developers, and interestingly, one of the companies that will be hardest hit is Zynga.

Here’s the deal: Starting today, game developers will be prohibited from accessing Facebook’s open graph on other platforms. For instance, if a game player has elected to log in using his or her Facebook credentials, developers won’t be able to access that person’s friend list. However, game developers will be able to continue publishing news items to a Facebook user’s stream.

Facebook spokeswoman Malorie Lucich said very few developers were using the provision anyway. “The majority of online social game activity is happening on Facebook.com and with Facebook on mobile platforms, and not on desktop Web sites,” she said. “As a result, we are putting our resources toward canvas [Facebook on the Web] and mobile gaming, where the most demand is.”

In a second provision, the social network is clamping down on the ability of developers to use Facebook.com to drive traffic to external Web sites. For example, when a person searches for a game on Facebook.com or gets an invitation from a friend, he or she can no longer be taken off the site. The exact wording of the provisions can be viewed here.

Clearly, these two steps keep developers focused on building for the Facebook canvas and not for other sites. It’s also worth noting that these new provisions only apply to games, which is how Facebook makes most of its revenue from payments. The provisions will not apply to other companies that have also integrated the open graph into their services. For example, if you log in to TripAdvisor with your Facebook credentials, you can see hotel reviews that your friends have written. A social commerce company like Wrapp, which allows you to send gifts to your friends, has done a similar integration with its mobile app.

Zynga will be affected most by these new provisions since it has worked the hardest at building out a standalone game network at Zynga.com. Zynga allows players coming to its site to log in using their Facebook credentials. Once signed in, Zynga asks players to invite their friends to play and frequently prompts players to send gifts to friends or to ask for help. Based on the changes being made today, Zynga will no longer be able to tap into a person’s friend graph, and instead will need to build up a network of gamers independently.

Facebook confirmed that Zynga will have more time to make the changes on Zynga.com “in order to ensure a smooth transition,” given that the ink is still drying on the contract the two companies signed last week.

Before last week, Zynga would have been exempt from these new provisions. Under the previous terms, Zynga had agreed to use Facebook payments on Zynga.com, which would give the social network 30 percent of all of its revenue. Facebook also was granted the option of handling all the Web site’s advertising. Now Zynga will have a lot more financial flexibility, but it will also now have to comply with the new terms like every other developer.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald