How to develop games for Facebook
I’ve had a Facebook account for a couple of years but I’ve been a reluctant user, merely exchanging news, photos and videos with family and real friends (the sort I’ve actually met) every couple of days. My perception was that it’s mainly used as a marketing platform, because of regular emails from marketing “gurus” peddling their latest Facebook Ads course.
I was recently forced to look more closely when Collins Geo (part of Harper Collins) approached me about creating a promotional game to accompany the launch of a new edition of The Times Atlas of Britain: it would present place-names and ask players to pinpoint them on a map of the UK, recording the results to discover which places were hardest to locate.
Successful Facebook games are aimed at the sort of casual gamers who once settled for Minesweeper or Solitaire
The game was for a Collins website, but I suggested creating a Facebook version too. In theory, whenever a Facebook user played the game and “Liked” it, this would appear on their newsfeeds and those of their friends, encouraging the game to “go viral”.
Successful Facebook games are aimed at the sort of casual gamers who once settled for Minesweeper or Solitaire, rather than at shoot-’em-up fanatics. Many are female, many well past their teens, and they like everything from Brain Trainers and Sudoku to the accursed Farmville (no, I will not feed your fish, Lucy).
Such games need to be easy to play and offer quick rewards: these aren’t obsessives who stay up until 3am completing a Call of Duty mission. Quality is variable, from banal quizzes such as “Which Lord of the Rings character are you?” (based on an admittedly clever quiz generator) and “Astrology”, to commercial games migrated from the web. And the majority have one technology in common: Flash.
I chose Flash Builder (aka Flex 4) because its programming environment is so much more agreeable than the laughable IDE built into Flash Professional. You could manage with the open-source FlashDevelop IDE and the Flex SDK, but Flash Builder is well worth the investment.
Your first priority should be to make the game good, and only then worry about how to integrate it into Facebook. Its popularity will depend on players’ recommendations, so spend the majority of your time making it addictive and easy to use, rather than immediately becoming bogged down in the Facebook API. That said, I’d recommend you read the Facebook platform policies before even starting to design your game, as some of your ideas might not be acceptable.
Always remember that Facebook is a “walled garden” under the control of a faceless internal police force, quite unlike the wider internet where anything goes.