Social networking platforms like Facebook offer ways for casual game companies to break away from the traditional try-before-you-buy PC download model, but developers who think they can simply port their existing games over to Facebook and expect them to do well will be disappointed according to Facebook Platform Manager Gareth Davis.

Speaking at Casual Connect, Davis said that developers should instead design games that leverage Facebook’s unique powers as a social platform.

“If you look at the history of games from the games we played as kids to the first board games that were invented thousands of years ago … to earliest video games like pong, people have played games socially. All these games are multiplayer. You can’t play them by yourself. Try playing hide and seek by yourself; it’s not much fun.”

For starters, Davis said developers should think of Facebook games as services, not products. Facebook’s system of allowing people to provide direct feedback about a game allows developers to collaborate with players and design as they go. Not only does this create an initial connection between developer and player, but it also allows developers to continue to improve and change the game after it has launched.

Facebook also allows the players themselves to “distribute” the game by inviting their friends to play, who invite their friends, and so on, which allows the game to spread to potentially millions of people.

David said that developers should think about building in plenty of ways for users to “share” game experiences on their profile updates feed. In YoVile, for example, every time a player changes to a new avatar, a message appears on their Facebook profile feed for friends to admire. In Restaurant City, players can post requests for certain ingredients on their Facebook feed, and friends can either respond by offering the missing ingredient, or simply click on the link to check the game out.

David stressed that it’s also vitally important for developers of social games to pay attention to metrics. “Measure everything. If they love it, give them more; if they don’t like, take it away or change it. If they’re getting stuck, make it easier. Get a read on what is happening, and review those metrics daily and continually change your game.”

Facebook provides free metrics to developers that give basic feedback, and there are also paid third-party apps. Davis encouraged developers to try all of them. “Metrics really are your map to success. Don’t leave home without them.”

According to Davis, aspiring Facebook game developers should also:

  • Visit the Facebook Application developers page;
  • Become a fan of Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect on Facebook itself to share information and tips;
  • Participate in Facebook’s Application Verification Program, an optional program offered for a small fee ($375) that helps games gain consumer trust and more prominence on the site; and
  • Attend the Facebook Developer Garage program, which takes place in cities around the world including New York, Dallas, Shanghai, Barcelona and Dubai.
  • Consider using Facebook’s targeted ads to build an initial footprint of players for a game, or to expand a game into a new demographic (such as a new geographic region or gender).

Davis also issued some warnings of what not to do:

“Be a good citizen, and treat your users with respect. You now have a direct relationship with them. If you don’t treat them with respect, they will leave. They have so many choices, and they’re only going to stay if you treat them well.”

That respect extends to other developers as well. “This is a growing community that people are having a lot of success with. If you share what you’re learned, people will share back. We’re creating a new social world here; let’s make it one that we all want to inhabit. Don’t just spectate, participate. Get involved.

And finally, “Don’t spam users. Just don’t do it. They won’t come back, and everyone loses.”