Yes, I know I am posting this story about Facebook’s changes to its games platform two days late. But, in my defense, I was hiking a glacier in Patagonia and there was no Wi-Fi.

Facebook’s changes will make it easier to play games you are already enjoying on Facebook but make it more difficult to discover new games to play. There is hope for the future though.

According to a blog post by Jared Morgenstern, Facebook is making the following changes to its games application platform:

  • Smarter bookmarking of games based on what you are playing. In the past, you have had to physically bookmark a game. Facebook’s algorithm will now automatically bookmark the game app for you and then make it easier to find and play your favorite game app(s) from your Facebook home page, based on your gaming behavior.
  • New and improved Games Dashboard, easily accessible on the upper fold of the left hand side of your Facebook page. Users will be able view the number of game requests for their favorite social games on Facebook by simply looking on their Facebook page in same way they can view new friend requests or messages now.
  • Full stories (instead of collapsed stories) in the news feeds. This is a retraction back to the way it used to work with games and news feeds in the past.
  • The removal of all feed items about games for anyone not playing games on Facebook. So, if I play FarmVille and you don’t, you will no longer know that my azaleas are growing quite nicely.
  • A new feed item called “discovery stories” whereby Facebook will use an algorithm to inform you occasionally which games your friends are playing. So, if 10 of your friends are playing Wonder Island but you are not, you will get one news feed item sometime that tells you “you have 10 friends playing Wonder Island.”

Facebook has three goals in announcing these new changes to its gaming platform:

  1. Improve the user experience for gamers and non-gamers on Facebook
  2. Improve discoverability of new games on Facebook
  3. Show game developers they care.

Has Facebook succeeded? My report card is below:

1. Improve the user experience for gamers and non-gamers on Facebook

Mission Accomplished. The automatic bookmarking and new improved games feed notification and navigation makes it much easier to play and get updates on your favorite games you are playing on Facebook right now.

If you one of the few people in the world that hates social games, there is now no way you’ll be spammed with any of my planes, trains, automobiles, buildings, or crop updates. Instead, you are now free to only be spammed with random musings and inane activities from your Facebook friends (and those friends you really don’t know).

2. Improve discoverability of new games on Facebook

Fail. The fact that it’s now official that you will not see any game updates from your friends if you not playing the games means that there is less of a chance you’ll discover the new games your friends are playing. In turn, game companies have less chance of having their games grow virally without spending a mint on ads on…guess where? Facebook.

Facebook believes it is throwing game companies a bone with its new “discovery stories” but in reality, this means nothing for virality. Even though there is no longer any game “spam” in your news feed, there are still the hundreds of thousands of non-game news updates that scroll down your feed per day. What are the chances you’ll happen to see the “discovery story” about a new game your friends are playing in your news feed amid all the noise? Slim to none.

Inside Social Games reports that a lot of game developers are concerned that the new changes at Facebook represent a net-loss to virality for their games. I agree. The new discovery stories feature does not offset the complete removal of games new items to non-gamers whatsoever. For Facebook, it’s got to be back to the drawing board for virality.

3. Show game developers who have risked their livelihood on Facebook that they care.

Mission somewhat accomplished. After all the changes in the past year (game notification changes, Facebook credits and the 30% cut), the fact that Facebook is listening and trying to improve the game experience is a sign that Facebook cares. True, developers may not like all the news they hear from Facebook, but they should take heart to know that Facebook invited them to their offices and fed them food.

From my experience, the type of food a company decides to feed its partners gives an indication on how much they care. If they invite you and feed you no food, they do not care about you. If they feed you hot dogs or hamburgers, you are on their radar screen. And, if they feed you filet minion, well, that means you should take heart, you are in their hearts and minds.

Facebook fed its game developers and partners hot dogs and hamburgers. Game companies do not yet have a special place in the heart of Facebook’s business, but Facebook has shown they care.

The most heartening news to developers should be that Facebook plans to continue to grow its games team and release new API’s related to games in the future.

Based on my experience as a web site owner, when Facebook is focused on improving their API’s, they out-perform expectations. Facebook’s API’s for web sites are amazing.

If Facebook really is as committed to developing API’s for games as they have been for web sites, then gamers and game companies should be encouraged for the future (and its competitors should be concerned).

The changes that Facebook announced this week to its games platform represent one step forward in improving the games experience but two steps back for game virality and discoverability.

What remains to be seen is what game API’s Facebook is working on now that can solve virality problem and allow Facebook and social games to take a giant leap forward in the future.