Let's Go Open
When you’re living in the world of Facebook, life is relatively uncomplicated. With one set of APIs to develop against, it’s not hard to understand why many fall into the trap of building their apps as though the only site they will ever have to integrate against is Facebook. But, what does one do to move beyond Facebook? Does the promise of OpenSocial, as a unifying off-Facebook API, truly deliver?
Developing a successful cross-network application comes down to a couple of core principles:
1) Can one successfully monetize against the participating demographics?
2) Can one successfully capture the attention of new and engaged users via viral channels?
3) Can users easily connect with their friends in the game?
Fundamentally, these three questions shouldn't be that hard to answer; however, it becomes increasingly difficult when the solution to each question varies widely from site to site. To solve these troublesome issues, OpenSocial was formed as a counter-balance to Facebook's dominance. Rather than requiring developers to build ten custom integrations for ten social networks, they could build one integration against OpenSocial and be able to launch themselves on any number of OpenSocial compliant networks.
As a developer who spends his days integrating off of Facebook, I would love to tell you that the promise was delivered. I would love to tell you that integrating on the top ten OpenSocial sites is more like integrating against a single common API. It's not.
It's About Money
A great game can monetize almost anywhere, that is something that we at Viximo have seen time and time again. The principles that drive an excellent game on Facebook can carry over onto any number of other networks worldwide. All that being said, much of the hard work comes long after the game development has finished and network integration has begun.
On a social network that does not have a site-wide economy (think Facebook Credits), the complexity can be immense. Finding the proper payment providers for a particular locale is not as simple as picking Visa, Mastercard, or American Express. In some countries, users prefer a more managed experience through a PayPal-esque provider, where they feel protected through a respected middleman. In other countries, a user may prefer to use their mobile or landline phones for payment. To top it all off, there may be scores of competing payment providers, each with differing levels of credibility that can directly affect your bottom line.
Even on a site that does have a site-wide economy, your troubles aren't over. In all of my integrations, I have yet to see a network that has chosen to mirror the Facebook APIs for managing their economies. It can often take weeks to iron out the complexities of how their economy works with their foreign currency, what fees, if any, need to be taken into account, and how their payment flow integrates both client and server side.
Some sites, such as Hi5, have attempted to standardize the model for payment processing on OpenSocial networks; however, most sites choose to allow game developers to manage their own economies. While this can have its advantages, it can also make it very difficult to get launched on these new networks where one lacks the expertise to know the proper payment options, price-points, and payment experience. This can put even the most successful viral launch in jeopardy, as a poor initial payment experience may permanently detract future purchasers.
Let's Go Viral
After going live on a new social network, the ability to acquire users cheaply is essential to maintaining strong margins. Like Facebook, most social networks provide some mechanisms for users to send gifts to their friends, share updates about their adventures in your game, and invite their friends to join in the fun. Determining how the social network intends for you to perform these actions though can be remarkably challenging.
Every site tends to have different limitations on throttling (the number of times, per day, a user can perform a certain action), different limitations on the length of messages, varying implementations for images and other "eye catching" assets, and different degrees of support for parameter passing. Each of these issues can be tedious and time consuming to assess, implement, and test. In addition, tracking the ever changing nature of the APIs can leave one's head spinning. Some social networks choose to keep up with the ever evolving OpenSocial spec, while others have chosen to do an initial implementation of the specification followed by expansion with custom APIs that are specific to their site.
As Facebook continues to evolve and improve their social-gaming features, so shall sites around the world as they continue to do their best to keep up with best-of-breed practices and features. Could OpenSocial be the answer to creating a common off-Facebook API that reduces stress and headaches for developers who want to launch their games around the world? Perhaps. Is OpenSocial the answer today, or anytime in the near future? Absolutely not.
So, What Am I to Do?
Because of all these issues, Viximo is a perfect solution for a developer looking to diversify their social network portfolio. Rather than writing ten custom integrations and adding the necessary staff to maintain this work going forward, Viximo takes care of this for you. From user acquisition and monetization, to integration optimization, Viximo abstracts away all the complexity of moving off of Facebook and lets you, the developer, focus on making an awesome game. That’s the magic of Viximo. ...