Is it still possible to be a successful developer on Facebook?

Recently InsideSocialGames published the article “the future looks bright for small developers on facebook” where it analyses the growth of the top small developers on Facebook.

Although the following graph summarizes the article pretty well, it is interesting to read the article to understand how the applications have been filtered:

I believe that it is way harder to be successful today than it was a year or two ago and it is a conscious effort from Facebook to make it so.

How was Facebook using the application development ecosystem a year or two ago? Facebook wanted to expand.


Country by country, month by month, you could follow the impressive expansion of Facebook. As a developer, you could follow the adoption rates in each country and target the last trending country. I entered the Facebook market when French people started using Facebook and then I targeted the Spanish-speaking market when countries like Chile and Argentina started using Facebook six months after the French population.

Facebook wanted to grow and was giving the developers the tools to reach new users. The notifications system and wall posting were the most viral channels in the developer toolkit.

User retention

Today, Facebook has a different strategy and has adapted its API accordingly. Facebook wants user retention.

Facebook gives you tools to reactivate the users of your application but makes it harder for you as a developer to reach new users. If you are a Facebook user who don’t play games, you won’t see these wall posts about the lost black sheep anymore.

Facebook made it harder for developers to spam their users. (that it is a good or a bad thing is not the point of this article)

Higher expectations of quality

Another factor that makes it harder for a new entrant to be successful on Facebook is that the quality of the top applications on Facebook has increased in the last year which has changed the expectations of the average Facebook user.

If you are a solo developer trying to promote your little game, you need to put more effort into polishing the perceived quality of your application because the competition is so much stronger.


You will always hear success stories of new applications having an exponential growth on Facebook. What the stories don’t tell you is that most of them are backed up with paid traffic. Zynga has acknowledged the fact they were spending several millions of dollars per month to promote their games.

If you are still willing to give Facebook a try as a developer, here are a few parting tips:

– target a growing market if possible. Brazil hasn’t fully adopted Facebook yet (they are still on Orkut), there is a huge opportunity there.

– develop a game: this is the easiest way to be successful on Facebook

– emailing is still the most effective way to contact your users.

Good luck!