Developers have been noticing some slightly unusual calls to Facebook’s servers within game applications recently that show signs of Facebook tracking page views to games as distinct from other applications.
A visit to a canvas page of seemingly any application within the “Games” category results in a call to the URL “http://apps.facebook.com/ajax/games/play_update.php”. This doesn’t appear to do much except to pass some simple data (mostly to identify the host application) and return a nominal confirmation message, and it only occurs once per page view. Unless there are site problems the call is invisible to most users without looking through the details of HTTP calls from the browser.
Others have noticed it too. A Google search brings up a number of user questions on game application forums both on and off Facebook, mostly from users reporting the error message as the result of a failed call, and worrying that it’s affecting their gaming experience. So what is the call doing? We’ve asked Facebook for clarification, and are still awaiting their response.
One assumption is that Facebook is tracking page views on game application canvas pages as a distinct metric, possible as part of their monitoring of overall platform trends. Against a backdrop of increasing game development on the platform, especially virtual-goods based game development, this may indicate Facebook is keeping an eye on how much the site is turning into a games platform rather than the more general “social utility” for some users.
Users shouldn’t be alarmed at the call in any case – it doesn’t appear to be passing any detailed information and is only data that the site would be collecting from routine usage anyway. Implementing it as a separate call is most likely to avoid having to crunch the logfiles of hundreds of servers just to obtain some fairly basic traffic stats. However, if nothing else, it does seem to show that Facebook is paying attention to the rise of social games within the Platform, and is keeping an eye on how games are affecting the application ecosystem and overall Facebook traffic and engagement.
Update: A Facebook spokesperson has responded with the following:
We are always testing ways to provide developers with the tools they need to optimize their users’ experience. The ajax call is meant to be a way to track engagement with apps by looking at actions like game plays. We’ll share more details as they become available.