Facebook Gets Gaming Facelift in Wake of Google+ Games

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Make no mistake about it: The timing of this is completely intentional. Facebook took to its blog to announce that it was giving its already successful gaming interface a facelift in the wake of Google’s own announcement that it was implementing games on Google+.

(MORE: Surprise, Google Plus Adds Games)

In efforts to make the canvas more accessible to gamers, Facebook pushed two goals: 1. Make games themselves easier to get to, and 2. make them more inherently social by fostering competition.

To increase engagement, Facebook is placing a user’s “most used” apps along the upper right hand corner. Red counters on the bookmark will be used to denote requests received within games (which users have already seen on the site elsewhere). It’s a less click-y tunnel to get users gaming.

The new social ticker, however, is the main draw, and will be a mechanism used to increase the site’s stickiness. While it sits at the side, it’s not distracting, per se, and is intended to promote new levels of interactivity with you and your Facebook friends by facilitating some healthy in-game competition.

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Per the Facebook blog:

“The live ticker below the bookmarks shows real-time app and game activity from a user’s friends to make the game playing experience on Facebook more social than ever. We automatically generate ‘playing’ and ‘using’ stories in the ticker when friends use an app or play a game respectively helping users re-engage and discover new games and apps that their friends are using.”

There’s also a new new Graph API that readily shows scores and acts as a leader board; you know which of your friends you have to beat at any given time.

However, these new features will also have implications where users are most easily perturbed: their News Feed. Using a new algorithm to promote in-Facebook apps, a new ranking system will “surface” the most relevant app stories—i.e. that weird aunt of yours who plays FarmVille 24/7—into your stream. All Things D suggests that this may make headway for the return of viral spam, and users will have to “reteach” their News Feed in order to bury app stories they otherwise wouldn’t want to see.

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In any case, it’s obvious that Facebook needed to make a move in order to keep pace with Google+’s gaming announcement (which even includes Angry Birds). Is it, as Zuck might put it, “awesome”? Hardly. But when it comes to the very real competition between Google+ and Facebook, the race for your eyes will likely be won by a hair.

Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.