In yet another ‘fanning the flames of desire’ move by facebook, the social networking’s “game guru” Gareth Davis confirmed that they are in fact “looking at” developing a true virtual currency system. Davis specifically choose the phrase “looking at” to indicate that facebook may or may not be hard at work on this project at the moment, but also reserve the right to shelve the project if they see fit.
If you remember back to the beginning of the year, we reported on facebook’s previous flirtations with microtransactions, and how they’ve still yet to take the plunge and put something out there. Likewise, a few months after the social network announced their developer platform in 2007, they hinted at microtransactions, and even made the high profile move of bringing Benjamin Ling on board. Ling is credited as the lead Google engineer in getting the Google Checkout product up and running. But, less than a year later, Ling packed up his office and headed back to Google (no hard feelings, eh?)
“Clearly, it’s something that is a large undertaking,” said Davis in an interview at the GamesBeat conference in San Francisco. “So it has to be done carefully.”
Maybe facebook is really working the ‘build ‘em up, and only make ‘em want more’ strategy, but they’re also riding quite close the ‘boy who cried wolf’ line as well. Davis would not confirm any specifics on the platforms plans for virtual currency, but he did comment on the main benefit for consumers would be the removal of friction from virtual goods transactions (I can haz cupcake?) on both the central platform and independently developed client applications. Specifically, Davis’ pros and cons:
The con: Virtual currencies are vulnerable to fraud. If Facebook sells currency, it would have to police transactions to prevent scams.
- A Facebook currency would let its 175 million active users buy virtual items and game features more easily. Right now, users need to fork over their credit card information every time they want to spend money with a different application developer.
- Like iTunes, the currency program could turbocharge sales by allowing one-click purchasing, which would result in more money flowing to third-party developers. Facebook also could decide to take a cut of the sales.
- A system of virtual currency could make sales of as little as 25 cents viable since the currency would be purchased in chunks of $10 or $20, then spent in smaller increments over time. Currently, a single credit card transaction for a few pennies would cost developers more money than they would make.
Note the number of pros vs. con? Another note worthy tid bit to notice here is that late last year, facebook itself switched the terminology on their own in house offerings. Instead of pricing virtual goods at price points in Dollars ($), they chose the name ‘credits’, thereby making it easier for the site to charge more or less than it’s long standing standard of $1 per virtual item.
So there you have it casual games/facebook fans. Another ‘hey baby, come here often?’ or serious commitment from facebook? In a $1.5 billion global industry, wouldn’t it make sense for facebook to jump in on a piece of the action, and the future of gaming? If fraud is the only thing holding facebook back, why not simply outsource the financial mechanism to a microtransactions service provider and be off to the races with real world testing, 100% platform integration, and dramatically reduced time to market?