Game Companies Deploy Facebook Credits at the Final Hour

Seven months ago, Facebook warned developers it would require all social games to start processing payments using Facebook Credits starting July 1.

Despite the heads-up, a few slackers were still busily updating their games this week in time for today’s deadline.

Facebook Credits is a currency used to buy virtual goods inside many games on Facebook. Users can pay with a credit card, PayPal or by using their mobile phone.

Going forward, that means a player must purchase virtual goods with Credits, instead of paying for them directly using a credit card or other payment service, like PayPal. Once Credits have been purchased they can be used in any application on Facebook.

Many developers started implementing Credits more than a year ago, and by the time the announcement was made in January, many were already on board. At that time, Facebook said 350 applications, from 150 developers, were already using the payment system, representing more than 70 percent of virtual-goods transactions.

But this week, I talked to two companies — RockYou and RealNetwork’s GameHouse — that were scrambling to get their final implementations done in time. Other big players, such as Zynga, Playfish, CrowdStar, Digital Chocolate, Lolapps and PopCap, jumped on board early and have been up and running for a while.

Facebook said the primary purpose behind Credits was to make payment more straightforward for the consumer.

But it would be an oversight not to mention that the company is also generating big bucks from implementing the program, since Facebook takes a 30 percent cut of all sales. (See Liz Gannes’ interview with Dan Rose for the latest on the program.)

In fact, Facebook Credits is a lot like Apple’s iTunes, which keeps 30 percent of the revenues and shares 70 percent with application developers.

When first introduced, the program met a lot of criticism from game developers, but over time they’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy Facebook Credits is to implement and how well it monetizes.

Take GameHouse, for example.

The Seattle-based game developer has some 15 games on the social network, and was working up until yesterday to get all of its games on board. Ian Fliflet, RealNetwork’s senior director of corporate strategy, said some of them weren’t worth the time to convert. So some games won’t be monetized going forward, but will be kept up to generate traffic.

He said in the case of the games that have already been updated, the conversion has definitely been worth it.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of people paying, so it’s been net positive for us. There’s an advantage to players already having Facebook Credits in their account — the biggest hurdle is to get them to get their credit card out of their wallet,” he said.

In the case of UNO, since implementing credits, the number of people now paying to play the game has increased 10 times, which more than makes up for the 30 percent they are paying to Facebook.

RockYou, a Redwood City, Calif.-based developer of social games, switched over most of its games earlier this year, but waited until yesterday to transition Zoo World over to Credits, for several reasons.

Lisa Marino, RockYou’s CEO, said the company did not have enough developer time to get it done earlier, and it is reluctant to switch because the two-year-old game was monetizing well using PayPal. She said the game accounts for about a third of the company’s digital goods revenue.

In general, she’s found that if you have to completely retrofit a game to accept Credits, revenues will decrease. But when you have the opportunity to build a game from scratch with Credits built in, it does better than any other payment platforms.

As for cutting a check to Facebook, Marino calls the 30 percent “pretty standard.”

“If you are looking for eyeballs, then you have to be willing to pay the toll,” she said. “I don’t lose any sleep over it. It’s my operating environment and I optimize for it.”

Marino can also share her opinion as a gamer who spends $300 to $400 a month of her personal money on social games. “I don’t have an issue with Credits … as long as I can do things quickly and conveniently, then I’m good.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work