The Road to Credits: Top 5 Developers Set a Slow Pace

As the July 1 deadline for Facebook Credits integration across all microtransaction-based social games looms, we turn our attention to the top game developers and the steps they’ve taken toward integration two months out from the day it becomes mandatory.

Facebook has said that while the games are required to make Credits the only means of purchasing premium items and content (the primary revenue stream for most developers), they are not required to offer Credits as the game’s premium currency despite Facebook strongly encouraging developers to do so. This is an important distinction, as games that maintain their own currencies keep control of inflation within their virtual economies while games that use Credits as an in-game currency are vulnerable to adjustments Facebook might make with Credits over time.

When Playfish recently announced its move to phase out its cross-game Playfish Cash currency in favor of individual game currencies, the developer explained that this was a consideration for them in deciding to maintain its own premium currencies within Playfish games. Surrendering inflation control to Facebook in essence is the same problem Playfish already dealt with when Playfish Cash was the premium currency across all its games: coordinating any kind of in-game promotion or discount was too difficult.

“If you’ve got one currency and you offer a promotion in one game, that means you’re offering a promotion in all your games and maybe it doesn’t make sense [to do that],” Playfish VP of publishing and product management C.J. Prober told us in an interview about Credits.

Games that do choose to integrate Facebook Credits as an in-game currency, however, enjoy some features that other games don’t. In particular, these games have the option to implement Frictionless Credits into gameplay, where a user can purchase an item worth less than $3 with one click that does not take the player out of the game to a Credits purchasing screen. These games can also use Buy With Friends, a feature where a Wall post is created when a user purchases something in-game. Players that click on a friend’s BWF Wall post receive a discount on the in-game item, potentially increasing the overall revenues from sales of that item and certainly restoring some of the viral sharing Facebook games lost when game posts were restricted in the News Feed.

Early adopters of Facebook Credits are already enjoying some of these features. When we spoke with PlayFirst last month, vice president and general manager of social games Eric Hartness told us the game had already implemented Frictionless Credits; the Buy With Friends feature went live in Diner Dash just this week. We also observe some games using an apparent loophole as a means to access Frictionless and Buy With Friends — if the game has only one in-game currency, but at the same time offers certain items for purchase only with Credits, it seems they meet the requirements to use these features.

Regardless of individual games’ success or challenges with Facebook Credits, how the top five social game developer on Facebook approach integration could set the tone for all other developers in the coming weeks. Of the top five social game developers on Facebook, only two use Facebook Credits as in-game currency: CrowdStar and Wooga. CrowdStar in particular was bullish on Credit, signing a five year deal with Facebook last year in which the developer would use Credits exclusively as its in-game premium currency. Wooga followed suit only one month later, introducing Credits as the only means to buy its in-game currencies. Wooga, notably, had nothing to lose by integrating Credits at the time because it didn’t have any monetization in any of its early games.

The remaining three — Zynga, Electronic Arts (which includes PlayFish games) and Playdom — have all taken at least one step toward integrating Credits within their games by offering Facebook’s currency as one of several means for acquiring individual game currencies. Each company still offers credit card and PayPal payments as a means to acquire in-game currency. Additionally, Zynga and Playdom use offer walls powered by TrialPay as a means of distributing currency. Zynga also offer up currency in exchange for watching video engagement ads powered by SocialVibe.

While we expect the alternative payment options to disappear from the three developers’ games in the next two months, the offer walls and video engagement ads look like they’re here to stay: Facebook announced an expansion of its partnership with TrialPay this week that enables the service to pay out Credits for watching videos. Representatives from SocialVibe tell us Facebook also extended Credits to it as a payout option for its video ads. We’ve also seen a trend with both Zynga and Playdom where the developers seem to be building their own games portals off Facebook, which would allow them to maintain payment options with PayPal and credit card for users that access their games via the developer-maintained portal instead of Facebook.

It could be that integration with TrialPay and SocialVibe is the next step on the road to Credits for mid-level social developers that don’t wish to integrate Facebook’s currency directly into their game economies. As for bigger steps from the big social game developers, we’ll likely have to wait at least until mid June to see any significant moves toward (or away from) Facebook Credits.