Facebook reveals game subscriptions with monthly billing

Facebook just announced an upcoming subscription payments service, giving developers another potential revenue stream beyond the sale of virtual goods.
The new feature allows developers to provide players with a premium game experience in exchange for a monthly fee. Facebook will still keep the usual 30 percent fee if a player opts to subscribe to a game. Previously, Facebook’s payment system wasn’t set up to support subscription billing unless a developer worked directly with the social network. Facebook says subscriptions already use local currency pricing and that it plans to release local currency support for in-app payments within a few months. Likewise, any games with virtual items for sale are going to be required to use local currency pricing by the end of the year.
As of now, subscriptions are being tested in Kixeye’s Backyard Monsters, as well as titles by Zynga. In Backyard Monsters, subscribing gives players with access to the “D.A.V.E. Club,” which provides in-game bonuses like 1,000 Shiny (the game’s hard currency), access to special monsters and vanity items for a player’s base. We reached out to Zynga about what kind of rewards subscriptions will provide in its games; a Zynga spokesperson didn’t provide us with a details about this, but did say the company believes the feature will streamline payment methods and offer more flexible pricing options for its Facebook titles.
Kixeye’s VP of Marketing John Getze tells us the developer feels the subscription model is a way to reward loyal and engaged players, since the $9.99-a-month price tag is the normal cost for Shiny in the game. However, Getze says Club D.A.V.E. is also a way to use in-game incentives to rope in new paying users. Kixeye will wait to see how the model performs on the Facebook version of the game before it makes any official decisions about using subscriptions in other games like War Commander or Battle Pirates. When asked if Kixeye plans to bring the subscription feature to the upcoming mobile version of Backyard Monsters, Getze says it’s to be determined, but “I can’t see why we wouldn’t do it.”
Paid subscriptions are a staple of mainstream massively multiplayer games, and having a subscription model in place could make Facebook a tempting target for developers of free-to-play browser-based massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Until now, few F2P MMORPGs have been launched for Facebook, and the genre hasn’t caught on with a widespread audience. That said, IGG recently launched Moonlight Online (although that title doesn’t seem to have a subscription option yet), and other developers like Bigpoint, Sony Online Entertainment and Runescape developer Jagex Game Studio may have much more of a reason to start bringing some of their games to the Facebook canvas.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has experimented with game subscriptions. Last year, the Facebook Credits team told us about a situation where a developer was using a subscription model and needed extra help implementing a recurring pay cycle. At the time, the team said the subscription model wasn’t being used by studios in North America, but it was seeing some success in other territories.
The Facebook developer blog says the feature will launch for all developers in July.