Zynga’s Platinum Purchase Program Does Exist, Used Mostly for Internationals

Details on a secret Zynga payment option emerged today via Gawker. Zynga’s “Platinum Purchase Program” is a private discount deal on virtual currency, according to an email reproduced on the site, limited to members willing to spend over $500 in a single transaction.

We’ve checked; the Platinum Program is real enough. It’s not entirely new, either, having been running at least since February [update: a commenter points to a post from December].

The Gawker take is that Zynga has hidden the program out of shame. That’s more than a bit sensational, considering that it’s well known in the social game industry that “whales”, the tiny percentage of users who spend massively, are a vital part of the business. We’ve written here about super-whales who spend over $10,000; Zynga’s biggest whales certainly far exceed that sum.

On the other hand, most companies don’t announce how many whales they have or how much those users are spending. That information, along with the best monetization strategies, is closely guarded for competitive reasons.

In this case, there’s yet another potential explanation. According to a source close to the company, Zynga set up the Platinum Program primarily for international users, with well over half of its transactions coming from overseas.

The reason for creating something like the Platinum Program, with that in mind, looks pretty straightforward. In-game transactions have upper limits, and international users often find it difficult to pay through Facebook. The Zynga approval letter cited by Gawker supports that case; it references wire services and bank transfers multiple times, while credit cards are never mentioned.

The program also looks fairly exclusive, and seems to have spread through referrals between the most active players, while each transaction requires a unique ID number from Zynga — perhaps an added barrier to potential customers, but also a barrier between Zynga and customers who aren’t serious or want to scam the company.

Even with an explanation for the Platinum Program, though, the social game industry should expect more accusations and anger about whales in the future, even though they only comprise a tiny percentage of all users.

Big spenders are a fact of life throughout most parts of the entertainment industry; neither the idea nor term “whales” are original to social gaming. But the idea of spending anything at all on virtual goods is still working its way through the public consciousness.

Here’s the letter Gawker got its hands on:

Congratulations on your decision to participate in our Wire Transfer Platinum Purchase Program.

We are pleased to inform you that we are giving all Platinum purchases this week only (Mon., Aug. 30th, 2010 – Fri., Sept. 2nd, 2010) an extra 1 POINT, in addition to the current Platinum purchase point value of 9 points per dollar!!

So, for this week only, all your purchases through the Platinum Purchasing program will be 10 Reward Points to the dollar. This represents significant savings over the best package deal that is available in-game during this week.

Your wire request must be received by Friday, September 2, 2010 to receive this exclusive discount.

We would like to introduce our Refer-A-Friend incentive for the Platinum Purchase Program. Through this incentive you will be able to refer all of your friends who have never participated in the program previously. Upon successful completion of their first wire transfer you will be awarded an additional point per dollar for your most recent wire transfer, or for you next wire transfer. You can refer as many friends as you like, but it is important to note that you can only redeem one Refer-A-Friend Incentive point per wire transfer.