Zynga Tries to Patent Virtual Casino Currency
An attempt to *own* social media gambling transactions?
In last Friday’s twitfeed, my favorite tech-biz site Tech Crunch tweeted about their post “Is Zynga Trying To Patent Virtual Currency?” Apparently, the leviathan of multiplayer gaming networks — and big wildcard in the future of real-money online poker — filed a US Patent Application in March of this year in an effort to corner the virtual currency market.
At least that’s my take. After reading the actual legal document, “Virtual Playing Chips in a Multiuser Online Game Network”, I gather what they are really trying to do is define and patent the purchase and flow of “Non-Redeemable Virtual Currency” as it pertains *specifically* to gambling on social networks.
The Virtual Gaming Economy 1.0 … a One-Way Cash Flow to Social Networks
Today, virtual currency is part of a transaction model used for the purchase of virtual goods within online communities, particularly within the context of internet gaming — whether buying pixelated cocktails for your friends, cattle lanterns for your farm, or machine guns and a getaway car for your next virtual hit. In Zynga Poker, play is free, but players buy Zynga Chips to pad their play-money bankrolls, while Casino Gold (a.k.a. comps) can buy them useless crap a round of tequila for the table, regardless of such a purchase’s affect on a player’s EV.
They can buy Zynga Chips/Casino Gold using credit and debit cards, PayPal, or native social credits (like Facebook), a buying process known generically on the web as “micro-transactions”. The best deal gets you a 480,000:1 ratio of virtual chips to the dollar.
Currently, the cash flows one-way only — into the pockets of Zynga. Players may purchase virtual currency from the network with real money, but have no method of “cashing out”, nor are they allowed by Zynga Terms of Service to buy or sell chips for actual money or trade goods from other individuals or businesses.
The Virtual Gaming Economy 2.0 … in a Legalized Online Gambling World
To my untrained legal eye, a review of the Zynga patent application reveals the company seeking to document a similar model to Zynga Poker for all casino games — poker, slots, and roulette are mentioned as specific examples. (Sports-betting is not, however.) According to TechCrunch: “Zynga is trying to patent the the ability to buy virtual currency that can’t be traded for actual currency or what happens in virtual stays in virtual.”
While there is value to be had in owning the rights to process virtual currency as it stands, the concept, expanded one step further to allow players to “cash out” wherever gambling is legal, would truly be worth owning. Google surely must have known about this patent pending when they sunk a bunch of cash into Zynga sometime in June. The document mentions some forms of regulation and fraud detection in play, and the online poker industry, of course, is very aware of efforts to prepare them for such transactions in a future real-money world.
I had to laugh, though, at the following stipulation in the app: “transfers can be limited to players who are friends or otherwise connected within the context of an online social network (e.g. transfers are only allowed between players who are also ‘friends’ on Facebook.)” I suppose that while Barack Obama seeks to link international transactions to taxpayer IDs, it seems sufficient in the virtual world that *we be FB-friends*.