Game Development Reference
their techniques are widely emulated within many social games. Finally, many
of the less successful MMOs were forced to adopt alternate mechanisms for
monetization, some of which borrowed from their successful brethren overseas.
In South Korea and China, the rules were different. First, very few people
owned home PCs or consoles. Instead, millions rented time at Internet cafés—a
highly social setting that set the tone for the way games in general and online
games in particular—would be played. Rampant piracy of PC games in these
territories meant that traditional retail models simply didn't work; for each
game sold, tens of thousands copies were pirated. Developers were forced to
extract money from their users in other ways. Subscription fees worked to off-
set this problem, and MMO games influenced by the West, such as Lineage ,
attracted huge numbers of users in South Korea and Taiwan.
Many eastern companies adopted western game design ideas—particularly
the highly popular MMOs—but by necessity, found ways to distribute the client
software for free, selling the users peripheral equipment and gear instead. This
focus on selling virtual items for avatar-based games (perfect for the MMORPG
genre) generated significant revenues by extracting small amounts at regular
intervals (often every day, for avid players) from a very large number of users.
Before long, the modern microtransaction model was born. There have been a
nearly infinite number of minor refinements to this practice, from offering non-
gear types of services (transferring or renaming characters for a small fee, and
the like) to offering users ways to save time in the game by obviating the need
for tedious tasks, and so on. For the most part, this microtransaction model car-
ried forward directly into the realm of social games. The Internet cafés of Asia
formed the petri dish in which the freemium microtransaction model was born.
This is the world that Facebook stepped into, initially with no games and
no real plan for monetization of its users. Fairly early on, they allowed third-
party developers to create games and apps for the rapidly expanding platform.
By 2007, Zynga was making significant revenue from its players by offer-
ing free games in which play could be upgraded through microtransactions.
Such microtransactions operated in an abstract form within the metaworld of
the game, initially as opportunities offered to players to purchase of a type of
in-game currency that could be used to speed up the completion of tedious
in-game tasks or let users keep playing when their daily or hourly allotment of
turns had been expended. Though it took this model several years to become
profitable, with a number of refinements, Zynga, Digital Chocolate, and a few
other social game companies have managed to reap huge rewards and attract
a number of daily users that dwarfs the numbers seen on almost all console or
MMO games. These successes have led to a second, more recent gold rush, this
time into the social free-to-play game space.
Facebook itself entered into the microtransaction game in 2009 with the
alpha release of Facebook Credits, a system that sought to provide a common
currency for all games played on Facebook. (And in so doing, to guarantee that
Facebook would take a piece of Zynga's ever-expanding pie.) Facebook Credits
became the official currency of all games on Facebook as of July 1, 2011, and it