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Facebook Puts Virtual Currency Into Drive

Facebook, which had been oh-so-very slowly rolling out its Facebook Credits payment system, now seems intent on speeding that process up. Two new signs that Facebook is putting more emphasis on Credits:

The social network said that Friendster-parent MOL Global would distribute gift cards in several Asian countries that people will be able to redeem for Credits. And it also announced it is shutting down its Gift Shop, which let people give virtual gifts to each other, highlighting in the announcement that “out of the product” came Credits that “now make it easier for people to buy premium items across the many games and applications on Facebook.”

The developments come more than a year after Facebook first started testing Credits. After initially testing the system with a few select developers, the company had been slowly expanding the system to others, so that their users could use Credits to make in-app purchases.

The company was mostly silent on Credits’ progress, however, and, as of April only about 100 different applications on the site were using Credits, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He said then, however, that the company was “building it quickly” and “focusing on scaling (Credits) out to the entire ecosystem.”

That appears to now be happening. Over the last two months, Facebook has gotten two major social game developers — CrowdStar and Zynga — to commit to using Credits in their games and is now working on putting together similar deals with other big app developers.

Eventually, Credits could provide a large non-advertising revenue stream for the social network, since it takes a 30 percent cut of Credits sales.

For now, though, the company is downplaying the money-making possibilities. In an interview this week with Venturebeat, Facebook Developer Network director Ethan Beard said Credits “will bring very little or marginal profit” to the social network because the company will be reinvesting all of the money it does make “back into the product for the next several years.”