Online currency, with which Facebook users can purchase pixel-based virtual farm animals or pay to attend virtual events, might seem small beer. But now the online goods economy may be about to boom in the UK, as Tesco and the games retailer Game start selling Facebook credits in more than 1,000 high street stores.
The UK’s 33 million Facebook users will be able to buy so-called “Facebook credits” in the non-pixellated world. The gift cards, costing £10 or £20, will only be redeemable on Facebook, where users can spend the converted currency on any number of nonexistent objects.
The virtual goods economy, where money is spent on items that only exist on the internet, is expected to exceed £550m for social gaming such as Zynga’s Farmville by the end of this year, according to a recent Inside Virtual Goods report. Other estimates show that the total US market for virtual goods will reach $1.6bn this year, up $500m from last year, as the virtual economy worldwide hits more than $6bn. Many of the biggest virtual economies centre around online games such as World of Warcraft.
Now, Facebook credits will be sold in more than 650 Game and Gamestation outlets and 600 Tesco stores in the run-up to Christmas, having been available to purchase online since the beginning of this year. More than 200 apps and games currently accept Facebook credits, a figure sure to increase as the site expands its reach.
The currency has quickly found favour among the growing and increasingly engaged online gaming community – and not just inside Facebook, the world’s most popular social network. Flirtomatic, a social network with 1.8 million users in the UK, sold more virtual roses last year than Interflora sold real roses. Earlier this month, more than 100,000 Flirtomatic citizens “attended” its virtual firework display – online.
Though Facebook retains 30% of the value of sales made using its currency, credits create a new and simple source of income for the developers behind increasingly popular social games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars.
Euan Ballantyne, head of cards at Tesco Bank, said: “Social gaming is becoming increasingly popular, so we are pleased to offer what might be an ideal Christmas present for those who enjoy playing social games on Facebook.”
Asda, the second-biggest supermarket in the UK, said it had no plans to sell Facebook credits, even though its US parent Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) was the first to sell them in the US.
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.