This afternoon I was having a discussion with a leading app developer about the future of virtual goods on the Facebook Platform. One thing that came up during the discussion was the idea of a centralized virtual goods system on Facebook. It’s something that I first described when Facebook announced that they were killing the gift shop next month, however it has increasingly become a center of focus for me personally. With all these applications selling virtual goods, why isn’t their an easier way to show off the goods that we’ve purchased?
With Facebook ramping up their Credits product, it’s not completely ridiculous that the company would kill off their gifts product, however the core idea was pretty smart: let people purchase virtual goods as well as receive those virtual goods as gifts from friends and show them off in their profile. The tie between virtual goods and identity is a critical component of any burgeoning virtual goods ecosystem. Somehow, Facebook has a massive virtual goods ecosystem without this key association (the one between virtual goods and identity), however I don’t believe this is sustainable.
The main flaw with the existing system is that when a user stops playing a game (like FarmVille for example), the virtual goods from that game do not transfer anywhere. In other words, all the money that was spent (which will soon be Facebook Credits) ends up being money that was spent on content that was not retained and had no lasting value. Tied in as part of the Facebook profile, those virtual goods can be saved forever. Most obvious is that virtual goods serve as digital artifacts that form a core component of an individual’s online identity.
Given that Facebook profiles serve as the primary representation of an individual’s digital identity, it’s only logical that virtual goods would become integrated and allow the application experience to live on, once the application is gone. This would not only increase the volume of transactions to take place with Facebook Credits, but it would also benefit the entire ecosystem. According to people I’ve spoken to, this concept is something that Sean Parker has personally pressed for, as well as other execs, however Mark Zuckerberg is not as big of a fan of the concept.
However the internal political debate is playing out isn’t really that relevant though. The main point is this: Facebook must provide some sort of central archive for individual virtual goods within the profile to help further the virtual goods ecosystem and accelerate usage of Facebook Credits, something the company is currently focused heavily on.