US Patent: Virtual Currency

Zynga is one of the fastest growing social gaming companies. Zynga is the maker of compulsion loop filled social games such as FarmVille, CafeWorld, and Mafia Wars. These games have proved to be like crack for people bordering on obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now Zynga has patent the novel idea that has been around for decades of virtual currency. Zynga’s file to patent Virtual Playing Chips in a Multiuser Online Game Network. They claim that real money can be exchanged for virtual currency. The virtual currency can be used to purchase virtual goods between any two users. A user can be credited or debited virtual goods based on the outcome of events in games. The virtual currency can’t be exchanged back to legal money.

There are, and have been for a long time, games that thrive because of the virtual economy built into the game. Games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, which have been released since 2003 and 2004 respectively, depend on virtual currency to a large degree if you want to get far in the game quick. Within these games you can virtually work and earn currency or simply buy in-game money to buy virtual property such as a house or armor or whatever you like. The maker of Second Life have gone as far as to name their currency after themselves, the Linden Dollars. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 the Second Life economy grew to to half a billion dollars!

Outside video games, virtual currency has been used in real life scenarios such as at amusement parks and or places like Chuck E. Cheese’s or Dave & Buster’s. Chuck E. Cheese’s has game chips that you purchase with real legal tender while Dave and Buster’s uses smart cards to debit and credit in-store currency. In both franchises, the in-store currency can be used to play games priced using the in-store virtual currency. Two users can exchange and gift the in-store currency and based on the results of such game you win points that can be used to purchased goods.

All of their claims have been around for years and have been implemented in a variety of systems for years. Another real life example is iTunes. At most retailers, people can purchase iTunes gift cards. The virtual value that can be redeemed from a given iTunes gift card is usually given at a rate of $1 iTunes dollar to $1 real dollar. But some retailers, such as Costco has rates of $1 iTunes dollar to less than $1 dollars. The iTunes gift card will be used to credit a user with some amount of value which can later be used to redeem virtual goods such as songs, movies, and apps through iTunes, the online network application.

Outside of games that force you to tend to virtual crops for virtual money, in other words virtual share cropping, virtual currency has been used to control runaway inflation.

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