By Patrick Henningsen
21st Century Wire
Jan 31, 2011
The 21st century has certainly witnessed a progression towards a ‘cashless society’, but social networking giant Facebook is taking things a step further, throwing their hat into the ring with the introduction of a new compulsory monetary policy that will initially govern its share of the multi-billion dollar online games industry.
Imagine a virtual world where all goods and services are to be offered, bought and paid for by a new virtual-local form of electronic currency. Facebook will be piloting such a scheme for their multimillion dollar online games market. As of July 2011, every social game developer on Facebook will have to offer the social network’s “virtual currency credits”.According to a recent news release from Marketing Week, “Over the next five months developers will have to implement credits as a payment method within their games”. The games industry already accounts for 70% of the virtual goods transactions on the site.According to Facebook, the social networking corporation is not insisting that their new online currency will be the only payment method available to users, and in exchange for their cooperation, game developers will offered incentives if they use ‘Facebook dollars’ exclusively. Compensation for compliance will apparently include early access to product features and premium promotion on their site, including promotion on the games dashboard and of course, premium ‘smart’ ad targeting.
Aside from the obvious differences in a cashless society- a world where no notes and coins are ever physically held by the owner, there are also a number of other not so nice realities which citizens will be forced to accept. Chief among these are legitimate concerns that a cashless society would make “retailer resistance” aka choosing independent shops, buying direct or supporting local markets over mega supermarkets and national retail chain stores… nearly impossible. This can also be applied to the virtual community or marketplace. Already there are multitudes of businesses who must be on Facebook in order to reach their target market. Consumers might also consider the possibility that should Facebook go public, they could, at any given time, transform the face of online retailing by buying up large tracks of existing virtual real state. Think Amazon, Love Film or Sound Cloud. Resistance? All you would here is Mark Zuckerberg’s laugh echoing down some long corridor in deepest, darkest Palo Alto- and Morpheus muttering, “… the Facebook has you..”. In addition to retailer resistance, cash ensures some level of anonymity on the part of its owner. Not so in cashless world, as electronic currency and transactions are and will always be recorded, track, analysed and in some cases- suspended. In the virtual cashless world, the lack of anonymity and the ability to switch one’s means off is amplified even more.
With the introduction of a cashless society, citizens are also likely to lose their identities associated with national currencies like American Dollars, or British Sterling. But as they lose one identity, they will most certainly gain another. In this way, Facebook has taken the lead in supplying a monetary identity to its client citizens in the form of its ‘virtual currency credits’.
Perhaps one day we may also see ‘Apple Credits’ or ‘Nokia Kroner’ as mobile device transactions creep further and further into our economic routine. Either way you slice it, it is an incredible amount of power and influence which an elite clique of corporations now have over large sections of the global population.
As we have seen with the online games developers and their customers, resisting the Facebook marketplace is no longer an option, as it has already defined policy within the boundaries of its massive virtual community- even mandating what form of money can be used within the Facebook Nation. The decree is simple and clear, “if you are not in, you are out.”
— About the author: Patrick Henningsen is a writer, filmmaker, former pr/communications consultant and managing editor of 21st Century Wire. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org