Facebook Credits Going Mobile?


Facebook appears to be taking another step toward extending its franchise to mobile devices. According to a Bloomberg report Wednesday, the social networking powerhouse is set to bring its Facebook Credits virtual currency to the mobile Web. Starting this month, Facebook began requiring social game developers on the site such as Zynga to process payments using Credits. Facebook in turn takes a 30% cut of transactions using its virtual currency.

The move would be a logical step for Facebook as it seeks to replicate its success on the PC-based Web across smartphones and tablets. And there's little question games are the most popular types of mobile apps. But it also brings the company into more direct competition with Apple and Google, each of which takes the same 30% commission from selling apps through their respective app stores.



Facebook already boasts more than 250 million mobile users, and its rumored "Project Spartan" would create an HTML5-based platform to run on the iPhone and iPad and compete with iOS. With 425,000 apps in the App Store and 15 billion downloads to date, Apple may not be quaking at the prospect of Facebook entering the fray just yet. But given the social network's rapid expansion globally, it has to be wary of Facebook's long-term mobile incursion.

Citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, the Bloomberg report says Facebook may add a separate news feed on its home page that displays activity in apps. The app feed would appear on the right side of Facebook pages and offer updates on what users are doing in games and other apps.

Apple hasn't shown much flair when it comes to social media (see Ping), so can Facebook come close when it comes to packaging and selling digital content? For one thing, would Facebook users want another feed crowding the home page? Facebook tends to be more like Google than Apple when it comes to content: minimalist and utilitarian. Can it create anything to rival an inviting emporium like the App Store for mobile? Facebook hasn't shown much aptitude (no pun intended) for that kind of thing to date.

Another question is how its symbiotic relationship with Zynga will evolve in the mobile space. With hits like "FarmVille," "CityVille" and "Mafia Wars," Zynga has long been the engine driving Facebook's social gaming ecosystem. In its IPO filing, the game developer clearly indicated it has high ambitions for building out is mobile business. But it may be eying the established powers for distribution rather than continuing to rely so heavily on Facebook.

"We believe there is a large opportunity to extend our brand and games to mobile platforms such as Apple iOS and Google Android," states the Zynga filing. By the time Facebook gets up to speed in mobile, will Zynga need it as much as it did on the desktop Web? Its options certainly look better in mobile.

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