Over the weekend I finished reading Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel For The Win. The book can be found in science fiction sections, but there is little reason why the subject it covers couldn’t soon be non-fiction. The story follows characters from different backgrounds that are worlds apart as they interact virtually over online economies that act as both a playground and a workplace. Economic theory and social activism come in to play as the characters fight for a fairer online world.
Where fiction verges from reality in the book is sometimes hard to identify. Online currencies are already powerful. From WoW to FarmVille, players are happy to hand over cash for virtual goods. In some cases, these virtual currencies have threatened real world currencies. The video embedded below from ABC’s Hungry Beast gives the example of QQ Coins, online IM points that were China’s fastest growing currency in 2006. They grew so much that the central bank had to put currency controls on them as they started to affect the Yuan.
In a little over a month from now, the world of online currencies will heat up. Back in January, in a blog post Facebook announced that:
Starting July 1st, we will require all social game developers on the Facebook canvas platform to process payments through Facebook Credits.
Facebook’s huge userbase is already bigger than most countries’ populations and if just a fraction of them pick up the currency for e-retail or gaming, it may well become a formidable economic force. The other contender in the space is iTunes’ credit card system, which has 150+ million payment-enabled accounts. Apparently, Apple has banned apps on iOS from accepting Facebook Credits for in-app purchased, which will be an interesting dilemma for Facebook game developers wanting to use the popular mobile platform.
More interesting perhaps is how the two huge economies will interact, and how investors and traders will recognise the new opportunities they open up.
(You can download For The Win for free here… but wouldn’t you prefer to buy it from a local bookshop?)