Zynga virtual currency patent application unearthed

FarmVille maker seeking USPTO nod on in-game cash and gifting

FronterVille firm Zynga is seeking a patent on virtual currency, it has been revealed.

UPSTO application 20100227675, 'Virtual Playing Chips in a Multiuser Online Game Network,' covers a server receiving a purchase request for virtual currency by a player.

The application stipulates that the credits are "non-redeemable" - they must only be used within a game, and cannot be sold outside of it.

The filing was made in March this year, with Zynga boss Mark Pincus one of the named "inventors."

It is unclear as yet whether the intention behind the patent, which has not yet been granted, is to corner the virtual currency market, or to help fend off the many third-party resellers of virtual goods and cash for Zynga games.

In April, Zynga sued virtual goods reseller, a site which sold Mafia Wars in-game items for real-world prices as high as $492,000, claiming copyright and trademark infringement.

Despite this USPTO application, Zynga recently signed an agreement to use Facebook Credits, from which the social network takes a 30 per cent cut, for the next five years.

The filing also seeks to lay claim to gifting in-game currency or objects to another player via a social network.

In addition, the application encompasses virtual chips for gambling games - this patent being granted may help successful Facebook title Zynga Poker bypass US gambling restrictions.

The full USPTO filing may be read here.

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Latest comments (5)

Alex Loffstadt Community Manager, Outso Ltd11 years ago
"Virtual Playing Chips in a Multiuser Online Game Network" as a patent? There are a raft of MTX and F2P games have a far better claim.

If this is going to be used by Zynga as a legal impliment to beat on other developers with, having just seen the end of Tim Langdell I would hate to see the industry dragged through a similar train of pointless legal battles.

If it is an attempt to duck past US gambling restrictions, then I would fully expect to see the restrictions changed. One possible change might be in a similar line to the Korean Judgement from earlier in the year that virtual items may be considered to have a real world value and that has serious potential implications for ALL online games.

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Daniel Leaver Creative Director, Ambient Studios Ltd11 years ago
I am reeling from the comment: "In April, Zynga sued virtual goods reseller, a site which sold Mafia Wars in-game items for real-world prices as high as $492,000..."

Half a million dollars? For a single item in a browser game?! This can't be true. Do they mean total sales of all items for $492,000?
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Alex Loffstadt Community Manager, Outso Ltd11 years ago
Account trading etc. isn't unprecidented.
There's plenty of MMO accounts running around with price tags in the Thousands of dollars.

Without knowing the precise details of what was being sold I wouldn't want to comment on a Half Mill price tag.
What would be interesting is to hear how the case went. A sucessful legal action against Gold Farmers and Sellers would be interesting news.
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Alan Au Data Scientist 11 years ago
The words "prior art" come to mind.
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Christopher McCraken CEO/Production Director, Double Cluepon Software11 years ago
There are loads of prior art for this patent app. Right back to the BBS door game days when operators would take money for in game currency. Not to mention, Puzzle Pirates introduced Doubloon oceans in 2005, well before Zynga was every around. There are more examples of prior art, these two I have given are just off the top of my head.

Despite the plethora of prior art, I will not be surprised if Zynga manages to blow this one past the USPTO. The USPTO is seriously backlogged, without enough reviewers, and severely underfunded. I expect Zynga will attain this patent, and it will be fought over in an east Texas federal court. Sadly, I don't see anyone in the game industry challenging this application in any meaninful way. It's been covered in Slashdot, and other places. Simply put: this patent app, should it be approved has the capacity to wipe out microtransaction based MMO's, as well as any other game that uses virtual currency in any meaninful way.

If ever there was a time to rally around defeating Zynga on some level, this would be that time.
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