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Zynga Patenting Non-Refundable Virtual Cash?

A patent filed by Zynga back in March indicates that the company may be trying to claim dibs on using real money to purchase non-refundable virtual currency and/or poker chips for online games. If successful, the company could wreak legal havoc on developers and publishers of MMOGs and competing casual game franchises offering virtual currency for real-word cash.

Uncovered by Tech Crunch and reported on Friday, U.S. Patent Application #2010022767--labeled as Virtual Playing Chips in a Multiuser Online Game Network--explicitly references FarmVille and Zynga Poker as Examples of Embodiments. It also indicates that "Non-Redeemable Virtual Currency" and "Non-Redeemable Poker Chips" are Zynga inventions to which the company claims ownership.

"A method, comprising:receiving, at a server, a purchase order for virtual currency from a player, wherein the purchase order was made with legal currency, and wherein the virtual currency is usable within the context of a computer-implemented game;crediting an account of the player with virtual currency, wherein the virtual currency is not redeemable for legal currency;receiving a second purchase order for a virtual object within the context of the computer-implemented game from the player, wherein the second purchase order was made with virtual currency; and debiting the account of the player based on the second purchase order," the patent reads.

Essentially the company may be trying to patent the process of purchasing virtual money that cannot be re-sold. The patent also seems to indicate that Zynga may implement a fraud prevention system to inhibit players from using cash to purchase virtual funds from other players within Zynga products.

So what does this mean for other online games that allow players to purchase virtual currency with real cash? Will the patent grant Zynga ownership of the virtual currency market?  If so, MMORPG’s depending on player microtransactions may be in a world of hurt.