'Zuck Bucks' is the latest — and most egotistical — scheme by the Meta founder
Throughout history, emperors have insisted that coinage carries their face, and Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg is no different. This is, after all, a man obsessed with Augustus, even naming his son after the Roman emperor.
Employees at the company formerly known as Facebook refer to “Zuck Bucks”, the latest effort in the social media giant’s attempts to generate revenue from transactions on its platforms by introducing tokens, or a modern day scrip currency.
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Scrip currencies gained notoriety in the Wild West mining era, allowing an employer to control the quantity of money, its credit, and the token’s fungibility. For example, a ruthless boss may insist that employees can only “spend” the currency at the company store. It’s something that appeals to tech titans, too.
Zuckerberg has long known the value of these currencies, which today are familiar to every Minecraft-playing teenager. In-game payments are becoming the primary method of payment for players, with global consumer spending on in-game purchases already over $60bn.
Facebook’s explosive early growth owed much to the success of the social gaming agri-simulator Farmville, and the tech giant envied not only Zenga’s in-game currency, but its $9 billion valuation. Once Facebook’s advertising growth exploded, it no longer needed Farmville, and the two broke up in 2013. Almost a decade later, Zenga is still waiting to float.
The FT’s report on Zuck Bucks resembles a partially-overheard bar conversation, and is conspicuously short on firm detail. We learn that some tokens may be used as part of a social credit system, rewarding good behaviour in the way the Chinese Communist Party rewards model citizens.
It’s all much more modest than Libra, the ‘global currency and financial infrastructure’ which Facebook announced in 2019. This was a very ambitious effort, enlisting corporate America, including Visa and Mastercard, to join a governance structure that would control a brand new crypto currency, based on buzzy blockchain technology. Controlling Libra was “a type of bank Americans haven’t seen since antebellum: a ‘wildcat bank’ that could print its own currency against commodities and assets it holds”, Decrypt noted.
But regulators balked, and the concessions Facebook made to please them alarmed the decentralised finance enthusiasts, who viewed it as too centralised and regulated. It ended up pleasing no one, and after several name changes, the initiative was dissolved in January — no Libra currency or wallet was ever launched. Zuck Dollars aren’t for the real world.
One underappreciated difference between Elon Musk, and pure software nerds like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, is how much the latter want to create a hermetically sealed world, one they can control, and in which they can assume the role of god-emperor. Musk measures success by tangible goods like satellites, rockets and cars — he even loves big diggers. He wants to feel the earth move. Bezos and Zuckerberg don’t.
Amazon’s triumph has been to create a simulation of a marketplace, where it has discovered it can manipulate both supply and demand, a kind of synthetic capitalism-in-one-platform. The shops are fake and the brands are fake — and behind the curtain Amazon controls it all. Zuckerberg’s Metaverse is similarly a pure simulation. The Facebook founder no longer wants to change the world, but merely control a version of it: one where the coins are fake, but his face is on every one.