Meta (formerly Facebook) has found a new way to avoid the app stores’ commissions on in-app purchases with the launch of a new website where people can buy “Stars” — the virtual items that allow fans to express their support for favorite creators during Facebook videos and livestreams. Typically, Stars are bought as in-app purchases on mobile devices where they’re subject to a revenue share with the app store platform provider — meaning, Apple or Google. But when fans purchase Stars via the new Facebook website, they’ll use Facebook Pay, not Apple or Google’s payment mechanisms.
This will allow fans to “get more Star for their money at lower rates,” notes a Facebook announcement. That appears to be true for the time being at least, as Facebook is offering “bonus” Stars with every purchase. That means, for example, when you spend $9.99 on 530 Stars, you’ll now get another 420 Stars as a bonus when purchased through the website. Via the Facebook mobile app and in-app purchases, however, you would only get the 530 Stars. (Note: I am referencing the website bonus amounts that appeared when the site is loaded today. The Facebook blog post features a screenshot that shows different bonus amounts. We understand rates are even lower during the month of December for the “Stars Fest” event. Regardless, these bonuses mean you get more Stars for your money via the web.)
There are Bonus Stars available at a variety of increments, with the number of extra Stars increasing alongside your purchase amount. You can purchase as few as 45 Stars (with a bonus of 35 Stars) for $0.99 or as many as 6,400 Stars (with a bonus of 3,600 Stars) for $99.99, according to the website as it appears now. (See above.)
But if the bonuses are removed, there’s no advantage to using a website over in-app purchases, as the rates appear to otherwise be the same as you’d otherwise pay.
Once purchased through the Stars Store website, the Stars are deposited into people’s virtual wallets so they can be distributed to eligible creators during their Facebook Live or on-demand videos. Creators can reward their fans who use Stars however they want — they may give them a shoutout on the video or some other perk in line with their style and content.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has found a way to work around the app stores’ revenue share requirements. Last month, Facebook introduced custom subscription links for creators on iOS that allow them to accept direct payments, avoiding Apple’s controversial 30% cut. This system was possible because — for the time being at least — Facebook isn’t taking its own cut of these transactions. That allows Facebook to leverage a currently acceptable means of avoiding commissions as detailed in Apple’s App Store Guidelines. (Specifically, rule 3.2.1, which says individuals may make monetary gifts to other individuals if 100% of the funds go to the receiver of the gift. Clubhouse took advantage of this carve-out as well for its in-app tipping system.)
The ability to buy Stars via the web is another interesting move — and one that could shift a number of transactions off Facebook’s mobile app and in-app purchases once fans realize there’s a way to buy more stars for less money. Apple is supposed to soon allow app developers to point to other means of making purchases outside the app as a result of the Epic Games ruling, but Apple is currently asking the court to delay when that injunction goes into effect after its first attempt was denied.
Facebook’s announcement of the Stars Store website was one of many updates it’s making during its month-long “Stars Fest” taking place in December. The company says it’s also testing using Stars in more places — like videos on the News Feed, the Facebook Watch feed, the Gaming tab, and starting next year, Facebook Reels.
It’s also launching something called “Stars Party,” which is a new way for fans to send Stars together during livestreams. A countdown timer will appear giving the community five minutes to come together and hit a Stars goal. Creators who complete a Stars Party will receive a $50 bonus for each one from Dec. 22, 2021 through Jan. 3, 2022, Facebook says.
As part of the company’s $1 billion creator fund, it’s also investing in a Stars “Double bonus,” which runs through March 31. During this time, Meta will match some creators’ Stars earnings, up to $750 a month. This could allow creators to earn up to $3,750 in bonus payments. However, the program is invite-only. Facebook will also give $3 million in free Stars to people so they can try out the feature during live videos.
Elsewhere during Stars Fest, the company is offering limited-time virtual gifts and badges, special live programming from a variety of creators, financial incentives for creators to go live and more.