[Update: This has actually come to be.]
Could this be your future credit card?
Image removed at the request of Visa Brand Management.
Phillip Torrone of MAKE: Blog seems to think so and I wouldn’t bet against the idea. He has an article up in which he predicts it won’t be too much longer before we see credit cards with not only your favorite in-game avatar’s image on it, but a rewards program that gives you virtual cash or loot back for every real-world purchase you make.
It’s not a matter of if, just when – credit card companies, Pay Pal, Amazon, eBay and the individual “gaming” companies eventually bridge the real and virtual currencies with loyalty programs and private label credit cards – there’s too much money out there to -not- to do this. This “demographic” is the battleground. The more you spend, the more you earn, sorta. Virtual $ isn’t a crappy electronics doo-dad, it’s just a number in a computer. Maybe you’ll get some discounted airline tickets when you hit level 60 too, you deserve it! Earn your way to a new graphics card, why not.
Sure, there are complexities to any economy, real or virtual, and limits to how much currency would or could make an impact – but nimble MMO’s with economies will figure this out. There’s fraud and mischief that would develop, but that’s true always. Spend in the real world, earn virtual currencies for the “games” you play, that part is simple. This can apply to Sony, Xbox, etc…Xbox 360 already has “gamer cards”, ways to buy things too.
This seems like such an obvious idea that I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already given the enormous success of World of Warcraft and the fact that there are already custom cards aimed at NASCAR fans, Disney aficionados, and every college sports team out there. Being able to buy some real-world goods and get 1% back as gold in WoW would probably be ridiculously popular among the gamer set, especially for the more casual players who don’t have 16 hours a day to devote to multiple Molten Core runs in hopes of landing something that’ll sell for a ridiculous amount on the auction house. Hell, I’m willing to bet that folks would go gaa-gaa just over having the ability to stick a picture of their avatar on a card regardless if it gained them anything in-game. There’s already a thriving black market for paying real world cash to get WoW gold—a practice officially banned by Blizzard that they’ve been unable or unwilling to enforce—and that would seem to indicate that there’s a market for this sort of offer.
What’s really interesting is reading about how there are folks who are earning a living by playing Second Life which is one of the first MMORPGs to embrace the exchange of virtual and real cash from the beginning. The social aspect is a big part of the draw of all MMORPGs and SL is all about being social as it doesn’t necessarily have a storyline or point to it the way most other games like WoW do. It’s also technically free to play. I say technically because it doesn’t cost anything to sign up and download the client and it’s possible to earn “Linden Dollars” in-game without spending a dime, but there’s a system in place that allows you spend real-world cash in exchange for Lindens and a lot of folks do just that. Even more interesting, it’s possible to convert Linden Dollars back into real-world cash if you want to. The makers of Second Life make their money off of charging a small fee for this exchange back and forth between the real world and SL’s virtual world and people in-game can earn Linden Dollars by making game content that they sell to other players or, if they’re lazy, they can just spend some real cash to build up their virtual accounts.
As the time of this writing, there are 166,922 residents, spending over $135,984.00 in 24 hours and $6.5 million USD in transactions took place in about 20 days. In 2006, there’s a good chance $100 million USD dollars worth of transactions will flow through the virtual world of Second Life. Linden recently rolled out their own exchange, Lindex, meaning – they’re almost a bank now.
You may have read awhile back about the guy who spent $26,500 in actual cold hard cash to buy an island in Project Entropia, another “free” MMORPG that allows you to exchange real and virtual currency back and forth, back in 2004. The story got picked up by the mainstream media and a lot of folks chuckled over what a nutcase this guy was, but the truth is he earned that money back in about a year and was ready to start making a profit on it as of November 2005. Who says you can’t make money playing video games?
Now consider the possibility of a credit card that allowed you to earn virtual cash in Second Life or Project Entropia for every real-world purchase you make. If you wanted to you could convert that back into real cash or use it to build up your holdings in-game as a sort of investment. Even without that exchange in games like WoW, though, I could see a lot of people signing up for a credit card that gave them virtual rewards. I have to agree that it’s probably only a matter of time at this point before someone finally convinces the folks at Blizzard to allow such a card to be developed. Perhaps then I’ll consider getting a new credit card for the first time in years.