Innovations and Payment Systems

‘Point cards’ offer virtual rewards to video gamers


A new plastic currency for Xbox 360 and Wii lets video gamers pay real money for unreal advantages in their virtual worlds. This ‘gamer currency’ might be a great gift idea, but there are drawbacks.

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There is a new kind of plastic currency. If you don’t play video games, you’ve probably never heard of it. However, if you have a child or teenager or other video game buff on your gift list, then you need a crash course in “gamer currency,” where you pay real money for virtual advantages in imaginary worlds.

A prepaid game card for the popular World of WarCraft gameGamer currency lets you buys items for use in or with the games, and it comes in the form of plastic “point cards.”

As often is the case in the real world, the more you spend, the more you get. Want a new “skin” to change the look of your Xbox’s Halo 3 game? That runs a mere 150 points. But a Carved Idol Trinket, which provides temporary transformation into a hulking red ogre in the World of WarCraft game? As one would expect, that costs serious points: 25,000.

Clearly, a plus for gamers is they can buy cool stuff to enhance their virtual experiences. But there are downsides:

  • The easy-to-lose cards aren’t refundable.
  • Once used, the cards aren’t rechargeable or partially redeemable.
  • They’re not globally valid, so cards purchased in one country won’t work in another.
  • Local currency determines the price per point, so some regions pay more (in terms of effective cost relative to the dollar) for the same number of points.

The two main systems using these point cards in the United States are Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s the Wii.

Wii Points
Wii downloads, available via the online Wii Shop Channel, cost a penny per point, or $20 per card. You can buy Wii Points in stores or online from Nintendo. Outside Japan, only 2,000-point cards are available.

The Wii Shop Channel offers the Virtual Console, as “Wii Ware” selections won’t be unveiled until early 2008. With the console, players can download games originally designed for older Nintendo systems — games players can now put on the Wii (and store in the system’s memory). Prices range from 500 points for games designed for the NES system to at least 1000 points for Nintendo 64 games.

Microsoft Points
The Xbox Live Marketplace and Zune (an online music store) both use Microsoft points , which let players buy extra maps, weapons, “gamertags” and other aids to vanquish opponents. Players must create an Xbox Live account to use or redeem points through the site.

Microsoft plans to expand its Xbox points system to allow user-to-user transactions (say, if players want to buy from each other), although with no concrete target date.

World of Warcraft prepaid time cards bypass the risk of using credit cards for up to 60 days of playing time for World of Warcraft, an immensely popular role-playing game that requires users to pay a monthly subscription fee. An added advantage: If paying by credit card, users must pay an automatic monthly fee unless they cancel, whereas the time card involves no commitment.

Where to buy
Wii and Microsoft point cards are available at Target, Circuit City, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, EBGames and GameStop, in cartons or thick plastic packaging — similar to the packaging of games — to prevent theft, but Microsoft recently switched to a register-activated system to validate the cards. A scratch-off area on the cards reveals the unique code, which users must enter online (for both Microsoft and Wii cards) to redeem the points.

Type of cardFeatures, usesCost, where to buy
Wii Points cardAllows users to buy games originally designed for older systems, but which they can now play and store on the Wii.$20 for a 2,000-point card. Available at Wal-Mart and other major video game retailers, and at
Microsoft Points for Xbox 360Can be used to buy maps, demos, weapons and other items for use in game play.1,600-point card costs $20. Available at major retailers and at
PlayStation Network cardsAllows users to buy content for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable systems.Not available in U.S. currency as of November 2007.
World of WarCraftProvides online subscription without using a credit card.A 60-day prepaid card costs around $30. Available at Wal-Mart, game stores and at

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