The Green Sheet Online Edition
October 08, 2007 • Issue 07:10:01
Virtual customers, virtual goods, real money
In July 2007, Singapore-based FirstMeta Pte. Ltd. launched what it claims is the world's first virtual credit card _ the MetaCard. The card is designed for "residents" of the popular virtual world "Second Life." "Second Life" is an online game designed by Linden Research Inc. in San Francisco. Players select an avatar (a 3-D digital alter ego) and interact with other avatars in this virtual world, socializing, building homes, making friends, and buying virtual goods and services.
"Second Life" has more than 9.6 million "residents" worldwide, spending an estimated U.S. $1.9 million every day in Linden dollars, which can be converted to real money. The current exchange rate for Linden dollars is U.S. $1 for every $265 Linden dollars. The MetaCard is a Linden dollar-denominated credit card. That kind of spending _ even if it is for pretend goods _ has gotten the attention of large companies like Toyota, Mercedes Benz, Nike, Coldwell Banker, Starwood Hotels and IBM, which have "set up shop" in "Second Life."
"Virtual worlds and virtual economies are a rapidly growing market," said Aileen Sim, who co-founded FirstMeta with Douglas Abrams. "The market as a whole is growing at about 55% per annum. 'Second Life's' GDP alone is estimated to grow about 900% from 2006 to 2007."
Merchants pay no installation fee, monthly fee or minimum charges. When they sign up they are given a computer script that allows them to accept MetaCard on their "Second Life" transactions. Merchant fees are 2.5% of each MetaCard transaction. Merchants who accept MetaCard are automatically approved for the MetaCard corporate credit card and MetaSavings corporate deposit account. MetaCard corporate monthly fees are Linden $300 a month. They are waived if the user spends more than $1,000 Linden a month.
Consumers can choose either the gold or the standard MetaCard. The standard daily percentage rate for the gold card is 0.13%, 0.15% for the standard card and 0.17% for cash advances. Monthly fees of Linden $300 are waived if the cardholder spends more than Linden $500 per billing cycle. "We currently have more than 200 cardholders after seven weeks of launch," Sim said. "We project several thousand cardholders by end of 2007, and tens of thousands by end 2008, or equivalent in revenue. These projections are including user base of other virtual worlds outside of 'Second Life.'"
The MetaCard appears to be the first time someone has applied real-life credit in virtual transactions. Experts are uncertain how real-life laws and regulations may have to stretch to cover virtual transactions. But if "Second Life" maintains its 55% annum growth, it's certain to be an issue in the future.
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