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Commerce in the Time of Social September 29, 2011

Posted by Bipul Sinha in business models, Consumer internet, social media, social networks, Uncategorized.
Tags: , ,
11 comments

The fabric that underlies the social Internet is essentially a new web where people are the nodes, connected through a social graph. This ubiquitous people to people connection with real identities has significant implications for commerce and how we transact in the real world. The reduction in information asymmetry in the marketplace and the ability to mobilize people, through the social graph messaging and data, have the potential to unleash peer to peer commerce in a way we have never seen before.

The Rediscovery of Direct Selling Businesses

Everyone has heard stories of Tupperware parties where a group of people gathered in someone’s home for product demonstration, buying and socializing. The social media is giving a new boost to this old business model by enabling the entrepreneurial hosts to invite friends and friends of friends, and gather offline to socialize and transact, using online tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The online and offline recommendation, feedback and validation

reduce the social approval anxiety and the friction in the buying decision. The social graph-enabled direct selling business model is especially interesting for highly demonstrable products such as handbags, jewelries, shoes, home accessories, etc. These products tend to be discretionary and highly correlated with emotions, impulsive buying and discovery orientation. The innovators in this space would foster entrepreneurship by enabling individuals to participate in the value creation and get the rewards.

The Overcapacity Marketplaces

The social Internet is enabling new kinds of peer to peer marketplaces where people can transact on overcapacity. The overcapacity can be in their belongings or skills. Since the articles involved in transactions tend  to be

personal in nature, the social graph acts as a lubricant to reduce the friction and cost of transaction. The living space sharing marketplaces such as Airbnb, personal car sharing marketplaces such as RelayRides, meals marketplaces from local chefs such as Gobble, etc. are some of the examples of the overcapacity marketplaces. In each of these, participants are leveraging overcapacity, be it in their homes, cars or skills utilization to create value. These marketplaces empower individuals to run their own business models and make profits accordingly. We will witness the rise of the overcapacity marketplaces as the peer to peer commerce takes off on the back of the social Internet. The unleashing of entrepreneurial imagination and the resulting innovations would help usher in an era of collaborative consumption.

Gaming business models: Freemium beats advertising July 7, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in advertising, business models, flash, game design, games.
3 comments

Dan Cook has a great post about business models for flash game developers over at Lost Garden. He says:

Ads are a really crappy revenue source
For a recent game my friend Andre released, 2 million unique users yields around $650 from MochiAds.  This yields an Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) of only $0.000325 per user. Even when you back in the money that sponsors will pay, I still only get an ARPU of $0.0028 per user. In comparison, a MMO like Puzzle Pirates makes about $0.21 per user that reaches the landing page (and $4.20 per user that registers)
What this tells me is that other business models involving selling games on the Internet are several orders of magnitude more effective at making money from an equivalent number of customers. When your means of making money is 1/100th as efficient as money making techniques used by other developers, maybe you’ve found one big reason why developers starve when they make Flash games.

His solution?

Ask for the money

When game developers ask for money, they are usually pleasantly surprised.  Their customers give them money; in some cases, substantial amounts. I witnessed this early in my career making shareware games at Epic in the 90s and I’m seeing the same basic principles are in play with high end Flash games. Fantastic Contraption, for example, pulled in low 6 figures after only a few months on the market. That’s about 100x better than a typical flash game and in-line with many shareware or downloadable titles.

I think his conclusion is right not just for Flash game developers, but for all sorts of game developers, including MMOGs, iPhone games etc. dan runs through some steps that game developers should take to maximize their chances of being able to make a living from designing games, specific ideas about what to charge for, and responses to common objections to getting users to pay. For new or aspiring game designers, it is  worth reading the whole thing.

New Media companies should emphasize “media” over “new” June 29, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in advertising, business models, media, startup, startups.
5 comments

AdAge has a good article today about how AOL has been attacking web publishing where it notes:

In the heady days of early 2000, the megamerger of AOL and Time Warner heralded the web-based future of publishing. It would create a digital platform for Time Inc., the biggest, most-prestigious magazine group in the world.

Needless to say, that didn’t pan out, and here’s where it gets ironic. Just as Time Warner is unwinding that mistake, AOL is figuring out the future of magazine publishing on the web. And it’s doing so without Time Warner’s content assets.

The model goes something like this: Find a vertical with an audience attractive to advertisers, brand it (Daily Finance, Asylum, Lemondrop, Politics Daily), hire five to seven people to run it and plug in AOL’s traffic fire hose. Repeat.

This reminded me a little bit of the continual tension in media companies caused by serving two  constituents  – readers and advertisers. AOL has clearly discovered one path to repeatable success, which is to start with the needs of advertisers. This is emphasizing the “media” part of new media.

The new media companies that are doing the best in this recession have taken a similar approach. Companies like CafeMom, Flixster (a Lightspeed portfolio company) and Glam have focused on creating highly valuable inventory for endemic advertisers, and on building excellence in sales execution.

In contrast, some other startups have focused on the “new” part of new media. They have often created incredible compelling experiences for users, and have generated impressive traffic. But their monetization ability has lagged; sometimes due to creating inventory that is hard to sell,  sometimes because the startu’ps culture is not inimical to ad sales.

Here in Silicon Value there can be a tendency to overemphasize product and technology and underemphasize ad sales.  Advertising revenue often scales with ad sales people. Yet I have seen some startups that have been disappointed with their revenue growth but have >10%  of their employees focused on revenue.

Like AOL, new media companies should remember that they are also media companies, and organize themselves appropriately. This can include doing things like:

– Building traffic with a consideration for your ability to package and sell it to advertisers

– Placing significant company and senior management attention on revenue. This can mean up to 30-50% of employees working on revenue generating activities

– Adding advertising sales expertise and contacts to the management team

– Being flexible about tradeoffs between advertiser needs and user needs

Many new media companies based outside of Silicon Valley (especially those in New York) grasp this innately.

_______________________________________________________________

For more in this vein read two prior posts;  on the preeminent importance for sales excellence in ad networks, and on the three ways to build an online media business to $50m in revenue.

Social gaming is a tactic not a category March 25, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in business models, games, games 2.0, gaming, social games, social gaming, viral, viral marketing, virtual goods.
10 comments

I’ve been blogging a lot about social games over the past couple of years and have been a big proponent of the space. However, over the last few months I’ve started to question whether social gaming is a separate category at all. I now believe that the true category is free to play gaming, and that social gaming is simply a tactic (albeit a very important and differentiating tactic) within this category. Although I’ve been saying this in private a fair bit recently, I brought it up at the VC panel at Gamesbeat yesterday and I hear that it caused a bit of a stir. Rather than being quoted out of context in 140 characters, I thought it would be helpful to explain how I came to this view.

At the most basic level, free to play games (with a digital goods or subscription upsell model) need to focus on only two metrics, Lifetime Player Value (LPV) and Player Acquisition Cost (PAC). If LPV > PAC then you’ve got a business. If not, you don’t. This applies to flash MMOs, virtual worlds, facebook games, asynchronous text based MMOs, client downloadable games, myspace games and a whole host of other games, with the key unifying element being the business model, and the importance of those two statistics, LPV and PAC.

The term “social gaming” has been used in two main, and related, ways. I think that both of these definitions are potentially limiting. The first has been to describe games that are played (and spread) on social networks. The second has been to describe games that spread virally, with a PAC of zero because current players invite new players with a K factor above 1.

Let’s start with games played on social networks. This is a terrific distribution tactic as open platforms and distribution are opposite sides of the same coin, and as I’ve said in the past, in the early stages of a new category distribution is the key driver of success. Free to play gaming is certainly in it’s early stages, with many games having to create demand versus simply fulfilling demand. But there is no reason why these games have to be limited to only social networks, and indeed companies like SGN and Zynga have already started to port their games to other platforms including the iPhone and the open web. Social networks offer an easy starting point for new free to play games because of the large concentration of potential players, but there is no reason for free to play games to stop at social networks.

Now lets address viral growth for games. Obviously, this is a wonderful characteristic. It is the cheapest possible channel for player acquisition as with a PAC of zero, you can make money at any level of LPV. However, once again, there is no reason to limit your player acquisition channels to viral growth. You should acquire new players through any channel where your PAC < LPV. For some game developers this is a religious issue; viral is best and nothing else is acceptable. I disagree with such a fundamentalist approach. If your LPV is high enough to allow you to buy users through advertising, distribution deals, search marketing or any other channel, then you should. Mark Pincus, the CEO of Zynga, has been preaching this approach since early 2008. Here is an excerpt from my blog post from the social games panel that I moderated at the Graphing Social Patterns conference in March 2008:

We next talked about how social games can grow. Viral growth has obviously been the key driver of growth up to this point for all the panelists. Shervin noted that they had seen a strong positive correlation between App Rating and rate of viral growth – high quality games spread faster. Mark talked about the importance of supporting a game with advertising, especially at launch.

One reason that Zynga is the largest social gaming company today is that they have been able to afford to promote their games on both Facebook and Myspace, and have done so aggressively.

Obviously, building social factors into games is increasingly important. Multiplayer is the “user generated content” of games, and social interaction is a key part of that. Furthermore, even if your K factor is less than one, it can be a very important force multiplier on your player acquisition. Buying one player if your K factor is 0.8 means that you will generate 5 new players, and this can dramatically average down your PAC, even if it doesn’t take it all the way down to zero.

In conclusion then, I find the term “social gaming” to be limiting. The best publishers and developers of free to play games will make frequent use of social gaming tactics, but they will not refuse to go beyond social networks and viral channels to grow to their full potential.

I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Consumer confidence is at an all time low – factor this into your 2009 planning. October 29, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in business models, Consumer internet, economics, start-up, startup, startups.
2 comments

The Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) measures how optimistic consumers are about the state of the economy. Specifically, it measures how consumers are feeling about:

1. Current business conditions.
2. Business conditions for the next six months.
3. Current employment conditions.
4. Employment conditions for the next six months.
5. Total family income for the next six months.

Notes Investopedia:

In the most simplistic terms, when [CCI] is trending up, consumers spend money, indicating a healthy economy. When confidence is trending down, consumers are saving more than they are spending, indicating the economy is in trouble. The idea is that the more confident people feel about the stability of their incomes, the more likely they are to make purchases.

The Conference Board, which measures the CCI, announced yesterday that:

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index™, which had improved moderately in September, fell to an all-time low in October. The Index now stands at 38.0 (1985=100), down from 61.4 in September…

Says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center: “The impact of the financial crisis over the last several weeks has clearly taken a toll on consumers’ confidence. The decline in the Index (-23.4 points) is the third largest in the history of the series, and the lowest reading on record. In assessing current conditions, consumers rated the labor market and business conditions much less favorably, suggesting that the fourth quarter is off to a weaker start than the third quarter. Looking ahead, consumers are extremely pessimistic, and a significantly larger proportion than last month foresees business and labor market conditions worsening. Their earnings outlook, as well as inflation outlook, is also more pessimistic, and this news does not bode well for retailers who are already bracing for what is shaping up to be a very challenging holiday season.”

As a point of comparison, the CCIs most recent peak was at 112 in July 2007. It is down by two thirds since then. The last CCI trough was at 61 in March of 2003, down from a peak of 144 in May 2000. This time around consumer are far more concerned than they were in even the depths of the last economic slowdown. Historical CCI stats are available here.

All consumer facing companies, whether ad based or commerce based, should bear these numbers in mind when planning for Q4 2008 and for 2009.

MMOG nuggets from Austin GDC September 18, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in business models, freemium, games, games 2.0, gaming, mmorpg, virtual goods, virtual worlds.
2 comments

Some interesting tidbits about both free to play and subscription MMOGs coming out of the talks at Austin GDC. Min Kim of Nexon says:

Not just a Korean thing:

“South Korea is still a big market for us,” Kim admits, “but the split is now 50/50 with overseas markets,” which includes the Asian and U.S. markets.

On growth in North America:

In 2005, Nexon America’s revenues were around $650,000. In 2006, when they added Paypal as a payment option, sales rose to $8.457 million, based on item sales. In 2007, once Nexon released its Nexon Cash cards to retail stores, revenue jumped to $29.334 million.

On localization of games:

While many of the free to play games currently come from Korea, Kim feels that the market will eventually be dominated by Western titles. “We’ve seen this happen in other places like China,” he posed. “The big games now are from Chinese developers. I think the same thing will happen in the West, with Western-developed titles.”

On how game design interacts with business model design:

Focus on fun, not just on what items you can sell. “Have an idea about what your business model is,” he advises, but don’t go overboard laying out your business plan completely from the beginning. “Don’t have all your items and categories pegged out. Make sure you have a fun game, first.” 9 times out of 10 the ideas you’ll have at the beginning will be wrong. The players will tell you what they want to buy.”

From a panel on evolving business models in MMOs, CCP’s (Eve Online) Petursson notes that subscription MMOs mostly reward time spent playing (which is consistent with the business model):

All subscription-based MMOs are merit economies – those with most time, win. But the only thing you can’t buy is social merit. To be a purely subscription-based game, you should aim for social merit as it’s the only merit economy defensible against outside influences.

On when Free to play works and when it does not (a function of demographics, geography/ cultural norms and genre):

* Robert: The demographics in LOTRO etc are a lot older: 20-35, male. F2P games tend to be younger, more females, casual, less hardcore. 30 year old males are not playing a lot of F2P and have no problem paying monthly subscription. Younger people and kids are playing lots of games and want F2P for that flexibility. However, F2P microtransaction games can pull in more ARPU than subscriptions.
* Helmar – In CHina, it is illegal to have an automatic debit for sub based game – user always has to choose. For game operator it’s important to realize that most biz models will be implemented by user… better to implement them yourself and tune appropriately.
* Min – also based on genre…not many ppl shell out $15/month to play FPS. There are some F2P FPSs now in Asia. Biz model based on genre as well.

Turbine’s Ferrari notes that F2P games need low barriers to play

What we’re seeing is a shift that a lot of the f2p games are so much lighter than traditional MMOs. Heavy MMOs are beautiful, but that puts a barrier to entry based on min spec – younger demographics don’t have these systems. Global expansion doesn’t support those specs either. Our games are above 5gb in size, whereas Maple Story is close to 1gb now.

Nexon’s Min Kim has a contrarian view:

In S Korea, people have no problem downloading big client products as the web is so fast. I often wonder if browser-based gaming is an interim step until web speeds creep up and people can return to client download.

And multiple comments on the importance of letting your customers pay you how they can and want to pay you (including prepaid cards at retail):

* Min: Offering payment methods relevant to your target demographic is important. Over 20 years old, credit cards are viable. In the teen demographic, prepaid cards are still the dominant form of payment. Maybe SMS payments will come, but it is all about accessibility and convenience. In demographics such as Club Penguin’s, credit cards are a big part of their payment methods as parents are paying.
* Nicolay: I think Habbo has 140 different payment methods. The ability to pay has to be the lowest barrier to entry, otherwise you aren’t getting any money.
* Robert: SMS charges surrender so much margin to carrier, but retail cards may be more expensive just to get into channel.
* Hilmar: It’s puzzling why carriers aren’t lowering their surcharges. People would switch to it immediately, resolving credit card issues.
* Min: There is no access for our consumers to use credit cards. In 2006, we did $8.5M in the US in virtual item sales – in 2007 we did $29.3M in virtual items. Virtually all of that growth came from enabling people to pay.
* Robert: Companies like Turbine are looking at the console to expand their playerbase. Potentially we can use an xbox payment system, so we don’t need to do it ourselves. It’s about expanding access for players.

Facebook selling digital gifts at a $35m run rate September 2, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in business models, digital goods, facebook, gifts, virtual goods.
121 comments

In January of this year, we estimated that Facebook was selling digital gifts worth $15m per year. We based this estimate on an analysis of the number of each gift available each week over a 7 week period.

Facebook creates a certain fixed number of each type of gift. When the number remaining for any particular gift drops below 100,000, Facebook displays the number left. (The most common size runs are 100,000 and 1,000,000 but they range as high as 10,000,000 and as low as 15,000.). For those items where less than 100,000 remain, we can track how many gifts had been sold in the preceding week by subtracting the number remaining from the number remaining the previous week.

We updated the analysis this month and found that Facebook has dramatically increased its sales rate of digital gifts. As before, we tracked the number of digital gifts available of each type (where data was available). We ordered the items by bestselling (as defined by Facebook) and, because data is sparse, we divided the list into groups of 20, took the average of each group of 20 items and applied that sales rate to all items in each group.

Once we excluded the free gifts, the averages looked like this:

By multiplying each average by 20 and adding the totals we came up with virtual gift sales of between 390,000 and 600,000 per week, with an average of around 470,000 across the three weeks.

The vast majority of facebook gifts are bought from the first screen of gifts in the directory – almost 80% of the total sales come from the group of the first 20 gifts. This points to the self reinforcing nature of popularity (the crowdiness of crowds rather than the wisdom of crowds) when popularity data is made public.

We need to take into account seasonality. In most retail environments, something like 40% of sales occur in the last 8 weeks of the year. Judging from the high number of holiday themed gifts over the holiday period last year, the same seems to be true of Facebook:

Holiday themed gifts (e.g. Santa hat, eggnog, Happy New Year!) dominated the list of top selling paid gifts, averaging 4,755 sales per week.

If we apply this assumption to our weekly average sales numbers, we multiply by 73.3 (instead of 52) to get to an estimate of annual sales. Using this estimate we get a range of between 28,500,000 and 43,500,000 in annual Facebook gift sales, with an average around 34,500,000.

Unfortunately however, as only one item in the first 20 had “number left” data available each week (Bear Hug), this also makes our estimate prone to significant error. Bear Hug was consistently around 6 or 7 among the most popular gifts, behind most of the birthday gifts, so hopefully it approximates the average popularity of the top 20. Applying 25% uncertainty to the average of the top 20 bestselling gifts creates a similar range of between 28,000,000 and 42,000,000.

In both cases, these estimates are double the number that we estimated at the beginning of the year which was around 15,000,000 digital gifts. That estimate was based on data drawn during the holidays and may have been high on a run rate basis.

Given that Zuckerberg has estimated that Facebook will do between $300-$350 million in revenue this year, digital goods constitutes a meaningful secondary revenue stream for the company.

Game developers on social networks can expect $1.20/mth/Daily Active User August 29, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in advertising, business models, games, games 2.0, gaming, social games, social gaming, virtual goods, virtual worlds.
3 comments

Inside Facebook has a terrific interview with $uperRewards, one of the two major CPA ad networks for social networks (and increasingly outside of social networks as well). [Offerpal is the other major CPA ad network for social networks]. In the interview the $uperRewards team give some great stats and advice for game designers:

On who to focus on when thinking about monetization:

You should support all kinds of players well, while remembering that your hardcore users will generate 90% of your revenue….

…Also, keep in mind at that a majority of the revenue generated per user is generated early in the lifetime of the users’ interaction with the games. People spend money developing their characters, climbing the leader board, and unlocking new elements of the game. Once their character is strong, they have many prizes, and have unlocked all the levels – naturally there is less desire to complete offers and pay. It is those top guys though that motivate the little guys to climb and thus spend.

On what monetization a game developer can expect:

The core metric we use is dollars per click. We hope our developers can get 25% of their daily active users through a Super Rewards page at some point. Of those, if the economy is balanced correctly, you should see a 40-50% click through rate, and ultimately a net 8-10% conversion rate. Developers get about $1.00-$1.50/conversion for US users, but less for international users. We’re lucky to get $0.06/conversion in China, but we have games operating in Europe and other parts of Asia at $0.25 and up.

So assuming all of a developer’s traffic is US traffic, the developer could see up to $83 per day per thousand DAUs. However, on an average basis across all geographies, we are about half that number. It goes without saying that there is a wide distribution around the average based on quality of app and balance of virtual currency economy.

$83/day x 1/2 x 30 days = ~$1200/mth per thousand DAUs, or $1.2/mth per DAU. That sounds like real opportunity. When Facebook rolls out an API for micropayments, this number will likely go up even further.

Promising numbers for game developers.

Read the whole interview.

Why sell branded virtual goods? Advertising or ecommerce revenue? August 20, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in advertising, business models, digital goods, games 2.0, mmorpg, virtual goods, virtual worlds.
5 comments

Yesterday’s WSJ noted that retailers and manufacturers were increasingly selling their branded virtual goods inside virtual worlds:

Retailer Kohl’s Corp. this month launched a new line of apparel, but the plaid skirts and printed T-shirts won’t be sold in its 957 stores. Instead, it’s selling them on Stardoll.com, a virtual community for teens and tweens where kids can fork over “Stardollars” — purchased online at a nominal sum — to buy apparel for their online characters…

This month, casual-wear maker K-Swiss Inc. and lingerie and swimwear designer Eberjey rolled out virtual clothes on There.com. And in late July, retail pioneer Sears Holdings Corp. opened its first online boutique featuring back-to-school apparel and dorm-room furniture on teen site Zwinky.com

Virtual Worlds News noted a few other brands also participating on There.com

… music merchandiser Bravado, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum are now peddling their virtual wares in There.com. Each will establish specialty shops to sell branded goods for There.com avatars. There.com has sold virtual goods as part of brand campaigns before, most recently for NaCo, but has also popular for large, branded environments, such as those for Scion, Coke, and CosmoGIRL!.

So far the brands seem to be getting good results; according to Virtual Worlds News:

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article on apparel marketing in virtual worlds reports that the Zwinky boutiques “logged 750,000 visitors and sold 850,000 virtual items during their first 16 days through mid-August.” Meez CEO Sean Ryan followed up on his personal blog that 700,000 Sears items have been adopted so far by his users. There’s likely some overlap in users, but that’s over 1.5 million branded items distributed in just two of the properties. The campaign will run through the end of the month

However, these retailers and manufacturers are not selling virtual good for the revenue. Rather they are doing it for the promotion and advertising. Says the WSJ:

“It’s really a way to get shoppers to test-drive your product,” said Carlos Mejia, chief financial officer of Eberjey, a maker of lingerie, swimwear and sleepwear. The brand, which largely sells to women ages 20 to 45, hopes to attract teenagers with its virtual line.

Penney decided this year to put back-to-school outfits on Yahoo after learning that, during a seven-week experiment last summer, 1.5 million avatars wore its clothing on Yahoo and 5 million Penney outfits were tried on. “It casts a very modern, current light on the brand with teens,” says Mike Boylson, Penney’s chief marketing officer. Before Penney’s presence on Yahoo, “perhaps J.C. Penney wasn’t on their radar before,” he says.

Sears is marketing its virtual boutiques on billboards in the virtual world, and is hosting daily fashion shows on the site promoting its products through the end of August.

Adds Richard Gerstein, the Sears CMO:

Teens and tweens are making more and more of the purchase decisions, or at least influencing that decision. Mom already knows that Sears provides trusted value and quality, but we need to prove to the teens and tweens that we have the apparel and styles to help them “arrive” at school this year with confidence…. And as we continue to expand our outreach to the tween demographic it is increasingly important to expand our marketing strategy to include the mediums where tweens are spending most of their time.

The focus on marketing can create a tension within virtual worlds about how to price these virtual goods. On the one hand, to drive revenue and create value in the brand, you want to price these items at a premium. On the other hand, to get the broadest possible reach and trial, you want these items to be at the free tier. Online trial will hopefully lead to more real world sales. Anecdotally at least, it seems to be working:

The online pitches are striking a chord with Jen Rediger’s daughters, 13-year-old Tyler and 9-year-old Kenzie. In the first week that the Kohl’s store opened on Stardoll, they spent about 70 Star Dollars, or $7, on virtual skirts and shoes. Ms. Rediger, 32, an interior designer who lives in Hoschton, Ga., says she doesn’t mind her daughters being exposed to such marketing because “it’s not worse than what they see on television.”

Tyler has already asked her mom to take her to Kohl’s to buy the real versions. “They look really cool on my doll,” she says. “It’s my style so I think I’ll wear it a lot.”

Facebook has already taken this approach with its branded gifts. I suspect that we’ll see the model move more firmly in the direction of advertising, with most branded virtual goods being made available for free.

BestBuy launching prepaid cards for online games August 20, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in business models, games, games 2.0, gaming, mmorpg, virtual goods, virtual worlds.
1 comment so far

Although some still doubt that free to pay games have a viable business model, this month’s launch of game cards at Bestbuy may change some minds. Reports Virtual Worlds News

Stardoll, Meez, AdventureQuest, and Gala-Net have all partnered with GMG Entertainment to launch individually branded prepaid cards at Best Buy. The Meez card will come with an exclusive virtual good, and Stardoll, which has previously worked with GMG Entertainment, is expanding its prepaid offerings to include a $15 card that will unlock various virtual goods.

I’ve noted in the past that prepaid cards at retail are an excellent way to monetize MMOG players. Earlier this year, Raph posted on the game card endcap at Target who have pioneered this category.

Sean Ryan
, MEEz’s CEO, notes:

So why should anyone care about old-line retail stores and physical goods when we’re all selling cutting edge virtual goods? Isn’t it all going to be virtual? The reason is that retail still matters a great deal, especially when addressing a somewhat unbanked audience like teenagers. We all know teens acquire an estimated $60B each year, whether it’s from allowances or part-time jobs – however, they don’t have an easy way to send it to their favorite virtual world or Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game company since they don’t have credit cards, are not happy borrowing them from parents, and aren’t as comfortable with PayPal, even though it can be linked to a checking account. Plus, teenagers still go shopping a lot, and that retail foot traffic is incredibly important since it provides another way to reach that audience when they’re not online. Finally, parents or friends are more comfortable giving gift cards these days so it’s easier for a teenager to ask grandpa for a $10 Meez card for graduation vs asking for cash – it’s a big Win/Win for the category.

Retailers are notoriously data driven when it comes to what they will give floorspace. Music is already getting cutting back according to Silicon Alley Insider:

… the three big retailers who comprise most of the industry’s sales — Best Buy (BBY), Wal-Mart (WMT) and Target (TGT) — will likely make significant cuts in the amount of floorspace they devote to CDs. We are hearing predictions of cuts that range from 20% to 40%, with Wal-Mart making the most aggressive pullbacks.

If retailers are giving shelf space to free to play games, that is a big vote of confidence in their future.

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