Game Devices Are Potential Payment Vehicles, Too

playstationWith the Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox, you need to pay to play. So why are these devices not taken seriously in the payments world?

Mobile payments seem to have stalled — just witness the cardcentric future envisioned by presenters at Goldman Sachs & Co.’s financial technology conference this fall. So where to look for the next payments innovation? It’s already here, and it’s taking place in the gaming systems sitting in many of our living rooms.

Apple has yet to launch a payments platform for general use, but that hasn’t stopped speculation that it will. It makes sense that Apple will link up a payment mechanism to its virtual wallet-like Passbook to enable the iPhone as a payment vehicle. ITunes has a whopping 575 million cards on file, and cards on file is the name of the game. Square is trying to beef up its roster of cards with Square Cash, a free P2P service, in order to compete with PayPal (137 million cards on file.)

ITunes made paying for media simple. With the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S, it’s even simpler (even though reports have it that the sensor doesn’t perform well). It’s also easy to pay one’s phone bill to a wireless carrier on a smartphone — easy, almost invisible payments are getting to be the norm.

The devices that link up to our TV sets for the playing of games and increasingly, viewing of content, have also worked to make payments simpler. The Sony PlayStation Network, which allows for the downloading of games and enabling multiplayer gaming,  had approximately 90 million users in late 2012. While many users are younger, these players are often empowered by parents to spend money and so there is spending power to be leveraged.

Microsoft XboxLive has about 48 million users and is in the same situation, as is the Nintendo Wii. By the end of last September, 100 million units were sold globally.

Another intriguing possible player is Netflix, with over 40 million customers globally, as well as the ever-expanding population of “smart TVs” that leverage digital connectivity.

All of these players are in a position to help make payments easier for their customers, either by bringing products into the gaming network’s environment or helping facilitate payments outside it. And they’ve got a lot of young players. What do young people care about more, their PlayStation or the bank on the corner? Where will they be spending their money?

The world of gaming is at the leading edge of payments in terms of currency supported — virtual currencies, such as bitcoins, as well as currencies created by game networks themselves, such as Linden Dollars and QQ in China — and in making payments easy and invisible (probably too easy and invisible for some parents’ liking.) It’s clearly a space worth playing close attention as mobile payments on the smartphone seem to have hit a wall of customer apathy.

Game on.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism, which makes him quite old. He can be reached at

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