The Gift of Game

7-Eleven sees growth in prepaid gaming cards

DALLAS -- In a holiday shopping season some experts forecast to be cloudy, 7-Eleven Inc. may have found a silver lininggift cards. Not just any gift cards; the got-to-have gift card option this year is the prepaid gaming card, according to the company.

These are used to enhance players' experience in Massively Multi-player Online Games, or MMOGs, a popular activity with hundreds of millions around the world. And 7-Eleven stores have expanded their selection, the company said.

If this year is any indication, prepaid gaming cards could be the sleeper gift of the season. [image-nocss] Cards doubled in sales over the past year, so much so that the number of titles available in 7-Eleven stores also doubled to respond to the surge of MMOG players.

With more than 30 titles, 7-Eleven stores carry one of the largest selections of prepaid gaming cards among U.S. retailers, the company said.

Social gaming has exploded in the virtual world with millions of online players challenging themselves and each other in games like World of WarCraft, MapleStory and Runescape. Some experts estimate more than 250 million people worldwide are active social gamers.

These online games have gotten a boost from the growing use of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Many of the new social games are situational rather than "shooter" varieties and cast a wider net for players, drawing in more casual gamers of all ages and backgrounds.

The two-year economic slowdown has hit the usually bullet-proof gaming industry hard as people have finally limited their discretionary spending on consoles and videogames. However, prepaid game cards have proved to be a bright spot. Because new titles are being added daily, game-card purchasers can check publishers' websites to see games where they can apply their prepaid funds.

"Electronics and videogames are still the No. 1 request on teens' holiday wish-lists," said Brian Haynes, 7-Eleven category manager for prepaid cards. "With tighter budgets, many are choosing more affordable online games. Virtual currency or points can go a long way to enhance these online games without much cost."

Prepaid gaming cards allow kids and teens to purchase virtual currency or points without having to ask for mom or dad's credit or debit card. The virtual currency can be used to buy everything from a pair of sunglasses for their avatar (a graphical image that represents a person) or a magic sword in a fantasy game.

But it's not just kids who are playing the games.

"You might be surprised at how many adults are playing social or casual games," Haynes said. "They're not just for kids anymore. You may be getting beat by someone's grandma from across the country. Many of the games truly have universal appeal."

The newest additions to the 7-Eleven assortment are a prepaid card from Zynga Game Network, creator of the social games YoVille, FarmVille, FishVille and Mafia Wars, and ZeevEx, which developed a universal virtual currency to purchase virtual goods in multiple games. Game card prices at 7-Eleven stores range from $5 to $50.

Not to be outdone, major game-system manufacturers, such as Nintendo, Microsoft Xbox Live Marketplace and Sony PlayStation, have entered the arena with their own prepaid cards. The cards can be used to acquire points, which can be redeemed online to purchase content like games, videos and accessories for avatars, the graphic identities chosen by game-players.

Two types of Microsoft Xbox Live cards are available at participating stores, an Xbox Live Marketplace points card and a subscription card for access to online features. 7-Eleven carries one-month ($7.99), three-month ($19.99) and 12-month ($49.99) Xbox Live subscription cards.

Besides playing online, game players can also download games for console and handheld players. And with the growth of iPhones, touch-screen devices and other smart phones, players are no longer tethered to their TV or computer screens.

"Families are looking at ways to stretch their entertainment and holiday gift budgets," Haynes said. "Prepaid game cards offer a very affordable option, and they're fun for the whole family."

7 Eleven Inc., Dallas, operates, franchises or licenses about 8,000 7-Eleven stores in North America.