December 30, 2008

A case for a universal gift card system in SL

My friend Alicia Chenaux brought up the idea of an atomic-world giftcard system for Second Life:
"You're at the store, you pick up a card because you have a little extra cash since you decided NOT to buy the double fudge brownies, and then whenever you need some $L in here, you punch in the code and there you go. Or your friends/family can buy you a card for holidays or special occasions[...]"
This is similar to two ideas I had in the past:
  1. One of the large web portals like XstreetSL or OnRez should issue giftcards that can be used on their web backends or - in case of OnRez - their in-world vendors. Once purchased, the card could be used for any purchase with any of the listed items - the merchants would get L$ put into their accounts after the purchase.

  2. Content creators should join forces and create a giftcard system that would work across shops/brands. An extension to Escort DeFarge's TMC storecard system comes to mind. Basically this would mean I could take a storecard from Insolence and use it at Truth. Of course the financial transactions behind the scenes would require quite some thought.
I gave out a few of giftcards for Christmas, and even though I got positive feedback I always was in doubt if the card for a specific store was the right one for the recipient (for example if a single woman would really enjoy an Insolence storecard with noone to show her lingerie off to).

A universal gift card system, or at least one supported by major content creators, would be a significant enhancement. Of course there are issues to consider:
  • Acceptance
    There needs to be a critical mass of shops to accept the system. In case of XstreetSL or OnRez, the individual merchants would not need to do anything while at the same time providing a really large base. In case of a content-creator developed system it would not be good if only 2 shops accept it. Again an extension to TMC would be my preference.

  • Security
    The questions is not IF, but WHEN there will be attempts to hack such a system. So there need to be tight security mechanisms, but not as tight as make the system unusable. For a web-based system, entering a simple code seems most appealing, but might be subject to brute force attacks. An in-world system might be less in danger.

  • Trust
    Gift certificates I saw (and used) so far ranged from 200 L$ to 2000 L$. Newcomers trying to establish a giftcard system might hit reluctance based on trust, especially for higher values. Again, established players will have an advantage here.
I see large potential in a system like this, and the first to come out with one will have a large advantage on the market. I look forward to it.
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