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‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ and the limits of today’s game economies

Kaiser Hwang
Contributor

Kaiser Hwang is a longtime member of the games community and a vice president at Forte, an organization building an open economic platform for games.

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is a bonafide wonder. The game has been setting new records for Nintendo, is adored by players and critics alike and provides millions of players a peaceful escape during these unprecedented times.

But there’s been something even more extraordinary happening on the fringe: Players are finding ways to augment the game experience through community-organized activities and tools. These include free weed-pulling services (tips welcome!) from virtual Samaritans, and custom-designed items for sale — for real-world money, via WeChat Pay and AliPay.

Well-known personalities and companies are also contributing, with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” scribe Gary Whitta hosting an A-list celebrity talk show using the game, and luxury fashion brand Marc Jacobs providing some of its popular clothing designs to players. 100 Thieves, the white-hot esports and apparel company, even created and gave away digital versions of its entire collection of impossible-to-find clothes.

This community-based phenomenon gives us a pithy glimpse into not only where games are inevitably going, but what their true potential is as a form of creative, technical and economic expression. It also exemplifies what we at Forte call “community economics,” a system that lies at the heart of our aim in bringing new creative and economic opportunities to billions of people around the world.

What is community economics?

Formally, community economics is the synthesis of economic activity that takes place inside, and emerges outside, virtual game worlds. It is rooted in a cooperative economic relationship between all participants in a game’s network, and characterized by an economic pluralism that is unified by open technology owned by no single party. And notably, it results in increased autonomy for players, better business models for game creators, and new economic and creative opportunities for both.

The fundamental shift that underlies community economics is the evolution of games from centralized entertainment experiences to open economic platforms. We believe this is where things are heading.

Jack Ma’s fintech giant tops 1.3 billion users globally

The speculation that Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Group will go public has been swirling around for years. New details came to light recently. Reuters reported last week that the fintech giant could float as soon as this year in an initial public offering that values it at $200 billion. As a private firm, details of the payments and financial services firm remain sparse, but a new filing by Alibaba, which holds a 33% stake in Ant, provides a rare glimpse into its performance.

Alipay, the brand of Ant’s consumer finance app, claims to earmark 1.3 billion annual active users as of March. The majority of its users came from China, while the rest were brought by its nine e-wallet partners in India, Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

In recent years Ant has been striving to scale back its reliance on in-house financial products in response to Beijing’s tightening grip on China’s fledgling fintech industry. Tencent, Alibaba’s nemesis, is considered a lot more reserved in the financial space but its WeChat Pay app has been slowly eating away at Alipay’s share of the payments market.

In a symbolic move in May, the Alibaba affiliate changed its name from Ant Financial to Ant Group. Even prior to that, Ant had been actively publicizing itself as a “technology” company that offers payments gateways and sells digital infrastructure to banks, insurance groups, and other traditional financial institutions — rather than being a direct competitor to them. On the Alipay app, users can browse and access a raft of third-party financial services including wealth management, microloans, and insurance.

As of March, Ant’s wealth management unit facilitated 4 trillion yuan ($570 billion) of assets under management for its partners offering money market funds, fixed income products, and equity investment services. During the same period, total insurance premiums facilitated by Ant more than doubled from the year before.

In June, Ant’s new boss Hu Xiaoming set the goal for the firm to generate 80% of total revenues from technology service fees, up from about 50% in 2019. He anticipated the monetary contribution of Ant’s own proprietary financial services to shrink as a result.

Ant grew out of Alipay, the payments service launched by Alibaba as an escrow service to ensure trust between e-commerce buyers and sellers. In 2011, Alibaba spun off Ant, allegedly to comply with local regulations governing third-party payments services. Ant has since taken on several rounds of equity financing. Today, Alibaba founder Jack Ma still controls a majority of Ant’s voting interests.

Talk to the hand? Amazon reportedly wants you to pay with it.

Talk to the hand? Amazon reportedly wants you to pay with it.

Apple and Google make it easy to leave your wallet be when it’s time to pay at the register, but now there are murmurs about factoring out your smartphone as well.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon shops and other merchants could offer a hand-based payment system. Your credit card or account info would be linked to your palms, so when checking out you’d just put out your hand. Scan it and you’re set.

The terminals could be used at any store, not just Amazon-owned ones. Early talks with financial institutions suggest the powers-that-be are mulling connecting customer payment info to the hand-readers. Read more…

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Amazon’s Prime Rewards Visa cardholders now get 5% back at Whole Foods if they pay for Prime

 Amazon has already rolled out price cuts for Whole Foods shoppers as a result of its acquisition of the grocery chain. It has also rolled up its Treasure Truck deals service to Whole Foods locations, and began delivering Whole Foods groceries through Prime. Now, it’s offering Prime members 5 percent back at Whole Foods when they shop using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa card, too. The… Read More

Grab, the Uber rival in Southeast Asia, is now officially also a digital payments company

 Grab is best known for rivaling Uber in Southeast Asia, but today the company took a major step into becoming a fintech player, too.
That’s because the ride-sharing firm, which recently raised $2 billion from SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, rolled out support for its GrabPay service among third-party merchants for the first time today.
Grab is present in seven markets across… Read More

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Alibaba’s Ant Financial may have won the bidding war for MoneyGram after upping its offer to $1.2B

 Ant Financial, the Alibaba affiliate company focused on financial services, appears to have finally won its battle with Euronet to acquire MoneyGram, the U.S.-based cross-border payments service, after it increased its bid to $1.2 billion. Read More

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You will soon be able to pay for Netflix using Paytm

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Netflix is about to make it much more convenient for Indians to pay for its monthly subscription. 

The on-demand video streaming service will soon integrate the Paytm mobile wallet service as a payment method, according to two sources familiar with the matter. 

Right now, the company only supports credit cards for payments, the penetration of which remains very low in India. This has been among one of the chief factors in limiting the company’s reach in the country.

The California-based company recently met with several Indian wallet companies who presented their offerings and it has finalised its talks with Paytm, said one source, who requested anonymity.  Read more…

More about Payments, Wallet, India, Paytm, and Netflix

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Walmart’s app will now let Pharmacy and Money Services customers skip the line

walmart-pay-2 Walmart is today rolling out an updated app that will allow those visiting the store’s Pharmacy or Money Services desk to skip having to wait in line, the company says. After entering their personal information in the app, customers can order prescription refills or fill out other necessary paperwork from their phone. When they arrive at the store, they will then get in a… Read More

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Verifone, FIS and Modo are creating a new way for consumers to pay with loyalty points

modo Verifone, FIS and digital payments startup Modo announced a new system that will enable customers to pay for any merchandise they want using only accrued credit/debit loyalty points. The novel part of this system is that consumers can purchase anything they want…not just select merchandise available at e-commerce portals or specific to single brands. Merchants with Verifone credit… Read More

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