Visa plays with virtual goods

Contact: Jarrett Streebin

This week marked another major entrance into the virtual goods market with Visa snapping up PlaySpan for $190m in cash. The deal comes a half-year after Google struck the first significant transaction in the market, paying a reported $55m for Jambool. With the market for social games and virtual goods amounting to real money, it’s likely that these giants won’t be the last buyers here.

We predicted these sorts of deals in our recent virtual goods Sector IQ. In fact, we named PlaySpan as one of the startups likely to get taken off the market. However, we matched it up with eBay’s PayPal. Our reasoning: PlaySpan would have provided an avenue to improved developer relations for PayPal, where it has struggled, as well as massively boosted its market share. Instead, credit card behemoth Visa took out the Santa Clara, California-based startup and it’s likely that PayPal will suffer as a result, particularly in its all-important relations with developers.

Consumers are becoming more and more comfortable not only buying virtual goods, but also buying real goods in games. This should continue to fuel the amazing growth in this emerging market. Both PlaySpan and Jambool are particularly well-positioned to capture this business because the back-end technology and security required for purchasing goods – even if they are make-believe goods – is incredibly complex. Most developers prefer to leave that to outside providers like Jambool and PlaySpan, just like online retailers left the transaction part of their business to PayPal for years. Given that Google and Visa have bought into this market in the past few months, it’s clear that virtual goods are here to stay.