7-Eleven Retails Virtual Item Debit Cards

maple-story.jpgUnless you’re under 13 or living in Asia, Nexon is one of those companies you’ve probably never heard of until now — but then, you probably didn’t know anything about Pokemon, either, until seemingly every kid in America became obsessed with it. But you may hear of Nexon again soon, for the company has started selling virtual game cards at convenience store giant 7-Eleven, among others.

To give you a sense of how important this move could be, consider this: South Korea-based Nexon is the company behind kid-centric online worlds Maple Story, a side-scrolling MMO that claims 50 million registered users worldwide (3 million in North America); the U.S. version of Audition Online, an online dance rhythm game that reportedly has 50 million registered users in China alone; and Kart Rider, a racing MMO said to have 15 million registered users in Korea alone. The game cards being sold in 7-Eleven and elsewhere can be used to buy virtual items for all of those games.

The cards were first made available at 7-Eleven outlets in Hawaii, which is often the place where Asian pop-cult crazes first leapfrog their way into the mainland U.S. And if they do as well as I suspect they will, the cards will also establish the viability of a revenue model for MMOs that’s still relatively under-utilized in the West: debit cards for virtual worlds.

Now in the retail supply chain, these cards could become a compelling alternative to monthly subscriptions, online credit-card purchase agreements, and a host of other hurdles that make it difficult for MMOs to make money. Of course, that largely depends on Nexon succeeding with this play. So if you start spotting kids with the company’s cards in their clutches, take that as a good sign of where the industry is heading.

Image credit: Maplestory.Nexon.Net