ncsoft-timecardWhat used to come exclusively on paper can now be ordered digitally, so you get it faster and cheaper. That’s one of the boons of e-books and on-line newspapers, but it also applies to other forms of digital content—such as one I had not quite expected, the digital on-line game time card.

A superhero massively-multiplayer online game that I used to put a lot of time into, City of Heroes (which I previously mentioned here and here), recently announced it will soon be going “freemium”—allowing gamers to play for free, much like other MMOs I mentioned in my earlier looks at this business model. This announcement, plus a recent update and the fact that I had a 30-day time card, lured me back into the game over the weekend, even though I honestly don’t have the extra time for it between my day job and blogging here.

As I was trying to find ways to justify spending the money to support my play habit, I searched for inexpensive City of Heroes pre-paid time cards, and found one retailer selling 2-month cards on-line for $22.99—a $7 saving over their $29.99 retail value. The codes are delivered by e-mail, which means you can have applied one and be playing within the hour. It’s apparently not some fly-by-night, either—seven reviewers on Google have given it an average of 5 out of 5 stars, so it seems to have done well by some people.

This form of on-line card sale is an excellent idea, from the point of view of the supplier and the environment as well as the gamer. It has to cost a fair amount to make and store and ship those little plastic squares that you just throw away after one use. And, like e-books, there is no reason why you should need the physical medium: the only thing you’re using is what’s printed on it. It seems that in this case the savings are being passed on to the consumer—the $22.99 is the low-end price, but there are a number of other e-tailers selling cards at between that and the $29.99 list.

Of course, gamers can already subscribe to City of Heroes (and the other NCSoft games that can accept the card code) online, and skip the disposable plastic card that way. But that requires a credit card, whereas the game time card can be bought via PayPal, and to get a comparable savings you would have to purchase a whole year in a chunk (and you’d still be paying $1 more per month that way).


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