The number of times that Microsoft and Nintendo have lost out on “impulse buys” from me on their respective game stores due to the fact that they use virtual currency is mind-boggling. I’ve probably spent several hundred dollars on the iTunes App Store simply by virtue of being able to hit a button marked “Buy” and having my card get charged. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to premeditate. I simply push “Buy”, enter my password, and press Return. There are a number of times that I’ve been interested in picking something up on Xbox Live Arcade and decided against it because I would’ve had to put points into my account first. The act of pulling my card out of my wallet, typing it into the computer, waiting for the points to be added you my account, and then going back to purchase the game acts as an actual barrier to purchase in many situations. Plus, then there are points just wasted and sitting there when I can’t use them all. I’m sure that Microsoft and Nintendo love holding on to my “money” for me, but I would have easily given over much more money if I didn’t have to think about it so much.
I probably spent around $250 on Wii virtual console and WiiWare games during the first year–maybe year and a half–that I had the system, but that was mostly due to the number of free points cards I received as gifts. I currently have around 1800 apps for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on my computer. Most of them were free when I got them, but I’m sure a couple hundred cost $1, and more than 20 or 30 cost several dollars. Now, of course, Microsoft and Nintendo are terrified to “undervalue” games at $1 (and I understand that), which is one of the reasons I’ve spent as much money on the App Store as I have, but even at $1, pulling my wallet out to add “points” to an imaginary online wallet would still prohibit me from spending as much money on the App Store as I have.