Worldpay Looks to Bring Real Payments to Virtual Worlds

  • London payments firm will bring VR payments to games companies
  • Firm finds real world geography matters for VR acceptance

Using the Vive virtual reality headset, manufactured by HTC.

Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg

Worldpay Group Plc, the London-based payments processor, has created a way to handle debit and credit card transactions in virtual reality.

After building the solution over the past 18 months, Worldpay will target companies that produce virtual reality games and possibly others, such as fashion retailer Asos Plc and furniture seller Ikea, that have begun experimenting with VR as a sales tool, Nick Telford-Reed, the payment firm’s director of technology innovation, said in an interview.

The firm, which processed more than 450 billion pounds ($582 billion) worth of transactions last year across online, mobile and payment terminals, is one of the world’s leading payment providers and is among the U.K.’s 100 largest companies.

Worldpay built its prototype for HTC Corp.’s Vive VR headset. To make a purchase, a user picks up a virtual item -- for instance, a set of keys used to unlock a door in a virtual game -- using the Vive’s handheld controllers. This reveals a bubble with the item’s price. To make the purchase, the user must stare at this virtual price tag for several seconds, using the Vive’s eye-tracking feature to tell exactly where the user is looking.

The user pays with a virtual representation of a real credit card stored in a digital wallet stored either on the Vive system or potentially with Worldpay, and holds it over a VR rendering of a payment terminal. A small vibration through the controller tells the user they’ve positioned the card correctly.

If a PIN code is required, a pattern of bubbles appears before the user, each containing a number between zero and 9 in a random array. The user then “taps” in the correct PIN with the controller. Worldpay says it’s impossible for someone watching the user in the real world to guess the PIN based on their movement.

Having completed the purchase, the virtual item is then available for the person to use in the game. Or, if it were a shopping experience, a real version of the item might be shipped to the user’s address.

Telford-Reed said Worldpay believed this solution was more secure and better suited to virtual reality than using a credit card routinely stored on file by companies for making in-game purchases because there was less risk of hacking and also a lower threat of accidental or unauthorized purchases.

Worldpay said that it expects adoption of virtual reality payments to vary greatly by geography. In market research it conducted, 93 percent of Chinese citizens surveyed said they could envision making VR payments, while only 35 percent of U.K. residents said they could.

Concerns about the security of VR payments remain an issue that could impede adoption though, Telford-Reed said. In Worldpay’s survey, 42 percent of people globally said they were worried about the security of payment details in VR.

Worldpay will begin trying to market the solution to customers soon, said Telford-Reed.

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