Halting payments via phone cards: an unequal game?

21:46 | 14/05/2018
Three giant mobile operators (Viettel, MobiFone, and Vinaphone) halted payments via phone cards for domestic digital content and online games, creating inequality as foreign application stores, specifically Google Play Store, still allow people to use phone cards for in-game payments.
halting payments via phone cards an unequal game
Mobile operators have halted payments via phone cards in late April. Photo: baomoi.com

Payment via message

Many popular game cards, including Garena owned by Garena Company, whose parent company is Singapore-based SEA Group, and Gate owned by MeCorp JSC, allow people to make in-game purchases via sending a text message to the call centres.

With this payment option, gamers use phone cards to put money into their mobile accounts by exchanging them to game cards via text messages. However, gamers have to pay an extra 15 per cent of the phone card value.

According to experts, this is a pretty clever trick. At first glance, this is just a normal way to put money into mobile accounts. However, essentially, this is in fact a way of using phone cards to purchase other game cards.

Under the current regulations, phone cards are only permitted to be used for mobile telecommunications service payments, and nothing else. Thus, if payments via phone cards for digital content and online games is restricted, payments through text messages indirectly utilising phone cards should also be restricted.

Inequality between domestic and foreign operators

After nearly one month since mobile network operators’ decision, domestic game publishers are in distress as they have been cut off from their main payment channel. According to infogame.vn, digital content and online game enterprises said that their revenue dropped by 50-60 per cent, even 90 per cent for some. Meanwhile, halting payments via phone cards does not affect foreign application stores.

For instance, Google Play Store currently allows people to use phone cards for in-game payments (for prepaid subscribers).

Furthermore, the mobile networks’ decision may also lead to difficulties in managing payments via foreign intermediaries. Once money starts flowing into foreign enterprises, there will be difficulties in managing payments and a rising risk of tax evasion.

In Google Play Store, many domestic and foreign games allow payments via phone cards, such as Onmyoji (Garena), Phong Than (VTC), Anh Hung Xa Dieu (Gamota), Crossfire Legends (VNG), and others.

This clearly creates a disadvantage for domestic game publishers. In addition, many small-scale game companies’ business may be hugely affected if they cannot put their games into foreign application stores.

“Google and Facebook can use servers in Vietnam free of charge, and have not stopped payments via phone cards. Meanwhile, domestic businesses have to pay various kinds of fees and now their main payment channel has been blocked. It all stems from mobile operators’ dominant position in the digital content industry because they hold phone cards, which have been the main payment method for many years. Is the game rigged in favour of foreign network giants?” lamented a representative of a domestic digital content enterprise.

By Huu Tuan

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