Reap What You Sow: FarmVille Gets a Rewards Debit Card

FarmVille players can rack up virtual cash for their farms by making purchases in the real world.

Farmville by Zynga
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Spend money in the real world in order to earn it in a virtual one.

That's the idea American Express is pinning to its latest rewards card, which allows FarmVille users to rack up virtual cash for their make-believe communities by making purchases on their American Express card in the real world, according to the Los Angeles Times.

It's like earning free airline miles or hotel rewards with a credit card, but earning play money to use in FarmVille instead.

Players can start signing up for the card beginning Tuesday, but there's a catch likely to please users of the hit social media game: Applying for the card starts within FarmVille itself.

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Those interested first have to visit a "Serve farm"—the card is part of American Express' prepaid Serve platform—within the game and plant a "Serve Money Tree" on their farms. After that, the process becomes a little more customary as users register for the card.

While American Express has plans to expand the card's reward opportunities in the future, for now card holders can earn up to 360 Farm Cash credits, which begin to accrue when they sign up, activate the card, add money to the account, make five purchases of more than $25, and when they harvest the Serve Money Tree.

American Express hopes its partnership with FarmVille-maker Zynga will help the company target a wider demographic, according to All Things D. Farmville is one of Zynga's older games, but still one of its most popular, boasting more than 4.5 million unique users a day.

"It opens up tremendous opportunities to address segments of the market that we weren't able to address with traditional credit or charge products, including the youth or under-served markets," Dan Schulman, American Express' president of enterprise growth, told All Things D.

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While the FarmVille credit card is Zynga's first foray into game-themed reward programs, it's not likely to be the last. The online gaming company has plans to roll out the concept to other games in the future.

"What's appealing to these brands is our 292 million monthly uniques, which is providing them with the reach of TV with the effectiveness of online and gaming," Jeff Karp, Zynga's chief marketing officer, told All Things D.

Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at mhandley@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter.