Zynga teams with American Express to launch pre-paid credit card with in-game rewards

Zynga and American Express today announced the launch of Zynga Serve Rewards, a new digital spending platform that provides users with rewards in Zynga games starting with FarmVille.

Zynga Serve Rewards is tied to American Express’s Serve digital wallet. FarmVille players will be prompted to apply for the rewards program when they choose to play a “Serve Money Tree. Users who successfully apply for Zynga Serve Rewards will receive a prepaid card in the mail, to which they can add money via their bank account, credit card, debit card or cash (provided they use a GreenDot MoneyPak). Once the cards are used for purchases, players start receiving FarmCash and virtual goods. Spending on this card, either online or offline, will cause the Serve Money Tree within the game to come to life, change colors and become populated with wildlife. Zynga’s Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer Jeff Karp tells us the developer may eventually decide to include real-world rewards like discounts and physical items.

The rewards program is rather limited right now. At the time of launch, only the first five purchases of $25 or more made with this card will earn FarmCash rewards. Karp says all purchases will eventually qualify for in-game incentives and can be tracked through an in-game dashboard accessed via the Serve Money Tree. Karp also tells us Zynga Serve Rewards will come to CastleVille and CityVille in the coming months, but he can’t say when.

Prepaid credit cards are often known to carry several unexpected hidden fees, especially when the card is associated with major brands, for example Capcom, TuboTax and The Kardashians. When asked about hidden fees associated with the Zynga Serve Rewards card, Karp states the Zynga Serve Rewards card will be competitive with other prepaid cards on the market.

“At the end of the day, this is all about our players,” he says. “There are no hidden fees. There are no challenges [like hidden fees] that people would be facing.”

Zynga’s stock took a beating on Friday when Facebook’s IPO didn’t take off like many expected, showing how many people still believe the Zynga’s fate is tied to the social network. This new deal with American Express provides Zynga with a stream of revenue that isn’t tied to Facebook Credits, something that may help convince investors that it can support itself through other means.

This is the third major partnership for Zynga since the start of 2012. The company partnered with Frito-Lay in March to provide in-game rewards to Walmart shoppers. In February, Zynga announced a merchandising deal with Hasbro to create games and toys based on the developer’s various IPs.