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What is Mana?

What is Mana?

Written by Eric Hauter on 11/1/2022 for
More On: Mana Interactive

If you travel in the same online circles as I do, you may have seen articles about or advertisements for a new product named "Mana". I’ve been seeing stuff about Mana (or Mana Interactive, as the company is officially known) on various websites for four or five months now, but a lot of the messaging around the product wasn’t cutting through my defenses. My eyes glaze over when I hear the terms “gaming” and “financial” in the same sentence, as my mind immediately screams out “NFTs! Metaverse nonsense! Run away!”.

But as these ads kept coming up, my curiosity took hold. I kept seeing comments on videos about Mana that said things like "Can I get this on Xbox?" and in general, there has been a lot of confusion about the product. I decided to take a hit for the team and look into Mana Interactive, if only so we – the video game community - could all get some clarity on what the heck this company is all about.

I know, I know, it’s a little weird for Gaming Nexus to be writing about a financial organization. We cover games and gaming tech, so why would we be interested in writing about some debit card company? The answer is simple – pure, unadulterated curiosity, along with a healthy interest in earning free stuff.

What the heck is Mana?

So, what the heck is Mana? Mana Interactive is a financial services company that provides pre-paid checking/debit card accounts to users, gamifying consumer spending on standard gaming expenses (stuff that pretty much all of us spend money on) to allow users to earn rewards. This service is laser focused on gamers; non-gamers could of course open a Mana account, but I don’t know why they hell they would.

Everything about Mana is built around gamers building up reward points – the titular “Mana”, and then spending those points in the Mana Interactive app on stuff like game codes and gift cards. Bottom line – Mana is a points program, similar to credit cards that allow you to build points towards free flights or Disneyland vacations. Only in this case, instead of a stay at a hotel or meal discounts, you spend your points on a Steam code for Elden Ring or a gift card to Best Buy.

As Mana is a debit card and not a credit card, you don’t need to pass a credit check to open an account. There are two levels of Mana accounts – the standard membership, which is totally free, and the “Pro” membership, which costs $119.95 a year. Both of these accounts allow users to earn Mana points, the primary difference is that the Pro account accumulates points a lot faster and it comes with some extra goodies.

Setting up your account

Regardless of the plan you choose, this is a debit card; you do need to dump money into your Mana Interactive account to get started, which in my case meant linking my existing checking account to Mana via the (very nicely designed) Mana mobile app. I don’t mind telling you that this process set off some blaring alarm bells in my brain, and my phone kept freaking out and putting up warnings like “Don’t do it! They are going to steal your money! Close this app!”. However, I forged ahead and linked my account, and nothing bad happened.

This is probably the biggest hurdle that Mana Interactive must overcome for gamers to adopt the service. I knew for a fact from a great deal of research that Mana was legit, and I still had trouble deciding to enter my bank account information into the app to link it up. Even internally here at Gaming Nexus, when I informed a co-worker that I was writing this article, their response was "Wait. It's not a scam?". Overcoming gamers' inherent distrust of systems like this in a gaming culture that is simply drowning in scams is going to be quite a mountain to climb. Gamers have been badly burnt, time and again, and we naturally find it very difficult to trust new ventures.

It might help potential customers to understand that there is some real backing behind Mana Interactive. Mana Interactive seems to primarily supply the app, the Mana points system, and the rewards program. The actual banking is handled by MVB Bank, which is a member of the FDIC. What this boils down to is that Mana Interactive (and the money you deposit into your Mana account) is federally insured. Just something to keep in mind if you, like me, balk at just handing over your financial information to a new, unproven company. There’s actually a legit established company behind the scenes handling your money.

You can do all of this in VR, apparently. I did not try this.

One very important note to prospective Mana customers – the act of actually transferring money from your primary bank to your Mana account is wicked easy to initiate, but the actual electronic transfer is slower than slow. Verbiage in the app informs the user that the transfer could take “up to five business days”, but I’m reasonably certain that some of my transfers took longer than that.

Even if the money crosses the finish line into your account in five business days, with weekends that can be up to a week in real time. In our current environment of instant gratification, that feels like an eternity. If you, like me, are considering setting up Mana as the primary way to pay for all of your entertainment subscriptions, you will want to plan ahead to allow time for the money to actually show up in your account. It is also worth noting that you can funnel your money into Mana via PayPal or Venmo if you are nervous about syncing your banking info. That just felt like too much bother to me, and I was concerned about the hit I would take on fees for those services reducing or eliminating the benefits I would get from participating in Mana in the first place.

After you have your account set up and have dropped some money into it (and waited forever for it to show up), you can order your actual debit card (which you pretty much need to do anything with your money). As a Pro member, I was shipped a pretty baller-looking steel card, which came in a reasonable amount of time (less than a week). Your name and account number are etched into the card, which is weighty and solid-feeling. If you don’t upgrade to Pro, you just get a regular debit card.

All told, it was about a two-week process to go from signing up for Mana to actually having my debit card in hand and setting it up for use. It was easy to do, but enter with a reserve of patience.

Beyond the cool card, why upgrade to Pro?

Okay, so I can have a free debit card account and earn free stuff. Why would I want to upgrade to Mana Pro? Well, it’s all about the volume and frequency of free stuff you can earn.

As I mentioned above, a Pro membership costs $119.95. Upgrading to Pro immediately grants the user a pile of goodies, which can be accessed via codes delivered in the app. Here’s what you get right out of the gate:

  • Discord Nitro Classic -1 Year Subscription
  • $25 Xbox Gift Card
  • $25 PlayStation Store Gift Card
  • FitGMR Pro – 1 Year Subscription
  • Surfshark VPN - 1 Year Subscription
  • FirstBlood Premium - 1 Year Subscription
  • Aim Lab Elite Supporter Pack

Don’t feel bad if you have to Google some of that stuff. I did too. But the big ticket items for me were the Xbox and PlayStation gift cards, the Discord Nitro sub, and the Surfshark VPN. If you use all of the services offered as rewards, you have pretty much paid for your Pro subscription. If not though (and I don’t know if anyone is gonna use all this stuff), then the value proposition will vary in accordance to how useful you find these services.

To me, the far more valuable Pro perk is the bonus you get in accumulating Mana points. From what I can tell (and my fifth-grade math may be a bit off here), without a Pro membership you get one Mana point for every dollar you spend. With Pro, you get a 5x bonus on any money you spend on most gaming and video streaming memberships, meaning you get five mana points for every dollar you spend on stuff like PlayStation Plus, Xbox Game Pass, Nintendo Switch Online, EA Play, Humble Choice, Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO (and it goes on from there – the list is actually pretty impressive. The only sub I have that I couldn't find on the list was Peacock). You also get 3x points for anything you buy through the Mana Interactive app, and then 1x points on everything else.

You can also earn bonus points for playing a variety of mobile games. Right now, the supported games are Clash of Clans, League of Legends, Clash Royale, Valorant, and Brawl Stars. I signed up for Clash of Clans just to test how the feature works. It’s mad simple to sync the game to the Mana app, just grab your handle from the game and drop it into the app. I’m not huge on any of the games that are integrated with Mana, but for those that are interested, this might be a fun way to add more points to your total. If Mana interactive manages to add Marvel SNAP to the mix, then we’ll talk.

Does it work? Can you earn points?

Through my limited testing, yes, you can totally earn points pretty quickly.

My big strategy was this: I dumped a bunch cash into the Mana app and ordered the card. As soon as it arrived, I switched over every membership and subscription I have so they would be paid via my Mana account. I then started watching as my monthly subscription fees came due to see if Mana Interactive was tracking and delivering my Mana points appropriately.

Sure enough, when my HBO subscription hit, I got 80 mana back on a $16 subscription fee – 5x the Mana I would have gotten without Pro. My idea was to let these subscriptions run for a few months and let the Mana pile up, then occasionally drain the coffers with a purchase from the Mana store. I can get a 5% return on my subscriptions, which isn’t half bad.

In the Mana app, you can easily see a breakdown of your transactions, as well as how many Mana points you earn with each. I’m not clear on the methodology Mana is using to scrape the transactions to determine which get extra Mana and which don’t. If you see any discrepancies, you can easily ask questions or request corrections through the app – though responses can take quite a while. I’ve asked a few clarifying questions, and Mana has always gotten back to me, but it’s taken – you guessed it – about a week.

What can I get with Mana Points?

Simply put, one Mana Point seems to translate to one penny on the Mana store. So, if you have 1000 Mana Points, you can get a ten-dollar gift card or put ten dollars toward the purchase of a game in the Mana store. So those 80 Mana points I got back on my HBO sub? That’s 80 cents of PlayStation money as far as I’m concerned.

There’s a ton of stuff for sale in the Mana store, which you can either buy with cash or Mana. Most of the games seem to be delivered via Steam code, and the prices feel a bit steep. Elden Ring is there for $59.99, Monster Hunter World is $29.99, and SIFU is $39.99. Not horribly out of line with current pricing standards, but I’m pretty sure you can get better prices by watching Steam for sales than you can through this storefront.

To me, the real value for Mana points is in gift cards. There are a ton of gift cards available, everything from Google Play cards to Taco Bell, Cinemark to Best Buy. Spotify, Crunchyroll, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic; the list of available cards just goes on and on. For me, its all about PlayStation Store cards.

I spend an average of around $100 on subscriptions every month, with all of my gaming, music, and streaming video stuff combined. So, with Mana Pro I should get about 500 Mana points per month from my subscriptions alone, or five bucks to spend in the Mana store. Without buying other stuff with my Mana Interactive card, I would earn about $60 a year – or a free game – for spending the same money I would have spent otherwise. Of course, that’s not taking into consideration the $119.95 to upgrade to Pro. So I’m actually going to have to spend more money through my Mana card to get past breaking even, but that’s okay. I’m up for a challenge.

Mana Interactive has found an interesting way to gamify online spending, and as a gamer, I’m immediately thinking about how I can min/max this system to my greatest advantage. There are no fees beyond the Pro membership, so once I’ve broken even there, everything after that is gravy. I’m thinking that I can make my Mana account my primary account on Amazon, and with the amount my family spends there, I can start raking in the points.

Should I get a Mana account?

Totally up to you. Whether a Mana account is worth the bother to you is an entirely personal decision. To me, I like the idea of stacking my PlayStation account with free money so I can buy an occasional game without guilt. I don’t mind jumping through a few hoops, because I like to watch my Mana points go up and think about all of that sweet, sweet gift card cash. So yeah, I’ll probably stick with Mana Interactive as a fun little alternative to my regular boring checking account. It feels pretty safe, it actually works, and of course, I have that healthy love of free stuff to feed.

There is an overhead to getting set up, and the process is a bit slow, but really all you are losing is time. I expect that with time, Mana Interactive will manage to streamline the process; this is a young company after all. I could totally see people being hesitant to open one of these rewards cards, after the industry has burned gamers so many times. That's why I decided to hop in here and run through the process myself. In the end, I find that Mana is pretty legit. The rewards might come kind of slowly, but I'm interested in figuring out how to maximize my profits here. Should I start using my Mana card to buy groceries? Pay my insurance premiums? Do...everything? I just might. I like that PlayStation money an awful lot.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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