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Amazon Coins extend to France, Italy, Spain

The e-commerce giant is offering its virtual currency in three more countries -- along with a promotion to get customers to use them.

Amazon Coins

Amazon Coins, a virtual currency for buying videogames and other software from the e-commerce giant, are spreading further across Europe.

The payment mechanism had been available in the US, UK, and Germany. Now it's reached France, Italy, and Spain, too, Amazon said Tuesday, along with a promotion to get customers to use them.

"We're giving millions of euros (100 Coins = €1) worth of coins to customers in France, Italy, and Spain, so this is a great time to submit new apps to the Amazon Appstore and ensure your existing apps are available for distribution in these countries," Amazon's Cheng Luo said in a blog post.

There are drawbacks to virtual currencies, though.

For one thing, they can be short-lived, like the now-defunct Facebook credits and Zynga ZCoins. Virtual coins aren't as flexible as real-world money either, since they can be used only on one marketplace and for a limited number of purchases.

People can buy Amazon Coins then spend them on apps, in-app upgrades, and virtual gift cards for apps. In the US, they cost a penny each; in Europe, they cost somewhat more: €4.80 ($6.58) for 500 coins or €90 ($123) for 10,000 coins.

Amazon Coins got their start as a payment mechanism on the company's Kindle e-reader devices, but as Kindles expanded into general-purpose tablets, Amazon Coins expanded to Android devices, too. (The Kindle Fire line uses Google's Android mobile operating system under the covers, but Amazon doesn't emphasize it or hook Kindle Fire devices up to the Google Play app store.)