I do not mean that in a negative way. It is simply another incentive Microsoft are dangling to entice gamers to buy and invest in their products, because they want both your money and your loyalty.
The importance of brand loyalty in the gaming market should not be underestimated. How many people bought a Playstation 3 because of the Playstation 2? How many bought a 360 because of the original Xbox? How many Nintendo fans have followed the companies console curve from NES to Wii? Through SNES, N64, Game Cube and a series of hand held devices.
Basically, your loyalty is a big deal because it means a continued stream of money for the console makers and the developers who release games on their platform. And it doesn’t just mean a stream of money now, but a stream of money heading in to the next generation as well – and perhaps a stream of money they’ve already fished in from the last generation of consoles!
Of course the relationship is somewhat symbiotic in certain ways – if Microsoft can claim to have a ‘loyal fan base’ of X million, developers can be more inclined to be console exclusive with their latest title; benefiting those millions of gamers with a title Playstation or Wii gamers may never get to lay their hands on. (NOTE – naturally a fat wad of cash from M$ can also help to lubricate the ‘exclusivity’ negotiations)
But for that symbiotic relationship to form at all, there needs to be something to entice you in in the first place. The proverbial carrot on a stick.
As I have said previously, sometimes there is a pre-existing relationship from the old generation of consoles. Some times manufacturers are battling for ‘new ground’, for gamers yet to plunge in to the console market or for those disillusioned with their first choice and looking for an alternative.
Whatever the the gamers situation, that carrot needs to be tantalising enough to make people take note and to follow it like a rat to the Pied Piper’s tune.
The aforementioned ‘exclusives’ can help, but all of the major players look to wave their virtual willy in as many ways as possible; to blow their own trumpet and proclaim their system the best.
Microsoft would claim to have (rightly IMHO) the best online service via the paid for Gold membership; Sony opted to open up PSN as a ‘free-for-all’.
Sony went for BluRay and have that feather in their cap, Wii tried to hit the casual market. And how about them Avatars eh? How stupid yet somehow appealing!
Xbox Rewards is one of Microsoft’s attempt to attract gamers by giving them something back.
Being cynical this costs Microsoft nothing, MS points are not a real currency per say and the returns the Rewards programme offers are, by proxy, relatively worthless when you consider that gamers put physical cash in Microsoft’s pockets to buy MS Points in the first place to spend and then become eligible for Rewards programme rebates.
Even the latest My Achievements aspect of the programme and the monthly survey benefit Microsoft (and developers) more than the actual gamers via the rewards they receive. My Achievements hinges around your gamerscore – which you build up by buying games…
Even if you rent, the rental company has had to pay for a copy of the game for you to hire out in the first place.
Ergo it’s all money in to the companies pocket.
Likewise the monthly survey is in essence ‘free’ marketing for Microsoft in return for purely virtual currency – and with only 20 points per survey, and one survey per month, the 240 points you can accumulate over a year won’t get you a great deal from the Marketplace.
Am I implying it’s some kind of swizz? Not really, though I have already said there is room to be cynical about it all. But ultimately the whole programme has been designed to not only benefit the company but as a way to make gamers go ‘hey, I like this idea and want to be part of it’; thus buying in to ‘the product’ – whether that is the 360 or Gold (or both) the end result is the Microsoft have their claws in to you.
Very few (if any) promotions or innovations by the gaming giants are done without consideration to their fan base and the financial bottom line. Whether it is about consolidating what they have, growth or simply making bigger profits every decision is about grabbing a gamer by the wallet and keeping them ‘on board’.
Even the most major innovation of the current generation has spread as Sony and Microsoft followed Nintendo in to the motion control market. It’s all about making your willy the biggest and the best.
It’s all about keeping you satisfied to keep the bank balance healthy.
Like any relationship though, the bright spot of having one half try that hard to keep you is that the other side gets ‘better things’ out of it. Would Microsoft have developed Kinect if Nintendo hadn’t developed the Wii? Would Sony have pushed BluRay so hard, now the only name in the HD DVD game, if rivals Microsoft hadn’t backed the HD DVD horse?
How about the online gaming world? Where all three of the major players go head-to-head with each other whilst also fending off the world of PC gaming?
Despite their motives, despite their desire to empty your wallets, this battle for your gaming affection does benefit gamers via continued innovation and improvement to games, technology and what each console packs in to its shell to enrich our digital lives.
Since I bought my original 360 in 2006 I have seen television applications added, downloadable games expand and the social side of gaming explode beyond matchmaking lobbies of Halo among other things.
Imagine what the next 10 years might bring now iOS, tablets and portable gaming has taken off to challenge the console Kings.
The gaming battleground may just be in its most exciting phase ever as your hard earned cash is fought for like the most precious thing in the world.