Getting Rid of Microsoft Points is a Step In the Right Direction

It was rumored yesterday that with its new Xbox 360 dashboard update out later this month, Microsoft may be moving away from its  Points currency, instead charging an actual price for games and items on Xbox Live.  This rumor surfaced after people reported that trying to purchase music and videos using the Windows 8 beta went from using the points system to charging a regular price for goods. Because the new update for the Live dashboard is supposed to take on many of the features of Windows 8, many are assuming that this could mean Microsoft is finally ditching the points system.

Yes, yes, and YES. I’ve had my complaints with Xbox Live for a long time, and if this is indicative of anything, I’m hopeful that they’re starting to pay attention to what other services are offering gamers and want to step it up a bit to offer me more for my ten bucks a month.

Microsoft’s moon dollars have always been a pointless system that serves no real purpose and reeks of a rip off, especially the bundles that leave you with odd amounts of points that are near impossible to find any practical use for. So, moving to actual real-life currency for your basic transactions for games and entertainment media is a good step in the right direction. And of course, they recently rolled out the news that they’re going to start rewarding players for achievements. But what they have done to appeal to gamers is still fairly nominal, and there’s still a handful of things Microsoft needs to do in order to stay competitive with the other online gaming services in the industry.

Ever since they’ve stepped up their game, I’ve been super impressed with PlayStaion plus. For a relatively small amount paid yearly, the rewards you get are impressive and need to be something Microsoft takes note of. Free well-known games and great deals on new games are all essential to helping build awareness of brands and franchises and helps everyone in the long run. Take Borderlands, for example; by giving that away for free on PS Plus, how many people were turned on to the franchise and went out to purchase Borderlands 2? It’s a risky strategy for marketing, but one that has a great amount of potential when approached from the right angle. PlayStation Plus has its head in a good place because it intelligently rewards its customers while helping spread awareness about developers big and small on their service.

And ever since I got a functioning PC that can handle gaming, I’ve become more and more enamored with Steam as an online service. So much, in fact, that I’d be willing to say its my favorite online service so far. For a free service, Steam’s flexibility and offerings are impressive to say the least. With sales that range anywhere from 50-75% off regularly on everything from Triple-A titles to small indie games, I frequently find myself spending money on games I had no real interest in, now making an impulse buy because, hey, it’s cheap. In the past few weeks, I’ve purchased Deus Ex: Human Revolution for $7, Hitman: Blood Money for $4, Mirror’s Edge for $5, and Just Cause 2 for $4, among several others. Saint’s Row: The Third cost less than $15 a few weeks ago, and Skyrim was marked down %50 f0r one promotional weekend. And don’t even get me going on the regular Steam sales taking place throughout the year. These sales take place on the regular, and when games reach that level of affordability, there’s a chance you’ll access an entirely new market of gamers due to the fact that the barrier to entry (i.e., expensive game prices) is completely done away with.

Now, I’ve been a member of Xbox live for a while now, and I will admit, it does have the most seamless online experience of any of these services. It’s easy to link up to other’s games and communicate with friends, making for a satisfying multiplayer experience. And they do run fair sales on games and bundles; however, the sales worth talking about are few and far between, and pale in comparison to what services like PS Plus and Steam are offering. And don’t even get me started about the fact that there are ads on my paid service…

The problem, in my mind, is that Microsoft isn’t necessarily targeting the gamer in their efforts with Xbox Live. Rather, they’re going after the entertainment consumer, an all-around approach to make your Xbox 360 an entertainment box more than a games console. But you’ve got to remember where you came from, and Xbox owes its success to the support of gamers and fans of the system. So, I applaud moving away from the odd Microsoft Points system that has plagued the console for years. They’ve still got a long way to go to prove they really care about offering me the best online service, but I’m staying optimistic here. A small step is a step nonetheless, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that they’re paying attention to what other services are doing for their customers in an effort to start reaching out to its consumer base of hardcore gamers.