Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Benefits Of Microsoft Points (And Alternative Currencies In General)

There were loads of rumours and suggestions that indicated Microsoft were going to abandon Microsoft Points and simply go straight to cash instead. While it still hasn't happened it is likely that MS Points will not feature in the next generation after all the hate they have gotten over the past 8 years.

After I got a couple thousand of these points through the post from the nice folks at NowTV a few days ago, and then applied them to my XBL account, I was searching for things to download. I eventually settled on Terraria and LIMBO, as I have not played either (yes, I know I'm late getting LIMBO but whatever).

I hadn't used Microsoft Points for a good couple of months as hadn't purchased, or wanted to purchase, anything on XBL. After I bought these two games, however, it got me thinking about this form of alternative currency that Microsoft came up with and what my own actual opinion on it is. I had always sort of followed everyone else and just stuck with the opinion that they were annoying and rubbish. However the more I thought about it, the more my own personal opinion began to properly come to me. 

Many people hate MS Points because they are simply annoying and pointless. Why have points? Why not just let us just buy the item(s) we want and have the money come straight from our bank account? 

The reason that Xbox has its very own currency is simply to make people spend more money. If you want something from the Xbox Marketplace then you have to buy some points first and then purchase the product. There is something very disconnected about spending points on something rather than money.

Obviously you are spending real cash on the points themselves, but in people's minds this is simply like changing money into foreign currency. You aren't actually losing money when you buy the points, because you are getting another form of 'money' in return. You are simply changing up, say, £15 into 2100 Microsoft Points instead. Technically you are not out of pocket.

However despite feeling like you have just transferred some of your money into points, rather than real life cash, when you do buy something you feel very disconnected from the purchase. By spending these non-existent 'points' on LIMBO or The Walking Dead or DLC or whatever, and not directly spending any real money on it, you do not really feel very aware of what you are doing. As quick as a flash you've spent the points without even a second thought and any actual consideration that the amount of points you did just spend actually translates into £15 of your own, real life dollar bills.

This system allows Microsoft to take advantage of people and make people spend more. And it works. I have spent way more on XBL with MS Points than I have on any other platform that uses real money.

However as much as this may sound like a massive con, and something to be put off of this alternative currency system by, it is actually a bit of a pro as well.

When I make a payment in points on Xbox, the fact I am disconnected from the purchase actually helps me feel less guilty about the money I just spent. Sure, it is designed to make you spend MORE, however it is also a good guilt avoider. By not feeling like you just spent any real money you don't feel worried or bad about it. It's a nice advantage.

This is especially noticeable when you buy something with old MS Points. 
Because this form of currency can be purchased with real money at any time and doesn't have to be used straight away (you can, in fact, hold onto Microsoft Points for as long as you like as they do not expire, unless you acquired them through a promo or competition), when you do buy something with them you are not going to feel even remotely connected to them or view them as real money. When you spend them, because it's been so long since you actually bought them with your real money, you won't have even a slight bit of guilt or worry.

That is awesome.

I'll tell you what else it awesome about Microsoft Points; they're versatile.

Sure you can get PSN vouchers for £10 or whatever, but Microsoft points are just really, really, really versatile. Because they are not real money they can be used in all sorts of competitions, promos, sweepstakes and other interesting events or ways. I have seen way more Microsoft Points promotions than I have PSN voucher ones. 

Plus the rewards programme is awesome. 
Xbox Live Rewards allows people to make some points by simply completing surveys or purchasing/doing things on XBL. Sure you will likely only make 100-200 a month, however these are actually mega handy and have often made up the amount of points I already had to a higher sum so I could buy a more expensive item. Plus while it may only be 100-200 a month, it's free, and everyone loves free stuff right? 
The only thing like this on other platforms was a reward system on Playstation, however this did not offer people any type of currency and was cancelled. Personally I think the only reason Xbox is able to offer this rewards programme and actually give people money is because it uses points and not actual cash.

Obviously Microsoft Points are not perfect. They are annoying from a couple of aspects. 

First of all they are cumbersome. Want a game or some DLC? You can't just buy it right there and then using your bankcard that is already registered on the device; oh no, you've got to first purchase some points and then buy the item. It's just annoying. We're past the point in time where buying things is a hassle. Even Amazon has 1-click ordering these days. 

They are also very hard to calculate into real money. How much is 1 point worth? Who knows? 1.5p? 1.7p? How much is 100 worth? Again, I have no idea. You can use Google but this shouldn't really be an issue that needs to be resolved online. It should be easy enough to understand so people just automatically know the conversions, or can at least easily work it out. However admittedly this does tie in with what I said above, about making people spend more. By not actually knowing what the amount of points you are spending is actually worth in real money you have even less of a connection with the payment you are making.

Xbox Live also mixes up, for some random reason, real money and points purchases. Almost every On Demand game is bought with real money taken from your bank and is priced up in pounds and pence (or dollars and cents); however arcade and indie games, as well as DLC and basically every other product that isn't an OD game, is done with points. Like, the hell? What is with that? Why mix it all up like that?

Microsoft Points aren't popular with the masses, however I don't actually have an issue with them. Sure they're cumbersome and irritatingly obviously trying to get you to spend more money, however they are a versatile, guilt free way of buying your goods so, well, what isn't, really, to like? If they are gotten rid of in the next gen, that is fine. If they stay? That is also fine - with me anyway. I guess they have pros and cons and, really, I don't care whether they exist or not. But while they do it's nice knowing, or appreciating, that they do have good side.

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