Getting Your Money’s Worth: A Look At Rewards Programs

In a world full of online passes and additional DLC, many gamers may be feeling a little sore in their wallet regions.  To remedy this, some companies have started offering rewards programs to help consumers feel a greater sense of investment, and get a little extra bang for their buck. 

Being a gamer myself, the idea of some extra swag for buying a product or spending some cash seems like a godsend.  For the record, I’m not talking about things like pre-order DLC or arcade games (or any other cash grab for that matter) for buying a specific item.  I speak of rewards that stretch across my personal platform of choice, and even multi-platforms, that I can pick and choose after launch.  Let’s take a quick look at some of my favorites, and see what makes them so useful.

First, let’s go over the big console manufacturers.  Microsoft offers you some extra Microsoft Points (MSP) in the form of the Xbox Live Rewards Program.  Here, the more you spend over the XBL Marketplace or renew your subscriptions, the more bonus MSP you’ll receive.  Various actions such as completing a monthly survey, renewing your Gold subscription, and even referring friends to the program will net you a small amount of points.  Even the occasional special offer (like a percent back in MSP on all purchases that month) or contest pops up here and there, allowing you to earn double points or win a free avatar item.

What I love about the Xbox Live Rewards Program is that it’s totally free, and you earn rewards by doing things you’re already doing; no need to do anything special.  My only problems with it are that your points are withheld until a certain time of the month and cashed in when your total is over 100, and your chance to earn is few and far between.  If you renew your Gold service yearly, or purchase your Marketplace items in a month where points back isn’t offered, you might be waiting a while before you actually earn anything.  This is an awesome concept, however, and simply needs to be delivered a little better.  Perhaps lifting the 100 point cash-in limit, or offering a percentage back off all Marketplace purchases all the time would make this payback program perfect.

Sony also offers a service with PlayStation Plus, but it’s of a different sort.  Here, gamers pay a fee ($17.99 for three months and $49.99 for a year) to get exclusives such as early demo and game access, discounts on select titles/DLC, and even free full games.  When looking at what’s provided, you’ll make a decent savings on a monthly or yearly basis, making it well worth the initial investment.  My only problem with it is that there’s no guarantee you’ll be interested in the discounted or free content.  Dropping some extra dollars for slashed prices and free games seems like a good deal if you’re a fan of every genre, but if you’re gamer just looking for some cheap Call of Duty DLC you might want to look elsewhere.

Even Nintendo has a slice of the rewards pie with their Club Nintendo service.  Here’s how this one works: buy a new system or game and you get a code to redeem for “coins”.  You then use this virtual currency to buy new games or swag from the program’s website.  What causes this service to stand out are the rewards themselves, which include physical Nintendo-themed objects like Wii remote holders, paper fans, tote bags, greeting cards, and much, much more.  The fact that Nintendo is offering items like this for nothing more than buying their products (with free shipping, I might add) puts them ahead in the rewards game, and gives fans an extra reason to keep coming back.

If there is anything I’d love to see more of though, it’s the idea behind uPlay, a system set up by Ubisoft.  With uPlay, players are awarded points for completing certain objectives (which are usually the same goal as an achievement) and these points can be cashed in for additional game content.  The best part, however, is that these can be used on any Ubisoft game that you’ve played across any console.  Rewards consist of extra maps, new weapons, game modes, characters, and even themes for your Xbox360/PS3.

I can hear some “glass-half-empty” people out there going “yeah, well I bet this content is already on my disc! Why should I have to unlock it?!”  Well, my response to you is that all the content available for a game is not only completely optional, but there are always enough unlockable points in a game to pay for all of the title’s bonuses.  Sure, you may need to work a little bit extra for a shiny new SCAR-H or workout routine, but hey, I look at that as replayability.

This is a feature that more developers should implement.  Imagine unlocking a new camo for Snake in Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker because you unlocked a certain achievement in NeverDead, or gained access to the Collector’s assault rifle in Mass Effect 3 because you beat a hard boss in Dragon Age 2.  These kinds of services give back to the gamer simply for playing the game, and provide an awesome excuse to give your favorite game just one more playthrough.

Each and every service I mentioned has something for someone, and all of them are great ideas.  Giving back to gamers for their dedication is a wonderful concept that really needs to be implemented more across the board.  Sure, some fancy armor if we pre-order is nice and all, but there’s no personalization there.  By offering rewards programs, companies give us the option to pick what we want as a thank you for buying their products.  Yes, it may still be a polite way to say, “Hey, buy your games!” but I think it sounds a lot better than an online pass, don’t you?

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