When XBL launched its rewards program I was pretty excited. For years I've been a loyal customer. Paid for the gold service, bought DLC regularly, tried out new services on the dashboard, etc. I thought Microsoft was actually about to reward their customers with "Kool-Aid point" kind of stuff. What we got was not only of no real consequence, but was downright insulting to longtime service users.
Lets look first at the facet of the program that got the most attention; rewards for achievement levels. On the surface this seems like a nice idea, but they had to be careful. Achievements have no real regulations, with game rewarding you 1000 points for anywhere between 2 minutes (Avatar: the Last Airbender) and hundreds of hours (Rumble Roses) of play. It's simply not realistic to give rewards with any real monetary value. Gamerscore is to easily driven up through games with "gimme" achievements. Instead XBL rewards gamers with 2 things of no real value. A n avatar item once a year and, (at the highest level) a 2% monthly rebate on marketplace purchases. While I understand that one should not complain about being given free money back, let's really look at what you get out of this. At 2% that means that when you spend 400 points ($5) you get back 8 points. Even a gamer who regularly spends $50 on the marketplace a month (which I strongly doubt is the norm) would receive a "reward" of $1.
Again, free is free. I appreciate that. But this is truly a halfway effort by Microsoft. It's meant to be a feather in their cap with their playerbase. Something to let them say "See! We care about our players!". However, I don't see a single player getting excited about these rewards. They simply have no impact on the individual. While Microsoft may notice the 2% back they're giving when multiplied by a massive amount of players. Those nickles add up on that scale. But are they getting a return on this investment through player good will? I sincerely doubt it. I buy a lot of DLC but at 2% I can't get excited about 80 points in my account after having spent 4000.
The second issue I've seen with this service pertains to it's "reward point" program. Now this is the part of the service where it really looks like we're going to get some value. Things like "play 8 community playdates in a month for 100 points" is a great idea. But as I dug through the (relatively light) selection of ways to get points I found myself getting insulted rather than excited. "Activate and use Netflix for the first time 100 points", "make your first marketplace purchase 100 points" . What about those of us who have been loyal customers for years? I use Netflix all the time, but no 100 points for me, because...well, they've already got me on the hook, I suppose.
Here enlies the frustration for me. I understand marketing ploys like this are meant to lure in new customers. That an existing customer base is not as important as the customers a company does not have yet. But come on, Microsoft, think this through. With Playstation Plus members getting access to whole major-release games as part of their service you can no longer sit back on the "well, we charge because our service is better" answer. Another generation of consoles is coming, with an opportunity for Sony to fix the flaws in their online system. Now is the time to generate good will and loyalty amongst your existing users, not cast about for late, late....very late, adopters of your service.
In short, the rewards system is lackluster. It's not that it's bad, it's that it's unimpressive. It's not something I feel compelled to tell all my friends about, and it should be. Why waste the money, Microsoft, if none of your customers are going to notice or care?