• Paul Fingleton

Xbox Live Rewards is changing, just not how you had hoped

In various markets, Microsoft has been retiring the Xbox Live Rewards program and integrating it into the Microsoft Rewards Program - formerly known as Bing Rewards.

Microsoft Rewards is a simple program where you can earn Microsoft Rewards Points in a number of different ways, such as making purchases in the Microsoft Store, participating in quizzes or sometimes other tasks, like just using Edge as your browser.

These Rewards Points accumulate and can be traded in for different gift vouchers, sweepstakes or even make charitable donations with them.

It is all quite simple and straightforward. Microsoft Rewards users in the United States have, for example, been able to earn enough points to renew their annual Xbox Live Gold membership for free or vouchers of similar value. The program was recently extended to the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada

This week, in Ireland, it was with great anticipation that we received notification that Xbox Live Rewards is changing. Only to be disappointed by what it was changing into.

Instead of the simple Microsoft Rewards of "Earn Points, Redeem Stuff", Xbox Live Rewards has managed to muddle their existing offering further. Let's take a further look.

Not all Rewards Points are created equally In Xbox Live Rewards you earn Xbox Live Rewards Points, these are not Microsoft Rewards Points, although we can see why you would think that. From this point on, any references to Rewards Points are about Xbox Live Rewards Points.

Xbox Live Rewards Points accumulate for different tasks and when you go over 5,000 points you receive gift credit to your Microsoft account to spend as you wish. 5,000 Rewards Points has no monetary value themselves but equate to about €5, or equivalent currency when transferred to your account.

MyVIP The MyVIP reward scheme is retained, whereby if in a calendar year you purchase products to a specific value, you will be assigned a star ranking for the next year. That star ranking entitles you to earn a percentage of the value of certain qualifying purchases as Rewards Points, with different percentage based on your star ranking - 1% - 5% depending on your star ranking, or doubled if you have an active Xbox Live Gold subscription.

Your Star Ranking is reset every year, so you might have a five-star ranking this year but drop to a one- or two-star value next year.

Are you still with us? Good, because we were just easing you in.

MyMissions In addition to earning Rewards Points through purchasing games, there are monthly missions created as ways to earn bonus points each month.

These missions usually involve spending a minimum amount on certain games, content or movies in a particular theme, "Spend €45 on Spooky Games in October"-type of offers. Completing these missions would earn additional Reward Points on top of your Star Rank bonus.

The MyMissions are similar to before and haven't changed much in this new incarnation. Other missions could earn in-game bonuses for some free-to-play games, or bonus points by purchasing in-game content, Avatar gear, and so on.

MyVIP Gems Are you ready, things are about to get unnecessarily complicated from here on out.

Starting this month, you can get access to exclusive MyVIP Perks and earn MyVIP Gems for doing things like earning Gamerscore or reaching a new MyAchievements tier, spending in the Xbox Store, completing missions or challenges, or even clicking on an email.

These challenges include keeping your Xbox Live Gold subscription current for three months, subscribe to Xbox Game Pass for three months or preorder three games and so on.

You get the idea. If you do things over a longer period of time on the service, subscribe for a certain period or something that keeps you 'active' in the Xbox environment you can earn a different number of Gems - maybe 10 or 20 Gems per activity.

These Gems can be traded in to purchase items from the Vault. The Vault itself has some amazing content: Oculus Rift, Limited Edition Xbox One S Consoles. It also has some smaller content: Lunch Boxes for Fallout Shelter.

Take into account that it can take up to three months to earn 10 Gems, something like the Telltale Game Collection costs 5,000 Gems. At that rate, using back of the napkin maths, it would take you 125 years to earn a game collection that is often reduced to €30-40 on spotlight sales.

Another way to look at it, the 10,000 Gem Xbox or Oculus bundle would only take you a quarter of a millennium to earn - we know you will not be around to enjoy it, but your great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren will have a blast with the antediluvian tech you earned for them.

Could Do Better

While we can see where Microsoft was going with this Xbox Live Rewards program, it is to try and increase user activity in the ecosystem, we feel that it is unnecessarily complex and is designed to boost their environment, rather than rewarding loyalty.

The Microsoft Rewards program is more simple, it has an easy-to-follow cause and effect method to earn rewards: If I do x, y or z I can earn so many points. Xbox Live Rewards, as it now appears, is cumbersome and has multiple different ways to earn and many different statistics to track to find out what you might earn as a reward. Each different statistic has a different weight or value and they don't work well together.

Simplicity should be key to have active participation and to reward and earn loyalty. The revamped Xbox Live Rewards fails on this regard and in Ireland we can only continue to look across the water at our neighbours (in either direction) at their simple, easy-to-follow Rewards Program and hope that one day it might be available on our fair shores.