|The New Xbox LIVE MyRewards Program has arrived 8 years later...|
This new addition to the Xbox LIVE Online Community caught me totally by surprise - in fact if I were a grunt in one of my favorite war games out on patrol I would have been shot in the butt by a sniper from five miles away in a windstorm, because the overall stun-effect was so great that I just sort of sat there like a rock as I tried to absorb this.
What am I talking about? Well to fully explain my reaction and the events I am about to relate to you we have to jump into the Wayback Machine and zip back to late 2005, and an event that Microsoft decided to call the “Xbox 360 Zero-Hour Launch Event.”
You have to understand that the launch of the Xbox 360, which was a seventh generation gaming console and only the second games console to be created by Microsoft was a major deal. Major.
Not only was Microsoft about to launch their new console, they were doing it at an invitation-only party in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and far from being a press-only event, the tiny company from Redmond, Washington was inviting gamers as well as the media to the event, which was really Microsoft's version of a Rave, minus the Rave Drugs and sleazy guys named Guido and Jerry who can get you in for a price...
|Access Control - if you were caught without one they buried you in the desert...|
For gamers, access to the event was by prize only - that is to say that Microsoft made the vast majority of the non-VIP, non-Media, regular tickets available via a number of contests that were hosted by a very broad selection of games-related and video-game-focused websites (some of which no longer exist) that included the following:
Game Informer (http://www.gameinformer.com/)
GamePro* (RiP: November 30, 2011 -- site no longer exists even for an obit page)
GameSpy* (RiP: Feb 21, 2013 -- Obit page still up at http://www.gamespy.com/)
MSN Games** (now at http://zone.msn.com)
TeamXbox.com* (RiP: August 17, 2012 -- survives as a fan-driven set of chat forums)
UGO* (RiP: Feb 21, 2013 -- obit page still up at http://www.ugo.com/)
Xbox.com (The official website for Microsoft's Xbox Gaming Division)
* This website and its company no longer exists.
** As a result of the ever-changing landscape that is the games industry and the news media beats that cover it, this website has changed considerably since that time in 2005 when the gaming world collectively held its breath and prayed to win a ticket to the Zero-Hour Par-TAY!
Have Site, Contest Varies
While the official announcement said “a total of 3,000 lucky gamers will join VIPs from the U.S. 'Hex 168' and European 'Origen' campaigns to be the first gamers in the world to fully experience all that Xbox 360 has to offer,” among other things, depending upon the website you chose as your every hopeful access source, that either meant filling in an online entry form for a random drawing (curse you luck!) or the reward of tickets based upon your activity in the sites forums...
If your significant other was a gamer and you won a ticket to the event there were to chances that they could go as well, the first chance came from the announcement that the first 360 eligible entries whose name and contact information was registered would automatically receive an invitation for two to attend the awesomely special Microsoft "Xbox 360: Zero Hour" Rave event that was to be held at some super-secret location in Southern California, and the second chance came in the form of a random drawing for the winners of the 3000 tickets that were to be given away on the above websites, with precisely 1140 very lucky winners to be selected from among all eligible entries that Microsoft received to ALSO win an invitation for two to attend the event, and you were so getting laid if you won.
If you do the math, in addition to the estimated 350 Media Passes that were distributed to the Fourth Estate, and the estimated 500 or so VIP passes that were distributed by Microsoft to the peeps they wanted to show the love for, that worked out to a potential party containing:
0350 Reporters and Journalists...
0500 Microsoft Love Children...
0360 Lucky Spouses / Boyfriends / Girlfriends / Significant Others / BFF's from Drawing I...
1140 Lucky Spouses / Boyfriends / Girlfriends / Significant Others / BFF's from Drawing II...
3000 Winners of the Primary Ticket Giveaway via the above websites...
???? Passes given to Major Nelson and his friends from Xbox da Team...
So if you add all of that up with tricky guestimation, the number of attendees for this Dance in the Desert was something north of 5,350 warm dancing thirsty human bodies whose only desire was to fondle, prod, poke, and otherwise get busy with a cadre of Xbox 360's to be featured at said Zero-Hour Event!
|How you knew for sure that you were very close to arriving...|
The Event Was...
Pretty freaking awesome.
Bear in mind that in addition to the huge number of gaming stations where attendees could experience the Xbox 360 for the first time in groups of four, the live entertainment that did not include the crowd as entertainers but should have, and the around-the-clock gaming, it was a sort of Woodstock for Gamers...
Not only that but Microsoft arranged for Big Box retailer Best Buy to set up a temporary store so that attendees would not miss-out on the chance to buy the new console with accessories because they were attending the event -- remember that the rest of the world was patiently waiting in line at, well, pretty much everywhere, for the clock to strike Midnight and the new console to go on sale!
So yeah, it was pretty cool.
There were vendors and merch booths, and even a plethora of food kiosks where attendees could purchase fuel for their tummies (the Fourth Estate did not have to pay for its food, just saying), and there were a bunch of give-aways at the top of each hour featuring, among other things, special controllers and the much-desired Zero Hour Event Commemorative Xbox 360 console faceplates to help remind attendees that they were actually present at the event in case the Woodstock syndrome kicked in and they forgot...
The point behind all of this is that the launch of the Xbox 360 was a big deal, but that is not the story that I told you all of the above to lead into, that is a completely different story entirely! And here it is!
|T-Shirt? We don't no noting about no T-Shirt!|
The Big Story
So at the Zero-Hour Event among the noise and the clutter and the gamer girls who kept inssited that this was Zero Hour and not Mardi Gras, and hence there would be no shirt lifting even IF we happened to have a box of Mardi Gras beats to give away - some people are just killjoys it seems (see obligatory Mardi Gras shirt-free illustration below) - there was a relatively quiet area set aside for the press that was ostensibly referred to as the Media Lounge and it was there that the conversation that is at the heart of this story took place.
The Zero-Hour event was held on the grounds of what we were told was originally a Cold War testing facility built (or maybe it was rebuilt) for Lockheed at which they tested all sorts of secret spy stuff secret airplanes that were invisible secrets and secret stuff like that...
The madness that was the event was only a few hundred feet away but it may as well have been in another universe because we were burned out and sharing the large hamper of sandwiches and Gatorade that one of the games journo's wives had packed under the assumption that there would be a lot of his people there (fellow games journos) who may need sustenance in addition to, well, you get the idea.
As far as industry events go it was a good one - there was plenty of excitement and verve, but the crowds were manageable, and though it felt like it had the same level of energy as E3, unlike E3 there did not seem to be any shortage of games or consoles to play them on and as a result when we were not talking about the new console, we were playing on it.
So during a much needed break we sat around eating and chatting on some beanbag chairs provided by Microsoft, and somehow the subject came up about this new GamerScore System that Microsoft introduced for Xbox LIVE.
Now you almost certainly know what GamerScore and Achievements are but back then we did not. If you somehow are not aware of what that is, in a nutshell GamerScore (G) is an Achievements system on Xbox LIVE for pretty much all Xbox games for the Xbox 360 except for Indie titles that measures the number of Achievement points accumulated by a gamer in the games that they play on their Xbox 360 while logged into their GamerTag.
The Achievements are awarded for completing game-specific challenges, accomplishments, and sometimes levels, collecting X number of an in-game object, visiting X number of in-game locations, you get the idea. Each Achievement has a set number of GamerScore attached to it - typically the most common range is 10G, 25G, 50G and 100G though I assure you there are few enough of the 100G sort that we often wish for more.
Anyway the important thing for you to take away from this is that the GamerScore system was all new to us at the time, since the original Xbox did not have anything remotely resembling it, so you can probably imagine that in addition to semi-accurate information floating around at the event, there was also a lot of inaccurate information and just plain fantasy as well.
While noshing on sandwiches that not only traveled well from their home in San Diego that were rather unique in their own right - one of the types I split with another journo was made from Avocado and Black Olives and there were packets of salt and salad dressing taped to the baggie with the sandwich with instructions on how to apply it and how much to apply, and there was another type that I had half of that I can only describe as a Pizza sandwich but without all the mess...
So while we are eating these most excellent sandies and drinking ice cold yellow Gatorade from a well stocked cooler that weighed a ton and took two journos to hall out from the parking lot, someone who shall remain nameless in our sandwich and Gatorade circle suggested that they had heard that Microsoft was giving away prizes like free games and accessories to gamers who reached specific GamerScore target levels.
|These things were like Gold man. Like Gold!|
Well this would have been a great deal if it were true - but it wasn't - and most of us did not believe him anyway, but still, would have been freaking great!
Slowly Coming Out of Shock
Tonight as I took a break from a Game Walkthrough and Guide I am working on I was thumbing through the menus on my Xbox when something that I saw on the GAMES menu caught my eye - it was the image of a man wearing a crown with the notation “Assassin’s Creed 3 Add-Ons” below it.
Before I could click on that link, which I assure you I was going to, I noticed this odd very crimson red Xbox controller that looked, well, odd. At first glance I thought it maybe was the new Xbox's controller, and Microsoft was offering a partial reveal for the console that they will be unveiling at this year's E3 in June, but the note below it was a rather cryptic “You Achieved Now Receive” so that probably was not it...
But I clicked on it anyway.
And revealed a colorful divided presentation screen whose title declared “Xbox LIVE Rewards - Unlock MyAchievements” and my brain froze. It was really clear that what I was looking at was exactly what I thought I was looking at.
On the left side of the screen was a block that declared:
“Get your free Rewards Membership now. Then check your email for a welcome message within the next 3 days.
“Please visit https://rewards.xbox.com for additional details.
There were three columns filling the middle-to-right side that showed the graduated unlocks that were part of the program:
Unlock at G3000 - 9999 CONTENDER: At this level unlock a special gift during your birthday month.
Unlock at G10000 - 24999 CHAMPION: At this level receive a special gift during your birthday month and a 1% rebate on your Xbox LIVE Marketplace purchases every month.
Unlock at G25000 - LEGEND: At this level receive a special gift during your birthday month and a 2% rebate on your Xbox LIVE Marketplace purchases every month.
Okay well, yeah, that is pretty cool I said to myself. And it is recognition of (G) which is also very cool, but what is this special gifts they speak of? I wondered.
So I visited the URL
And discovered that there was a lot more to this whole Xbox LIVE Rewards MyAchievement thing than the announcement presentation page thingy suggests!
First there is a link to a video on the left that explains it in more detail, then on the right there is a link that details this month's special feature offer - which includes special virtual “punchcards” you complete by playing games and unlocking Achievements, for which you get some excellent rewards like Microsoft Points you can use to buy games from the Marketplace!
This was almost exactly what had been speculated about in 2005, except that it is 2013, so OK, it took them 8 years to get there but still, how freaking cool is that?!
It seems that completing the Virtual Punchcards each month unlocks something called VIP Exclusives, which if I am reading this correctly, range from exclusive items for your Avatar, extra months added to your Gold Subscription, and free Microsoft Points...
The details for the April 2013 Punchcards are:
Punchcard 1: Eat. Sleep. Game
Game on! Play any combination of Xbox LIVE Arcade games for a total of five hours to get a punch. Complete all four punches to receive the Reward!
Reward = Exclusive Avatar Item.
Punchcard 2: Collect Games, Get Gold
Now's the time to add to your Arcade game collection! Purchase any Arcade game* from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace to earn a punch. Get all four punches to nab the Reward!
Reward = 1-Month Xbox LIVE Gold Membership.
*Xbox LIVE Arcade game purchases must be 400 Microsoft Points or more.
Punchcard 3: Spend More, Get More
Our biggest Arcade fans get the biggest Reward! For every 800 Microsoft Points you spend on Arcade games, you'll get a punch. Earn all four punches to get the Reward!
Reward = 800 Microsoft Points.
Okay that's still pretty cool...
It's not exactly free-free but you know that at a minimum most gamers will be trying to get that Avatar Item just for the bragging rights.
The new or perhaps expanded (not sure about that) stats page is interesting, but seeing what the VIP exclusives will be each month is probably going to be the most frequent use for the MyAchievements pages...
|You needed food? They got that. Games? They got that! Clothes? They got hoodies...|
So There I Was
After selecting the Program Registration Gamer Pic a brief notice popped up informing me that there can be up to a 96-hour delay between the submission of my registration request and my actual registration for the program...
Then the screen changed, and now shows a big white pop-up notice that popped up following the download of the Gamer Picture that automagically registers the gamer who downloads it via LIVE that reads:
Your active and pending downloads appear here.
Recently completed downloads will appear in My Games and in the System Music Player and System Video Player apps.
To download new content, check the Xbox stores and media apps available in the Xbox Dashboard.
The reason that the page is still on the screen after five minutes is due to the shock I am still feeling and a feeling of horror that is deep and paralyzing that is prompted by the irrational fear that I will wake up and learn that it was only a fever-induced dream or hallucination caused by the antihistamines I am taking due to the nasty chest cold I am presently experiencing. That cannot happen, right? Right?!
So it looks like I have to wait three days or so before I can get a better picture of how this will work, since the details pages and tracking pages are not accessible until then... Sigh.