Microsoft Points are the bane of the Xbox 360 owner’s existence. How much do I have left in my wallet? 170 Microsoft Points? Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD costs how much? Why do I need these stupid points!?
Microsoft’s virtual currency is a curse that gets people to spend more than they have to on downloadable goods. Hence why it seemed like such a wonderful thing on Wednesday when Avatar items popped up on Xbox Live with real dollar prices on them. Also hence why it was so disappointing when those prices reverted to Microsoft Points shortly thereafter.
Turns out it was all just a mistake. Microsoft told GamesIndustry International on Thursday that the prices appeared as a glitch, not a broad shift towards consumer friendliness. “Yesterday, a few avatar items appeared with an option to purchase with local currency, instead of Microsoft Points. The display error doesn’t signal a change in payment options, but rather an error in how the offers were configured in our services which resulted in an inconsistent experience. It is in the process of being resolved.”
The verbose PR speak can’t mask the fact that Microsoft is clearly considering a shift away from Microsoft points. Rumors first popped up in January that Microsoft planned to phase out Microsoft points by the end of 2012, looking to unify its digital retail operations across Xbox Live Arcade and the Windows Phone Marketplace. While Microsoft declined to comment on the rumors at the time, it was said that numerous mobile developers were informed that they would need to adjust the pricing of in-app purchases and DLC to reflect local currencies. While the Zune Marketplace, Windows Phone Marketplace, and XBLA all used Microsoft points at one point, they have not universally in all territories.
Virtual currency systems aren’t going anywhere. The profitability of Facebook Credits and similar fake loots purchased with real world cash has guaranteed their continued existence for some time. The era of virtual currency having any layer of abstraction in front of actual dollar value is coming to a close though. Nintendo finally gave up the DSi/Wii Points ghost with the Nintendo 3DS eShop’s real money prices last year, and the Wii U is expected to follow suit.
With Windows 8 and the Surface tablet on the horizon, Microsoft needs to make its pantheon of digital businesses uniform and easy to understand for consumers. Don’t make them remember how many points you get for $5. Just tell them they need to spend $5.