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Fighting for Loyalty

Steve Watts | 8 Apr 2012 08:00
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These systems are difficult to balance, and not every publisher chooses to follow through with making them. Sony began to introduce a PlayStation Rewards system in late 2010. The program proposed rewards for buying content, answering surveys, playing games, downloading demos, and being active in PlayStation Home and the PlayStation forums. You might notice that many of these activities, such as downloading demos and participating in the forums, wouldn't result in a direct financial benefit to Sony. While Club Nintendo and Xbox Live Rewards only grant prizes after having purchased a game or content, Sony apparently planned to give rewards merely for participating in Sony activities. In this way, Sony was the one company willing to reward fans merely for being fans.

Then again, the prizes weren't as valuable. Rather than giving games, points to buy games, or branded merchandise, the PlayStation Rewards system proposed giving relatively inexpensive virtual items like avatars, PlayStation Home items, dynamic themes, and entries into sweepstakes. The beta test of the program eventually added "Quests," encouraging users to try out different services. Users might be rewarded for watching an episode of PlayStation Pulse, for example, or using the PlayStation Move.

These seemed more tied to money-making features for Sony, but the company ultimately shut the program down. Sony said the program was "not ready to roll out to the public" as planned, and that was nearly a year ago. As far as anyone can tell, the PlayStation Rewards system is effectively dead.

Not all of the rewards come from major publishers, though. Ubisoft eschews real-life rewards and has instead pursued an insular, cross-game rewards system. Registering a U-Play account and playing U-play enabled games gives points to spend on extra game content, ranging from skins to system backgrounds or maps. The benefit to Ubisoft is obvious: It puts you on their mailing list, and your leftover points might encourage you to try out other Ubisoft games. Letting you spend them across different titles means that if a piece of content in Assassin's Creed didn't catch your eye, you might spend your points in Splinter Cell instead.

Since each of these services is meant to add value to products, it's important to keep in mind just how much value is included. Monetarily, none of them offer very significant additions as compared to the $30 or more you'll be spending to gain them. Ultimately, the so-called value of items is personal. If you care more about a Mario-branded backpack or some nifty DS styluses, then Nintendo's rewards will carry more weight for you. If you'd rather gather points that can be spent on any content from the Xbox Live Marketplace, then Microsoft's is the way to go. The loyalty programs themselves, as the name implies, rely on your own interest in the subject to make them worthwhile.

Steve Watts is a freelance writer in the DC/Baltimore area, and has two shelves full of useless geek merch.

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