I go through Microsoft Points-the currency used to purchase content over Xbox Live-like mad. Whether I'm downloading new episodes of Doctor Who at 170 points per pop over Xbox Live's Zune video service or buying whichever 1,200-point downloadbale XBLA games are earning the most buzz, it seems like I need around 4,000 or more of these costly, cleverly intangible little suckers every month.
I've always thought that players should be able to earn Microsoft Points as a reward alongside the achievements they earn in games, but with all of the cheevo cheaters out there it seems unlikely Microsoft would ever acquiesce to such a promotion.
However, you can now earn Microsoft Points for free via an incentive system that has nothing at all to do with Xbox: Bing Rewards.
Download the Bing Bar (similar to Google's Toolbar) and you'll automatically be asked if you want to join the preview version of the Bing Rewards program, at which point you need only agree to the terms of service and enter your Windows Live username and password to get up and running. You'll get 250 reward points for your trouble, which can be redeemed immediately for 200 Mirosoft Points (it's a one-to-one ratio)-enough for some new avatar duds or my favourite episode of Doctor Who, "Blink". Rewards not related to games include books, gift cards, and charitable donations.
Earning Bing Rewards points takes a while. There are several ways (I earned a handful just for visiting specific sites displayed in the Rewards tab on the Bing Bar), but the most basic is simply by using the Bing search engine. You'll get one point for every two queries you perform. Put another way, you'll need to conduct 2,400 searches to earn enough Bing Reward points to be able to exchange them for enough Microsoft Points to get a 1,200 point downloadable game. That's a long slog. Then again, you probably conduct dozens of web searches every day, so all that work might as well be going toward something, right?
Of course, things like this are never as simple as they should be.
Problem number one: You need to use Bing. And Internet Explorer. This is a significant hurdle for a habitual Google/Chrome user like me. Of course, that's the point, isn't it? To bring Google and Mozilla's devotees back into the Microsoft fold.
Problem number two: Should you choose to spend your Bing Rewards points on Microsoft Points-a safe assumption since you're reading this blog-they won't just be added to your Xbox Live account, but rather mailed out to you. This makes little sense to me, since Microsoft has everything it needs to be able to do this-namely, your Windows Live username and password, which is connected to your Xbox Live account.
Which leads to problem number three (the kicker for Canadians): Microsoft only sends Bing Rewards items to American addresses. Canucks'll need to know someone in the U.S. or use a mail forwarding system if they ever want to redeem their hard-earned reward points.
Seems like a fair bit of grief, doesn't it? Perhaps the service will be extended north of the border when the preview ends next year, making the only serious obstacle one's affinity for Microsoft's web wares. Until then, it seems unlikely many Canadian gamers will find the potential reward of a free downloadable XBLA game once every four or five months to be worth the hassle.