The Genius of Microsoft’s Funbucks

Downloadable games are huge business these days. Some of 2011’s most incredible experiences were small downloadable titles that were significantly cheaper than full boxed titles, available from Steam, the Playstation Network or the Xbox Live Arcade. Unlike the first of those two, though, that allow you to pay for games in your local currency, Microsoft decided to do things a little differently. Rather than charge you seven pounds, ten dollars or five hundred dinari for a game, they basically decided they were big enough to be a country and introduced their own currency. They even made the symbol for their currency look like a small Deathstar. Talk about delusions of grandeur! Apparently the actual, official name for this currency is Microsoft Points, but a lot of people I know call them MS Funbucks.

At first I thought it was a clever system to avoid repricing every time a currency fluctuates. You make a game 1200 points, but vary how much in your local currency it costs to buy 1200 points, thereby simplifying the process, and cleverly making it look like the game costs the same worldwide, when it doesn’t. However, I later realised that this isn’t how it works at all. When Major Nelson blogs about new XBLA titles, it frequently says “Click here to see the price in your country”, which means it is not just one worldwide price at all. So why not just charge in your local currency?

Taken for a ride: Microsoft's fairground ride of pricing.

The real masterstroke of evil genius in the MS fun bucks plan is as follows:

On the day of writing, these were the points bundles you can buy online via and your console, and their equivalent UK price:

500 Microsoft Points – £4.25
1000 Microsoft Points – £8.50
2000 Microsoft Points – £17.00
5000 Microsoft Points – £42.50
6000 Microsoft Points – £51.00

Now let’s take a look at some popular downloadable titles and add-ons:

Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand – 1200 funbucks.
Trials HD – 1200 funbucks.
Peggle – 800 funbucks.
From Dust – 1200 funbucks.

Like most add ons and games, now, Back to Karkand costs a perfectly inconsistent 1200 MS funbucks…

Notice anything about those prices? The two don’t add up. Whichever pack of points you buy to buy a single item, you are left with “spare” points. I tried to remember where I had seen this scheme before, and it hit me. When I was a kid we went to a fairground where they sold you tickets at the gate that you exchanged for rides at the fair. Of course, they sold the tickets in packs of ten and all the rides cost 3 tickets, so you always had one ticket left. Just like XBLA, you could get around it by buying a lot of tickets (30, in this case), but in general you didn’t want that many and ended up wasting one or two.

Of course, the left-over fairground ticket was entirely useless. In fact, the only thing you could do with it was give it to someone else coming in to the fair, so that they could get some use from it. And that, right there, is why Microsoft don’t let you gift your artificially “spare” fun bucks to your friends (or indeed gift at all).

As it is, you either gradually collect up your “spare” points until you have enough for a decent purchase, or you do as many others do, and spend their “spare” points on Xbox Live avatar clothing. And for you people, I have but one thing to say: “CHUMP!”



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4 responses to “The Genius of Microsoft’s Funbucks”

  1. Rich Turner avatar
    Rich Turner

    All that genius means wherever possible I don’t buy on xbox.
    Charge in real money and let me spend just what I want to spend. Steam’s the best, then PSN then the Wii strangely enough then 360. At least Wii games are rarely over 1000 so £7 will almost always cover it.

  2. Tony avatar

    The PSN also has a slight oddity in its payment scheme, though. If you have no money in your wallet, you have to put in a minimum of £5, but if you have even one pence in your wallet, you only need to top up to the price of the item. It’s also odd, but not as deliberately obtuse as Microsoft’s scheme.

  3. Duncan avatar

    Weirdly enough this sort of thing is why I don’t buy points directly from Microsoft. I buy them from retailers online because I can buy 800/1200 codes without the hassle of having spare points.

    If Microsoft actually had an 800 point option for, say, £6.50(ish) I’d buy straight from them and they’d never need to have a middle-man again!

    I approve this blog’s message.

  4. Leon avatar

    Tony, I think the PSN system for money is something to do with transaction charges. I can’t say for sure, but I know that some retail shops won’t let you pay on debit card unless you are spending over £5 due to the fact they have to pay a transaction fee for electronic payments – meaning that if you only spend 50p it might not be worth their while. This may only be a coincidence, but I can only assume that there’s a similar transaction charge when PSN debit money from bank accounts.

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