Spicing Up The Lure Of Free Stuff

I was going to get this column done last night, but I was too busy trying to squeeze as many Gamerscore points as possible out of "Call of Duty 2" before moving on to "Lost Planet." Why would I shirk my duties as a columnist to increase a meaningless number on my Xbox Live profile? Why, free stuff, of course.

The free stuff comes from the "Old Spice Experience Challenge" promotion, which rewards gamers based on their Gamerscore. Any Xbox player is at least a little bit obsessed with his Gamerscore, which is like a younger, nerdier version of a golf handicap. This columnist's score is an anemic 660 -- cut him some slack, he spends a lot of time on PC games -- putting it in the lowest bracket of the Xbox Rewards hierarchy. The higher a gamer's score is -- which means the more games he's bought and the more time he's spent on the Xbox 360 -- the better the rewards Old Spice offers in the Experience Challenge promotion. You can get free Microsoft Points (used for buying stuff through Xbox Live), a free T-shirt, or even free games.



It's a pretty clever move on Microsoft's part. The first challenge sponsored by Old Spice is to improve your Gamerscore by 1,200 within two months. Each full-price title (about $60, retail) has 1,000 potential Gamerscore points, assuming you play through the game on the hardest difficulty level, and complete every part of the content. Each casual game offers 200. So, to rake in those points, gamers have to buy games, driving sales. Old Spice gets its brand in front of millions of rabid gamers, Microsoft and other game developers sell games, and gamers get free stuff -- everybody wins.

The Old Spice Experience Challenge illustrates the strength of the marketing platform that Microsoft has built with Xbox Live. If you haven't been keeping track of the console wars, here's a quick summary: Sony is way, way behind. When it comes to monetizing its audience of game-obsessed males 18-34, it's even further behind. Xbox Live not only attracts sponsors, but it helps drive game sales, and will provide an increasingly telling edge in the struggle for console marketshare.

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