I was curious about Xbox live when I heard about it. My first impression was... "well that sounds like a con" and to some extent that holds true. It's a bizarre concept for sure. I buy the xbox, I buy the games, I pay for the internet connection and then I have to pay a gamers tax to connect to on-line servers? Microsoft are really earning their M$ tag with this as I've discovered from the free one months trial.
At the time of writing this, it's possible to get a 12 month Xbox-Live membership for around £30 from Amazon. The question is why would you want to? You really do need to research this topic as I could walk into M$ tomorrow with a list of things which should be done differently with XBL.
Ok so with XBL you get to download lots of demo's so I can sort of see the point for that. At £2.50 per month it's cheaper than a magazine with a disc on the front and you have a better selection of things to try. I will also admit that the ability to unlock full versions of games from within the console is also good (although warning bells are ringing on that one - I'll explain later). There is a certain amount of stuff which is naff though which deserves to be explored.
First of all the points system. Yes I credited my account with 2000 points for £17 and I used 800 of those to unlock the full version of my all-time favourite driving game - Outrun. Here's the problem though. Everything is listed in terms of points so you have to be numerically dextrous to figure out how much you're paying for things. 800 points equates to (17.00/2000*800) which is £6.80. In the case of Outrun I would say that's a bargain but at the same time I've lost the resale value. With a disc I could have put it on eBay in a year or two and perhaps got some of my money back. Not so easy with data on your drive.
I also quite like the idea of film rental via the xbox but here in the UK we get to access Zune rather than Netflix. The upshot appears to be a really limited number of films. Again you need to check the prices of these very carefully. When I looked, some of the more appealing and more recent films were being offered for around 590 points for a 24 hour loan period. Working this out at £5.02 reveals it's a lot more costly per film than other services.
Yet another cash-sink for the financially astute is the avatar system. Yes some of those coveted points can be swapped for customised clothing and accessories for your digital representation (or wii-mii on Nintendo). It's true that some of these can be obtained from games when you obtain specific achievements but I can't imagine who would really want to spend money on them? If they were outfits for in-game characters that you played a lot then maybe but as the avatar is purely a dashboard (and online) feature there appears to be little incentive to spend money on them as far as I can see.
Then there are the things which XBL is not so good at. Ok everyone can have their own profile (and avatar) which enables M$ to sell 'family subscriptions' so why then do the parental controls apply to all profiles? Surely it's logical that I only want my young son to be blocked from the online blood-n-gore fests? Also where is the option to pay for a months XBL subscription with the points I have left over? The real scary part however is that my profile now has my credit card linked and I can't help wondering how easy it will be for my son to switch to my profile and start clicking on the 'unlock this game now' buttons. There are so many warning bells ringing that I could be mistaken for thinking I'm just outside the Vatican.
I've also noticed that on the xbox there's currently an offer to get two months XBL membership for the price of one. I'm not sure how regular this is but paying for 6 months sounds more appealing than paying for 12. I think I will now have to wait until my trial membership ends to see if I miss it enough to consider paying for it. At the moment though I can't see the point. Maybe if they threw in one full price new release game into the deal it would be worth an annual subscription. At the end of the day, those demo's exist to part me from my money. If I'm not playing them, I'm probably not buying the full games either.