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Microsoft details Xbox Live Rewards scheme, but the rewards leave us cold

Microsoft's new Xbox Live rewards scheme allows subscribers to scoop up bonus Microsoft Points for doing things like renewing their membership. But it doesn't seem too rewarding...

Microsoft's new Xbox Live rewards scheme allows Xbox Live subscribers to scoop up Microsoft Points for doing things like renewing their membership, or activating a Sky subscription on their console.

It works like a supermarket loyalty card -- except it's much harder to work out what you're getting.

Everyone loves a good loyalty scheme -- there's nothing better than finding you've got enough on your Nectar card for a bottle of Bombay Sapphire -- but you often have to spend a huge amount to earn enough points to treat yourself to something nice. Microsoft's scheme is similarly stingey, and much more opaque.

This is due to the nature of its virtual currency. Microsoft prices everything on the Xbox Marketplace in Microsoft Points to eliminate nasty £, $ and euro signs and to divorce you from your hard-earned cash in the name of acquiring that thing you really want right now. It doesn't feel like real money, so spending it is easy. It also means it's not obvious how much you're earning in its rewards scheme.

Renew your 12-month Live Gold subscription for £39.99, for example, and you'll earn 200 reward points. We downloaded Scott Pilgrim on special offer recently for 400 points (and very happy we are with it too), so renewing that twelve month subscription will net you enough points for about half a game.

But in real terms, that 200 points is worth £1.71, or 4 per cent of what you've spent. Bear in mind you can get that 12-month subscription on special offer from sites such as Amazon, for as little as £30.

There are several other ways to earn a few points back. Your first Gold membership will earn you 100 points, as will your first points purchase or activating Sky Player. But somehow that 85p back isn't quite enough to persuade us to part with the £15 per month minimum that enabling Sky Player will cost.

The system isn't even automatic -- you have to enter your Live ID on the website. The email it shoots you mentions earning points for your 'feedback', and indeed you can earn 20 points (or a whopping 17p in real money), for filling out a survey. We suspect this is the nub of the scheme -- to learn more about you. After all, most loyalty schemes are effectively a way for companies to gain valuable information about their customers.

In other Xbox news, Microsoft's gleaming console is currently battling Sky+ HD in our Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century tournament. At the time of writing it holds a whopping 70 percent of the votes, so it's time to head on over to the voting page and have your say.