X-Box 360 Bundles are BAD

I was fortunate enough to grab a used HDTV for almost nothing from a relative. Having the TV and no HD source I got into the problem of choosing which HD Console to purchase. Some days ago I complained about some bad choices Nintendo made this holiday season. But those are nothing when compared to what actually Microsoft does with their X-Box 360 bundles. Each of the three companies made some mistakes in the past but Nintendo and Sony still manage to get some reasonable and thought-out products on the market. So on a basic level, I get the impression that they have some actual people in their marketing department that think things trough. Conversely, Microsoft’s marketing department seems consists of a bunch on monkeys. There is no other explanation. So let us review the evidence in form of the X-Box Bundles currently availible.

As a preface I would like to point out that the whole idea of the X-Box was seriously flawed from the start. The scheme is that the console is heavily re-configurable. Some of the specs (like the hard drive capacity) can be beefed up by purchasing overpriced accessories. In this particular case they are INSANELY overpriced. Nothing says “FUCK YOU!” to your customer more then selling a Wi-Fi USB Stick for 80€. But on a more fundamental level, this approach makes the product much more complicated and convoluted. It requires the customer to do some research before selecting the right base product and the right accessories. So if I check X-Box bundles on the German Amazon, I get TWO tables which compare the features of the bundles. They are labeled (and I tried to translate the grammatical construction used there) “These tables will make the search for the right X-Box a bit easier”. The kicker is that the aren’t even up-to-date anyway and contain false information. But this pops up the question: why is the search for the right X-Box so hard in the first place? Why do I even have to study that shit? If that thing is already so terribly over-priced, why isn’t it at least simple? I do have some affinity for technology but even I find the X-Box System it annoyingly complicated. Good example: Wii. There is just the Wii. That’s it. Buy it, be happy. That used to be the unique advantage of a console over a PC.

But anyway. So the cheapest option right now is called “X-Box 360 Arcade”. The bundle contains an X-Box sans Hard Drive. The games included are Sega Superstar Tennis (”I wouldn’t recommend that version of Sega Superstars Tennis to anyone who isn’t a massive fan of the company.” – Wired) and a CD with a bunch of X-Box Arcade titles and demos. There is also a 256MB memory stick and a headset. It costs 180€ here in Germany – less then a Wii.
But can you spot the flaws? Take the name for example? It suggests that it is a Bundle that highlights the X-Box Arcade features of the console. However, the really cool thing about X-Box Arcade is that you can buy all those games on-line. In order to do so, you really need a Hard Drive which THIS particular bundle doesn’t contain (and the stick is ridiculously under-sized for that). You also need Microsoft Points which you also don’t get with that Bundle. What you get instead is Sega Superstar Tennis and a headset you can’t use since you have no game that supports it.

The second Bundle is the X-Box with a 60GB drive. It comes with a headset and two games: Lego Indiana Jones (”The game suffers from a slow start, the first six chapters indistinct and repetitive” – Edge Magazine) and Kung-Fu Panda (”This shallow and repetitive beat-’em-up is fun for a while, but doesn’t last much longer than the movie that it’s based on.” – Gamespot). It costs 240€ – about the same as the Wii.
This Bundle and the Arcade Bundle seem to have been designed to compete with the Wii. They fail. Although the titles have some familiy-friendly quality… well let’s be frank: they suck BIG time. It seems like nobody bought them so Microsoft decided to shove them down people’s throats. Congratulations Microsoft! What a great way to start a relationship with a customer: show them how mediocre your games can be!
Here is how you do it right: the Wii comes with Wii Sports. The game might be not something you play forever but it is enjoyable and it shows off the unique capabilities of the system.
The funny thing is that the bad games will actually scare away customers because they will think they pay for things they don’t want. Selling a vanilla X-Box for the same price would seem more attractive. I’ve met two young fellow customers at the store who, after some consideration, bought the 160€ (!!!) more expensive PS3 just because it had a good game bundled with it (Little Big Planet). They clearly rejected the much cheaper X-Box because they found the games repelling. That’s how bad this bundle is. Finally, take note how this bundle also features a headset even though you can’t really use it with the games included.

So finally, let’s tackle the high-end solution. The “X-Box Elite” for 300€. It features a 120GB hard drive, the same headset, a HDMI cable and it is black. Also, the games included are (drumroll) … Lego Indiana Jones and Kung-Fu Panda!
This one left me quite speechless. Let us consider the kind of person that would spend 300€ for a high-end black X-Box. It would be probably a person very interested in video games. He (probably male) would have some knowledge about games and a keen interest in AAA Titles. What kind of incompetent idiot thinks that this person would be even remotely interested in Lego Indiana Jones and Kung-Fu Panda? Clearly, the “Elite” gamer will actually PAY MORE if he could get a packaging WITHOUT the crappy games printed on it.
But that’s not even the main problem. The main problem is: what is exactly so “Elite” about the X-Box Elite? For a while I considered buying it because it seemed like was the “all-inclusive” solution. It isn’t. If you compare it to the 60€ cheaper 60GB X-Box, all you get is a bigger hard drive and a HDMI cable. Now about that cable – even if you buy it at the over-priced “discounters” (they all sell the cables 5 times more expensive then they should be) it will cost maybe 20€. Which leaves us with 40€ just for the bigger hard drive. If you buy hard drives separately the difference is 50€ so here is your chance to get the bigger hard drive slightly cheaper. At this point Micrsofts’s technology-centered strategy breaks down.
As a customer, I ask myself the questions like “Why would I want a bigger hard drive” or “What do I need that hard drive for anyway?”. Those are valid questions as neither the Wii nor the PS2 (the two most successful consoles) have one. But the marketing of Microsoft is so focused on the specs that they fail to even tell you what this technology is for. Also, there is nothing in that Elite Bundle that lets me experience the advantage of that bigger hard drive.
Again, I get a headset which I can’t use. This time around, it makes slightly sense because a “Elite” gamer will probably want to have a headset for his team-based shooters. But then he could just as well buy the 60GB version, which also includes that headset. And what about the other “Elite” extras like Microsoft Points, rechargeable Batteries or an X-Box Live Gold membership? Nope.

Microsoft, you screwed up on this big time. Let me spell it out for you: Bundles are made to encourage people to buy a system. They should include not only the technology but also a “showcase” application that is either interesting on its own (a so-called “System Seller”) or which demonstrates the unique abilities of your product. Preferably both. Ideally, Bundles should be tailored towards a specific persona. They should be more expensive than the “pure” system but slightly less expensive than the individual components cost when bought separately. None of your bundles exhibits ANY of these characteristics!

I already mentioned how the Wii is sold with Wii Sports. It is both, a system seller and a technology demonstration. The PS3 bundles are also very excellent. There is a bundle with the family-friendly system seller Little Big Planet. There is one with the more “hardcore” Mirror’s Edge, which certainly looks stunning enough to be a technology demo. There is a bundle with Singstar Abba and Mama Mia on Blu-Ray which work very well for the young couple where the guy needs to convince his girlfriend of the value of the expensive system. And if she doesn’t like Abba: there is even one just with “Keinohrhasen” on Blu-Ray – an extremely successful German chick-flick. So while Nintendo goes for a robust one-fits-all solution, Sony tries to focus on different purchase scenarios and works towards the need of their customers by delivering products tailored to their needs. What Microsofts does – I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like there is anybody with a brain behind those bundles. Every salesperson I spoke to had the same tormented look on their face. Seems like they frequently have these discussions.

So finally, here is what I would do if I would work for Microsoft:

The cheapest version without the hard drive should be the family Wii alternative. Drop the misleading name, drop the headset, add one Title that is GOOD – say Lego Star Wars (”Even if the new bells and whistles aren’t enough to bring back established fans, this is still Lego Star Wars at its finest.” – Gamespot). You don’t want them to regret that purchase because they have some upgrading to do with that barebone X-Box.

The mid-range 60GB version could be the “Arcade” Version. Include NO game, drop the headset. Instead include at least 2000 Microsoft Points and the Wi-Fi adapter for headache-free installation (and to compete with the Wii and PS3). Also, include an nice, shiny print catalog of the available Arcade titles to encourage them to use your on-line system to get their games. They will soon run out of points and will come back for more. They will have to buy the “real” games separately but that’s the case with the current bundles anyway. It would be the vanilla, customizable one-size-fits-all version.

The “Elite” version should come with a kick-ass Multiplayer Title. It’s not like there are none on the X-Box: Halo 3, Call of Duty, Gears of War – each will do fine. Include the headset this time. Also include extended X-Box Live Gold Membership, a rechargeable battery and maybe throw in a just few Microsoft Points so they can start downloading stuff to that big hard drive. The goal here would be to make this the all-inclusive package. It’s “Elite” after all. The system is so complicated that I’m sure people will be happy to pay even more than 300€ for a solution that takes care of everything. You COULD drop the Wi-Fi adapter here because the “Elite” player will be inclined to play with a cable anyway.

After spending a whole day researching and running around downtown I finally got the Indiana Jones / Kung-Fu Panda 60GB version. I put the games on Amazon Marketplace without even opening them. I got a pre-owned GTA4, a pre-owned Wi-Fi adapter and 4000 Microsoft points. Also I borrowed a bunch of other games from a fellow X-Box owner so I’m pretty sorted right now. After that retail fiasco, the actual experience of the System is better. I will write more soon. Meanwhile, if you got an X-Box, get in contact with me. My id is “Krystoschmeisto” (see gamer tag on the right). I’m eager to test some of the X-Box Live Gold functions as long as my trial month lasts.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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