To answer some of Nagle’s questions, I figured it would be easier to write up a whole other post solely about Xbox Live. Initially, when I got my 360, I had to think about what I was going to do with Live, accessories and my initial game purchases. I searched all over for what I thought was the most cost effective solution. I learned a few things a long the way.

First, the Live service does seem expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Buying a membership a month at a time on a credit card is of course Microsoft’s preferred method that you do it. At $7.99 a month, that comes out to to $96 for a full year (8 x 12). However, there are better deals to be had. Buying a “12 month subscription card” will run you $49 for 12 months, or roughly $4.20 a month. Or better yet, if you can find a “12 month premium gold pack”, those run $69 and includes a year of Xbox live, a free headset ($20 normally unless you bought the premium system), 200 MS points to buy thing on the marketplace (about $3) and a $20 rebate (bringing the price back to $49). That was what I did, using an Amazon coupon code for 10% off, another for free shipping on orders over $50 and a few bucks I had left on an Amazon gift certificate. Basically, I got $100 worth of Xbox Live for $30 with free shipping. That’s $2.50 a month, or $0.08 a day. At 8 cents a day, I certainly feel that I’m getting my moneys worth. When it comes time to renew in January, I plan on using whatever inevitable form of gift card I received over Christmas to continue funding my nearly free fun. Those 12-month subscription cards can be found all over, usually for less than their suggested $50.

In terms of accessories, this is when EB and Gamestop are you friends. Knowing full well that EB will take just about anything in trade, regardless of condition, you have to be careful, but expensive accessories can be found for relatively cheap. Let’s face it, the biggest draw to the console is the wireless controllers. They’re simply awesome. If you get the premium system you get one wireless controller, so obviously you’re going to need at least one more. They retail for $39 at Amazon ($49 sometimes at places like BestBuy) but they can be found “pre-owned” at EB for $20. Just inspect the controller for signs of being thrown across the room or for loose (vertically in their slots) thumbsticks (they wear out the fastest). Otherwise you’re probably safe. It’s a controller, they’re built for abuse, so it’s probably ok to pick up a pre-owned one and save a few bucks.

Also, you’re going to need some rechargeable batteries to go with those, unless of course you want to buy AAs every week. I opted for the Quick Charge kit, which comes with the charger and a battery on it’s own. Those damn batteries are expensive ($12 a pop) so if you can get away with buying just one and getting the second with the charger, that’s probably the way to go. Another option that I found completely retarded, was the “Play and Charge” kit. It’s $15 for a cable to charge your battery while you play. It works off the systems USB power. I don’t know about you, but I don’t play games for 25 hours at a time. I don’t need to play and play and play and plug in my battery to charge while I play some more. I play for a few hours at a time, put the battery on the charger and come back to a fresh battery the next time I play. It also defeats the purpose of having a wireless controller. The upside is that it’s only a few bucks more expensive than a battery on it’s own and might be good to have in an “emergency” situation.

Anyway, back to XBL. I will agree that Gold is the way to go. Silver seems ok until you’ve beaten all your single player games and you don’t know what to do next. I beat Rainbow Six: Vegas about 3 months ago, but to this day I’m still playing it multiplayer over XBL.

Also, there is a fair amount of nickel and dimming going on, I’ll be honest about that. How much of that effects you is completely different. I think it’s completely ridiculous that they charge 150 MS points for a picture for your gamer card/avatar. That’s BS. I believe the conversion is 80 points per $1.00. So, at the most common amounts, 200 points is $2.50, 400 points is $5 and 800 points is $10. Now, you also have to understand how things are priced on the marketplace. Little things (gamer pictures, dashboard themes, etc) are typically 200 points, XBL arcade games are either 400 or 800 points (depending on size/depth of the game) and game addons (map packs, custom content) are typically 800 points.

Also, very important to note, is the fact that a wide variety of the content that gets charged for is released for free later on. For example, the Lost Planet, Gears of War and Rainbow Six map packs were 800 points a piece 3 months ago, now you can get them all for free. The last RB6 pack was made available for free just last week and it contains 5 new levels and 2 new game play modes. Since I hadn’t beaten the game yet when they came out initially, I was able to ignore them, getting them for free later on. To this day I’ve only purchase 1 addon item from the marketplace. That was a 3 song pack for Guitar Hero and was only 500 points, about $2 a song. Everything else I’ve ever gotten in terms of an addon has been free. I would imagine that if anyone ended up getting an Xbox this winter, you’d have quite a large database of free stuff available.

Lastly, in terms of the marketplace, it’s saved me from buying a good number of crappy games. The single best feature of the marketplace is that ALL demos are free. You can play a good portion of the 360’s library before you ever buy a game. I personally test drove all but one of my games (Guitar Hero, obviously) before I bought them and I couldn’t be happier with my purchases. Even demos of the XBL arcade games are free. From those I was able to tell if I wanted to buy copies of things like Cataan, which I’ve ended up playing for hours.

So, I think all together I’ve spent about 1800 points since I’ve had the 360. I’ve purchased a few arcade games and and a penny-arcade picture pack (with my 200 free points). That’s about $22, and I think I’d spend that again if given the chance. The real danger is viewing it as “micro-transactions” like they want you to. You brain is telling you “if you send $5 on lunch, surely $5 on some maps is ok”. You can get into a real bad habit of buying things on a whim. Avoid it if you can and only buy things that you either really really want or positively can’t wait for to become free anyways.

Moving on to hardware issues, the first I wanted to address is the heat/red ring of death/failure issue. First, considering the failure rate of these consoles, there’s a good deal that MS should be ashamed about. 30% death rate is unacceptable. I will give them points for upping the warrenty to 3 years parts and service, which should go a long way to helping, but they need a serious redesign for the second generation of these machines. I would also say however, that a good number of these issues could have been avoid by the consumer. Placing you console vertically simply isn’t a good idea. It might have work for the PS2, but this is not a PS2. It simply isn’t designed to be vertical. It’s base isn’t wide enough and it’s center of gravity is weird. Putting this thing horizontally is the way to go, no question about it. Also, you have to treat it like the mini-computer that it is. It’s got a smoking hot CPU and graphics card and needs all the fresh air it can get. I had my console IN my entertainment center for 2 days before I noticed the incredible heat coming out of the cabinet. I almost burnt my hand when I reached back there to unplug it. It simply didn’t have enough ventilation. Now it sits proudly on top of my DVD player BESIDE my TV, in the open air. I also pointed the AC vent in my living room in it’s general direction. It’s remained cool to the touch and happy ever since. There’s no question that heat is an issue for this thing, and people who put it in an enclosed space and then are surprised and angry when their system dies have really brought it on themselves.

Also, on the issue of connectivity and WiFi, I simply don’t use it for gaming. I have a wireless router, 4 computers and the xbox. My gaming rig and the xbox are the only things that have a hard line to the router. That’s just old school gaming/lan experience talking. The last thing you’d want to do is any serious lag sensitive gaming over WiFi. I wouldn’t play Battlefield over WiFi, so I figured I wouldn’t play Xbox games on it either. I got a $20 piece of cat5 and ran it around the corner/baseboard of the apartment, pulling up the carpet slightly to hide it, and it’s never been an issue since. No one can see it, no one knows it’s there and I get a great connection. It also helps out when the Xbox dashboard/media center is trying to find my computer on the network. It goes right to it every time. The media I have shared on my WiFi enabled computers takes several minutes to show once I try and search for it. You can read more about when I set that up here.

In terms of games, there’s quite a bit of money to be saved by buying a system a while after it’s come out. The 360, like it’s predecessor, has an entire line of “Greatest Hits” titles. Games like Fight Night, Gears and Ghost Recon can all be found for $20 instead of their original $60. Half my 360 games are “Greatest Hits”. They’re new to me, and I know they’re a quality titles so $20 sounds a lot nicer to my wallet.

Lastly, to quote Nagle directly,

“So, if I wanted to get the best system available and access everything online for the next five years…it’d come out to $830. That’s without the HD-DVD…which would push it up over a grand.”

This is true, if you wanted to get the black elite xbox with HDMI, 5 years of Live and the $100 WiFi adapter it would be about $830. That is, if you think you need the 120G hard drive and the HDMI. The premium system has a 20G hard drive and the picture is quite nice via the component cables on my in-laws flat panel and that’s $399, soon to be less. I’ve yet to fill more than 4 Gs of the 20G I have. Unless you’re going to buy HD movies via the marketplace, download them and KEEP them on your hard drive, saving game data is never going to need 120Gs. Also, if you don’t get the WiFi adapter and just run a cable, that would be $399 for the system and $250 for XBL (retail), so $650 for 5 years of 360 gaming, or $500 for a single day of PS3.

From there we could get into the whole HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray thing, but I don’t think anyone knows which way that is going to go yet. I’m planning on holding off until I get a nice 50″ flat panel before I invest in any sort of high-def player, and that’ll take a while. By then, if HD-DVD has won, a $100 HD-DVD player for the 360 would probably be about the cheapest player I could think of. If Blu-Ray wins, then the PS3 will need to remain high priced so as to not undercut Sony’s own BR players (currently $399) . I would think of that as the most expensive player on the market. If you’re looking at it solely as a movie player that is.

I won’t lie, the PS3 is very attractive. They’ve got some interesting titles coming out and I’d love to have one. I don’t know where the “war” will end up, but it’ll be fun to watch. And, considering I received my 360 as a gift, I really can’t talk to the “financial investment” portion of the argument. All I know is that I consider it to be a solid and fun machine, with a great online component and an excellent catalog of games which is only getting better. I’d say that if PS3 was a little cheaper out of the gate and if it’s online system was time-proven, I would have had a very hard time choosing.

What it really came down to was the games, especially the launch titles. Gears vs Resistance, there’s no comparison. Gears wins hands down, and I’ve played them both. For those of you who are looking for Madden, there’s hardly a difference. There’s some subtle differences in shaders and vertex lighting and stuff like that, but nothing that’s going to change the game, so it’s pretty much a draw there. Other than that, you really just have to take a look at the list of games and see which system has more of what you want to play. For me, that was 360. In another couple years it might change. Sony says that the PS3 is a 10 year machine, and if they have the games to back it up, I might end up getting one. For the moment, I’ve very pleased with what I had. It’s a better “experience” than the original Xbox, that’s for sure, and I had a whole mess of fun with that thing.