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Four stupid things I learned from owning an Xbox 360

My Xbox 360 hasn't done this to me so far, but here's some things it has done ...

Over the weekend, I became the proud owner of an aged but functional Xbox 360 Arcade with an attached 20GB hard drive. It didn’t come with any games though, and it being a bank holiday weekend here in the UK all the used games shops were closed, so I had to resort to XBLA to get my first taste of gaming goodness. Going to hit the charity shops with a vengeance this lunchtime though. But here’s a short list of unexpected things that I discovered as a used console owner.

1. GamerTag profiles are stupid

Being enthusiastic, I made the gross error of setting up my XBLA account *before* I set up the console. It then took me half an hour to actually sign on to Xbox live, because every time I tried to enter my email and password, the machine told me those details were already matched to an existing GamerTag. I tried changing my profile name, deleting the old profiles on the machine, searching the online help and menus, each and every time having to tediously re-enter my long email address and password without a keyboard all to no avail until I discovered, quite by chance, that if you already have a profile you have to download it first. Am I the only person who found this “feature” to be idiotically well-hidden?

2. Microsoft Points are stupid

As I said I had to get my first games from XBLA. There were three that interested me: Braid, Limbo and Trials Evolution which would come to a grand total of 3200 “points” if I wanted them all. Can I buy 3200 point? Not if I want to get a discount on RRP and buy them in blocks from cards, no. This is so screamingly, obviously a ploy to force people to overspend and then use the excess to engage with other parts of the Microsoft shop to buy mp3’s and such that I’m amazed there hasn’t been more of an outcry about it. I think it’s absolutely disgusting and I’ll be doing my damnedest to try and make up round numbers from promotions and freebies where I can find them. Although I note that the Bing Rewards scheme is arbitrarily only available in the US and therefore closed to me, so way to go to alienate a substantial chunk of your user base, Microsoft. Also, I found it extraordinary that the critically acclaimed Braid, an XBLA game from 2008 will cost me approximately £8 in points, whereas the copy of the critically acclaimed Fallout 3 from 2008 that I secured on Ebay cost me £4 including P&P. No bloody wonder manufacturers are keen to squash the second hand games market: this isn’t just about stopping used sales, it’s about encouraging downloads and locking down the means of distribution at which point you have an effective monopoly and can charge what the hell you like.

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3. My TV is stupid

I still have an old cathode ray set. I have never seen the point of HDTV: I have friends that have it, and I’ve seen it demoed in shops and it really hasn’t looked all that much better than SDTV to me, especially when you factor in that the vast majority of broadcasts in the UK are still in SD and that they look marginally inferior when viewed on an HD set due to having to be processed through scaling software. As far as consoles go I stupidly thought the same would apply, especially since I’ve seen adverts for games on the TV that looked okay. But the minute I loaded up a game to play, I could see what the problem was: horrible fuzzy edges everywhere. I’m perplexed as to why I perceive this problem so much more in computer graphics than actual TV transmissions but for now I’m just encouraging my kids to throw heavy objects at the screen in the hope the insurance will cover a new one.

4. Consoles are stupidly effective money sinks

I picked this console up because it was a bargain. And then promptly spent £30 on XBLA points and used games from Ebay, and that barely scratches the surface of what I want to play. Now I’m thinking I need a new memory stick and a bigger hard drive. And I’m tempted to buy The Witcher 2 even though it’s new and can only be had for near full price because it sounds awesome. My six-year old daughter would absolutely love Kinect. Oh, and Brandon told me about this handy-sounding recharge kit for the controllers. And at some point someone is going to challenge me to some online gaming and then I’ll need to upgrade to Gold. So I’ve gone from from trying to economise to spending tons of money, all because I managed to pick up a bargain. How the hell does that work?

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So that’s my weekend in a nutshell. The first game I spent those points on is Trials Evolution – might post a review next week as it hasn’t had much coverage round here, and it’s totally not what I was expecting when I downloaded it.

Matt Thrower

Matt is a board gamer who plays video games when he can't find anyone similarly obsessive to play against, which is frequently. The inability to get out and play after the birth of his first child lead him to start writing about games as a substitute for playing them. He founded and writes there and at

38 thoughts to “Four stupid things I learned from owning an Xbox 360”

  1. I agree with the MS points, but it’s going away soon anyway

    I would not have an HDTV if I didn’t have my 360 and ps3 on them. I do like gamertags though, simply to track my friends and my stupid, pointless (but much loved) achievements.

    The 360 original was a ridiculous machine in terms of being crap, but it is easily my favorite console this gen. For everything MS does wrong, I feel Sony gets something else even worse, so I game where I am least inconvenienced

    1. While I’ve seen the demise of MS points widely reported, I don’t think it’s yet been confirmed by Microsoft. Although something that widely trailed is likely to contain some truth I guess. Even so, I’m surprised that people have put up with such a palpably awful system for such a long time. And there’s the question of what’ll happen to any points you happen to have stashed in your account if and when the switch happens.

  2. Technically you don’t need a bigger hard drive or a thumbdrive. If you think you’re only going to play XBLA games or only play one game at a time, 20GB will suffice for game installs. Thumbdrives are nice if you plan on transporting your gamertag to someone else’s house or to another console. That’s why I got one, for shuttling between my two consoles. Yes, I have a problem.

    As for upgrading to Gold, for a very long time, if you set up a new profile and repeatedly refused their offer to upgrade to Gold they would give you a month free. It may be worth investigating to at least see if you want to play online. If you do, you can probably find 12 month subscription cards for less than what MSFT wants to charge you. I’m not sure if the same deals can be found in the UK but I scored two 12 month cards for $35 each just a month or so ago. That’s $25 off of what MSFT charges.

  3. Regarding digital content pricing even on the PC were the selection and the number of deals available is much better the the Xbox if you decide one day to buy an old game on a whim is much easier to find a deal on psychical media from a online store or even ebay. That’s why I fall so many time for Steam deals even if I know that I probably can’t play the game any time soon because if I wait for the moment I get the time to play it I know that I probably have to pay a premium price on digital download. Of course on the XBox is even worse because MS set the prices so there is little competition on the online store and deals are pretty scarce.

  4. Maybe it’s different in the UK, but 1600 points is one of the stock point amounts here, mapping to $20. 1600 x 2 = 3200.

    1. You might be able to do it direct through Microsoft, but if you’re buying cards to save a bit of money then they come in 800, 1200, 2100 and 4200. But fair point that it is possible if you’re willing to pay RRP. I will amend the piece accordingly. Which will sadly entail removing the word “bollocks”

  5. I agree about the MS points issue. Although in the US there is a 400 / $5 option, which makes things a little easier. Their stated policy is with all of the different regions game prices can always be set the same. A game will always cost 800 spacebux no matter what region you are in. The price of the 800 spacebux might vary depending on exchange rate. But it’s easier to change the price of the points than all of the games. Of course that’s all a bunch of marketing BS. I can’t even count how many times I have purchased a highly questionable Rock Band song simply because I had an extra 160 points hanging off. (I’m looking at you Lady GaGa)

  6. While I agree with all of your points, the part of this article that jumped out at me was hearing that most feeds in the UK are SD. With releases like Planet Earth and Life, I thought the BBC was on the ball when it came to HD content!

    Also: down with MS points. I really hope all these ridiculous point systems are gone in the next console generation, it’d be nice to pay the price for the things that I want rather than an extra $2-4 due to obvious greed.

    1. There’s a BBC HD channel which broadcasts 24/7 but the actual selection of programs on offer is very limited. And for all those amazing nature broadcasts there are still a lot of flagship shows that aren’t broadcast in HD, as well as most of the popular soaps and stuff.

      If you have paid subscription TV (which I do currently but am planning to cancel soon) then you can also get a lot of the big US shows in HD. But I watch too much on the BBC to make that worthwhile. And besides, as I said, the quality difference between SD and HD does not look, to me, big enough to justify the expense. Why it is that I find difference is so much more noticeable in computer games than it is in actual TV is an interesting question though, to which I have no answers.

      1. Wait, hold on. You mean to tell me those awesome BBC Planet Earth videos that I get broadcast in HD (on pay cable only though) are only played in SD for you Brits? That’s crazy! I’d figure that if the BBC is the one filming them then the taxpayers who fund them would at least get the same quality their international broadcasts get.

        1. Oh no, we got those in HD. But they’re not often repeated, and the BBC does not make very many programmes in HD.

          1. That’s what surprises me, actually! Our CBC actually switched over to full HD broadcasting (even over the air!) a few years back with 1/10th the funding the BBC gets. Everything gets broadcasted in HD, even shows that don’t benefit at all, like our version of Dragon’s Den.

            On the other hand, I’d still trade the CBC for the BBC any day of the week; at least you guys have good programming on TV, even if it would look grainy on my TV… 😉

  7. I haven’t had any trouble with my gamertag, but you are spot on with the other three. I’m also a last hold-out with a CRT TV. I don’t have any intention of upgrading to digital cable or blu ray so I haven’t seen the need, but games on the xbox are gearing more and more towards HD. It isn’t the graphics really either, its the text. Tiny TINY illegible text everywhere. I find myself leaning forward and squinting like an old man just to read what is on the screen.

    So pretty soon I’ll be picking up a flat screen (they are pretty cheap nowadays anyway if you don’t need a 50″)just because I am becoming functionally illiterate when it comes to text in games.

    One tip is that if you are connecting your xbox using the standard RCA (red, yellow, white) plugs then you are really going to have a bad experience. The first thing I did was buy the S-video cable and that made a huge difference. But, I don’t know if crazy outer space UK TVs use the same types of connections.

    1. Agreed. I resisted for the longest time, but I finally got one (no joke, about 3 months ago) for my Xbox, and the first match of Battlefield 3 I played, I damn near lost my team the game because I was too fixated on watching the animation for the grass.

    2. Ah but now I can see the point: it’s for video games.

      As for normal TV, you seriously telling me you’ve been floored by the difference between the two? I watch both side by side in a specialist AV store a couple of years ago, and while I could see the difference, it was minimal.

      1. What kind of things do you watch?

        Seriously it can make a big difference. I’m a sports fan, favorites being football and hockey. After seeing the HD broadcasts hockey is all but unwatchable in SD. In fact anything with fast action has significant improvements in HD (hence why you’re seeing it now with the Xbox, most video games count for fast action). Same for blockbuster or special effects heavy films, sci-fi, or odd things like the Planet Earth specials.

        If you mostly watch sitcoms, character heavy shows, game shows, etc. then yeah I suppose that you wouldn’t see the benefit to HD. It really is nice though, I’d say it’s on par with the difference between Gen 1 3d consoles (PS, N64) and Gen 2 (Xbox, GC, PS2).

      2. For me the biggest difference was with watching live sporting events. If that’s not your thing, cool, but at least here in the States the difference with sports on TV is night and day between SD/HD.

      3. Mr. Thrower, I felt like you for many years. I’ve been a convert now for a few months and I can’t fathom going back. Just make sure when it comes time that you get a quality set. Don’t get the cheapest available.

        Unless you’re actively involved in fighters. Then you might consider sticking with traditional sets if nothing else for the lag it adds.

  8. I watch all sorts of different stuff from big stupid action films to documentaries about Roman concrete. So perhaps it would be good. Certainly your observation about it being best for fast action would explain my observation: what I watched in the AV store was some daytime chat show.

    Anyway this is a moot point. In a couple of months I’m going to cancel my paid TV subscription and get a free satellite reception box, which will be HD compatible. And then, with the 360 as well, so long as I can afford it I’ll have little excuse not to upgrade the set too.

    1. Just make sure you don’t go spending a ridiculous amount of money on HDMI cables because the puppet in the store tells you they are “extra-special HDMI cables that can handle 1080p images at 240hz!” (I’m looking at you, Monster brand) An HDMI cable is the EXACT same connection as any other HDMI cable. You can get them for less than US$10 at a site like

      Probably my biggest gripe is the price gouging on cables, I hate seeing people overspend for them. Hope this helps!

      1. +1 for monoprice. Been using their cables and HDMI switch for a few years now and haven’t had a single problem.

        1. Monoprice is amazing. I never buy any kind of cabling elsewhere. I have gotten one or two defective/crappy cables from them, but I could buy three for the price of one from Best Buy or wherever. I was able to run Ethernet cable through my whole house for like $50 through them. And their HDMI switch box is a must if you have a retarded HDTV like mine with only two inputs.

  9. Is it even possible to buy a non-HD TV anymore? I can’t remember the last time I saw a CRT television or computer monitor in a store.

  10. One thing about the points is if you use the Bing search engine and you partake in Xbox Rewards you can get a couple hundred gamer points each month. Yea it’s not big spending, but I’ve bought quite a few games over the last year that were essentially free. I know there are a few other places you can get free points too.

  11. OK, so you’re set up. Now here are your next steps.

    1) Buy Witcher 2. It is absolutely worth $60, or whatever that funny money you people use over there is called. Shillings? Ducats? Whatever, of all the games I’ve bought in this console generation, this is one of the top…um…two?

    2) Buy the following games. You can probably buy this entire lot for super cheap, here in the US some of these games are like $5-$10.

    Metro 2033
    Dark Souls
    Arkham City
    Mirror’s Edge
    Bioshock 2

    There’s lots of other great games, but that right there is the Immortal Collection, the best the system has to offer. There’s lot of great downloads too, make sure you get Bastion and Sine Mora.

    3) Tell everybody your gamertag. Mine is crackedlcd75. Be warned that I will be able to see when you’re watching Booty Call on Netflix if you don’t turn that function off.

    4) Watch Booty Call on Netflix.

    1. Nice to see I’m not the only person who loved Mirror’s Edge. Just don’t use guns, and curse that bloody tower section near the end.

      I’d submit that the best package of this generation is The Orange Box. It has 3 must play games. HL2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2, though I have no idea if TF2 still has an Xbox community (the PC one is still strong though).

        1. I won’t disagree. I never had a gold membership sO I never actually played TF2 until I built my PC. Still the best $30 I’ve ever spent on games (until I picked it up on Steam for $10).

    2. Thanks for the list. I’m going to sit on Witcher 2 for now as there are already a lot of brilliant games I can play first, and then the price may drop, so it seems daft not to.

      Dark Souls, Arkham City and Bioshock are on my must play list. I have a copy of Bioshock winging its way in the post as I type. Dark Souls, for some peculiar reason, seems to be relatively expensive here – I assume either this distribution or purchase rate was low and there aren’t many copies in circulation. So it’ll have to wait for now. Arkham City is also expensive because it’s still relatively recent.

      Bayonetta and Mirror’s Edge really don’t sound like my kind of game. Vanquish, Metro 2033, Bastion & Sine Mora all sound interesting though. Other games high on the list are Red Dead Redemption and Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway.

      So far, aside from Bioshock, I’ve picked up Fable II (I loved the original in spite of its flaws so I really need to play the sequel – will skip III though, I think), Fallout 3 (A mistake born of enthusiasm, will put it right back on Ebay, just too much other stuff to play) and PGR3 (It cost me a pound). And I downloaded Trials Evo. Should be enough to keep me going for a while.

      I may change my GamerTag, so I’m not letting it out yet

  12. I think arkham asylum was the better game, although city had a great ending. And you have to include one of the assassin’s creed games. ACII IMHO.

    1. I would argue with you on Batman, the gliding mechanic was just so satisfying. With AA I felt like 70-80% Batman because many of the things that make him great worked, but with AC I felt like 100% Batman. All because I could fly around in the sky (getting the grapple boost was a MUST) and dive bomb enemies, before zipping back up into the sky before anyone knew what happened.

      1. Yeah I liked that addition. I just thought there were too many gadgets. And the city was still super packed with goons after the story is over annoys me to no end. I wanted to find all the clues and have to deal with way too many guys with guns.

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